To have known a human being that was so content with his existence, a life lived to the full, which was shared with all who encountered him with warm smile that it left them filled with love, is truly a blessing. Fr. Egerton Perera, whom I encountered first as the chaplain at the University of Peradeniya in 2002, and later became my dear friend was such a rare person. I cannot recall a single time that I didn’t have a smile after meeting him. I think most of us who were members of the Newman Society at the University of Peradeniya during the 18 years that he was Chaplain will attest to this.
Fr. Egerton had three great loves in his life. His love for our Lord Jesus Christ was number one, his love for the University of Peradeniya and the Newman Society and his unmistakble love for people. Whenever I met him, he would share these three loves with me through sharing of his experiences.
As a Catholic and a Jesuit priest he had “seen and tasted” the Lord. He used to tell me that he starts preparing for his Sunday homily the Monday before. His homilies were always refreshing and unconventional. They opened our eyes to a different dimension or a different view point. One of his famous explanations were of sin. He would say sin is “God is telling me to go this way, but I take another way”. Simple and clear. This is one of the reasons that I did not return home from the University during the weekends and remained to attend the mass at the Chaplaincy. Being a retreat director in the Ignatian tradition and a well-read person Fr. Egerton incorporated ideas from the works of St. Ignatius Loyola, Cardinial Henry Newman, Anthony de Mello, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Rabindranath Tagore in his homilies and discussions. He encouraged us to read beyond our subject specialities. He used to tease the dental students saying “Ubala dath 32 vitharak igena gena hariyanne ne”. He used to receive magazines such as Time and National Geographic, and he would ask me to read certain articles that were interesting. He would share whatever knowledge he gained from these and other sources with us and it encouraged me to take on a habit of reading.
Sin is “God is telling me to go this way, but I take another way”. Simple and clear. This is one of the reasons that I did not return home from the University during the weekends and remained to attend the mass at the Chaplaincy
Through Father and the Alumni of the Newman Society we were exposed to the history of the University of Peradeniya. Fr. Egerton being a graduate of Peradeniya himself was absolutely in love with the campus and the environment. He would watch the birds, take walks through the campus and pray on the Akbar Bridge while the Mahaweli flowed peacefully. This love was so contagious that I too ended up having a deep love for the University. I learned to appreciate the blessing that I received of being a scholar at this prestigious and uniquely beautiful University through him. Being a qualified counsellor, Chartered Accountant, an Economics graduate and a Jesuit priest himself, Fr. Egerton always encouraged us to excel in our chosen fields. He would say “If you are a physicist you should be an expert in physics, no less”. Being an expert in the English language he would help us with our writing and speaking. He was very concerned on the quality of education that we received and always encouraged us to have an integral formation through taking part in exposure programmes, national workshops, sports, and other extra curricular activities. Such activities were part and parcel of the Newman society calendar during his tenure as Chaplain. As the Catholic Chaplain he worked tirelessly to keep the legacy of Fr. Pinto the founder of the Newman Society alive. He made sure we knew the history of this great University and the Newman Society through incorporating articles to the annual publication of the Newman Society, the “Horizon”.
“As a priest I should know my flock”. This was Fr. Egerton’s principle wherever he served. While the president of the Newman society I accompanied him when he visited students at their residence halls. He would inquire about the student’s welfare, their families and any hardships they had. He would say that he felt and looked younger by being with us. Every Sunday after mass he would host us for tea. He would share what ever he had. We were often treated with a home-made Saruwath drink which was one of his favourites. He knew that young University students we were always in “haamathe”. So he would invite us for a meal cooked by him whenever possible. We were fortunate to have had many of his favourite dishes such as the “pol-kiri baduma”.
A fund dedicated to the memory of Fr. Pinto was founded by Fr. Egerton to assist students with financial need. Through this fund he helped many Catholic and non-Catholic University students islandwide during their period of study at the University. Every year during the Christmas holidays Fr. Egerton would visit students at their homes, be they in Jaffna or Matara. I had the opportunity accompany him during some of these visits and every home we visited offered Christmas treats of which he took very little since he would visit so many homes. These visits gave father the insight into the families of the students and this enabled him to assist them at their time in the University. He would have all the contact numbers of the families with him so that in an emergency he could directly contact them.
Fr. Egerton was also a qualified counsellor. He completed his Masters in Counselling at Loyala University in Chicago. Through his intervention many students in the campus were assisted in their personal challenges. He imparted his counselling traits in helping with our personal relationships and always knew exactly what to do or say to ease a situation. He would always advise us to listen and accompany the other person.
Before undertaking the role of the Chaplain at the University, Fr. Egerton served as Parish Priest in a simple and poor farming village named Blackpool near Nuwara Eliya. He loved the people there and would share his experiences with them with us, the students of the Newman society. During his time at the University he organized several exposure programmes to Blackpool. In one of these programmes I got to experience the simplicity and honesty of the people in this village and Fr. Egerton’s love for people.
He was very concerned on the quality of education that we received and always encouraged us to have an integral formation through taking part in exposure programmes, national workshops and sports
Most of his flock at Peradeniya considered Fr. Egerton to be their second father. To most of us including me he tied the knot at our weddings. A few of us including me were fortunate to do a one day retreat with him just before our wedding. Eventually when we had kids he was one of the first to know and he would tell everyone that he had another grandson or a granddaughter. I remember I put him up in the wee hours of the morning when my son was born to tell him the news. He was a mentor to us even in our marriage life giving tips in parenting and making priorities. He of course never approved single kid families and would slowly put the idea to have another kid, which most of us ended up having and he would boast this to be the result of his coaxing.
As an expert writer Fr. Egerton wrote many articles on Human values, University education, University students etc. Over 50 articles were published in the Daily Mirror which were also compiled in to Two books. One titled “The marvel of being human” and the other “Challenges and rewards of being human”. These give an inside view to his immense love of Humanity. As Father departs this wonderful human existence he leaves behind the warmth and love that he shared and the countless memories he made which would keep alive his memory in us. As always in his last days he shared his passion for the Lord and for his people. He was impatient to join the Lord while I cringed at the idea of losing him. Through his life he challenges us to appreciate this gift of the Human life, to share it and encourage others to be more human as he exemplified. I sincerely hope as his dear sons and daughters that we will make him proud.