Subodhi is Fr. Mervyn and Fr. Mervyn is Subodhi. The two are inseparably knit together in our memory. Subodhi was the brainchild of Fr. Mervyn, and he lived there ever since it was put up. The other day, he joined in the singing of Christmas carols at their Christmas get-together. The next morning, he was gone, passing away peacefully in his sleep.
I came to know Fr. Mervyn many years ago, at the home of Uncle Eric, whom Fr. Mervyn and his brother Godwin used to visit often. Our friendship grew ever since.
I have had the privilege of introducing Fr. Mervyn to many people - University dons and students, priests and religious dignitaries - on several occasions. And I began, almost every time, by saying that Fr. Mervyn was a visionary. Though Fr. Mervyn was a member of the Astronomical Society of Sri Lanka, he had his feet firmly planted on terra firma. He was a visionary in the sense that he envisioned what was going to happen, what was going to be needed, in the future, especially in Sri Lanka.
He was quite content in being simply a priest, a Man of God - aware of the true source of all he had and had become, and that he was
doing no more than generously sharing what he had been so lavishly given with others.
He was someone who had the gift of looking way ahead of the present and beyond the known horizons. I used to refer to him as the successor to Fr. Peter Pillai. He began the Family Services Institute and Subodhi with this privileged insight.
As a young priest, Fr, Mervyn was chosen by Thomas Cardinal Cooray, the Archbishop of Colombo, as his personal secretary. Later Cardinal Cooray sent him abroad for higher studies. And on his return, it was Cardinal Cooray who supported Fr. Mervyn’s dream of beginning the Family Services Institute. It was necessary that the Institute conducted workshops and courses on psycho-sexual-spirituality, focusing on issues not much spoken of in those by-gone days. Eyebrows may have been raised at that time that these issues were to be handled by so young a priest. But such was the confidence Cardinal Cooray had in Fr. Mervyn that he was entrusted with the task.
Many years later, when I was making my retreat at Bandarawela, having returned to Sri Lanka after my priestly studies, I met Fr. Mervyn there. He had come to review a book he had written, prior to publication. In the course of a chat, he invited me to join him in conducting a course on ‘Barefoot Counselling’, at the Family Services Institute. Seeing me nervous due to a lack of paper qualifications he reassured me, he will fill in the blanks. We conducted that course for about three or four years, first at HFC Bambalapitiya, and then at Aquinas.
One year, we invited Fr. J.C. Fuster, whose course in Counselling I had followed in Bombay, to conduct a similar one for the Family Services Institute. It was at this course, at which I was Fr. Fuster’s assistant, that I think Mr Godwin Mendis and Sr. Thomas Aquinas, among others, cut their teeth in counselling.
Some years later, Fr. Mervyn gave us Jesuits a talk on the necessity of providing our youth with an integral formation. Reminding us that often our youth get a lop-sided training, with a far too excessive emphasis on their intellectual formation, Fr. Mervyn emphasized that providing our youth with a holistic, integral, formation was an imperative. This was about the time I was appointed as the Catholic chaplain of the University of Peradeniya. Every year, the orientation we gave to the first year University students was based on Fr. Mervyn’s explanation of the need for an integral formation. I followed that up, almost every year, when we went to Subodhi for the national workshop for University students, by getting Fr. Mervyn himself to explain this concept to the students. It was to provide the youth of our country with the courses, workshops, and the environment necessary for their integral formation that Subodhi was begun.
Subodhi is situated in the midst of a sprawling and pleasing environment. Its architect was Geoffrey Bawa who was a personal friend of Fr. Mervyn. It can accommodate several hundreds of youth and provide them with ample space to conduct their games, exercises, and campfires. Our University students are quite familiar not only with the place but with Fr. Mervyn as well, as he used to oblige them with an inspiring talk, over the ten or twelve successive years we went there.
Fr. Mervyn has told me that the life and vision of Fr. Teilhard d’Chardin inspired his own life and vision very much. And that no doubt is why he organised the Teilhard Colloquium annually to delve deeper into and help others too to come to know and be inspired by, the life and vision of Teilhard.
A versatile man he had a wide range of interests that embraced the planet Earth in its many facets. And that perhaps is why he was called upon to address many conferences and stole time to put his thoughts and vision into writing.
Subodhi is situated in the midst of a sprawling and pleasing environment. Its architect was Geoffrey Bawa who was a personal friend of Fr. Mervyn. It can accommodate several hundreds of youth and provide them with ample space to conduct their games, exercises, and campfires.
However, the greatness of Fr. Mervyn lay in his simplicity, which glowed from deep within his heart. It is this that I most admired in him. His manner and lifestyle were simple. He was well aware of the many gifts and talents he was blessed with, and the affection and esteem in which he was held, but he would never flaunt them before others. He was quite content in being simply a priest, a Man of God - aware of the true source of all he had and had become, and that he was doing no more than generously sharing what he had been so lavishly given with others.
May the earth lay lightly over him.