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Fr. Peter Pillai: Eminent educationist and promoter of “EPF scheme”

28 September 2020 03:58 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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56TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY OF VERY 
REV. FR. PETER A. PILLAI: OMI - September 27

A great and eminent educationist, an illustrious personality of National Unity and Peaceful Co-existence and social reformer who heroically fought for social justice Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai OMI died on September 27, 1964. Fr. Pillai also known as the saviour and the protector of Catholic schools, the architect of the concept of the system of “The Private Non-Fee Levying Schools” and the father of “The Employees Provident Fund” scheme. 

 
Fr. Peter Pillai was born in 1904 October 19th at Wennappuwa. This year we also celebrate his 160th birthday. After finishing his primary education at Wennappuwa boy’s school he entered St. Benedict’s College Kotahena. At the age of 14 Peter Pillai passed London Cambridge Junior Exam with distinctions in all 8 subjects and came first in the Island. At the age 16 he passed Cambridge Senior with distinctions in all subjects. They were the highest results a pupil had obtained in the British empire up to then. At Colombo University College at the age of 20 he obtained BSc degree with First Class Honours in Maths. At the age of 23 in the London University he obtained his MSc and DD (Doctor of Divinity) in Rome. He was a Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) at the very young age of 28. He was the first Sri Lankan to obtain BA and MA in Arts subjects as well as BSc and MSc in Science subjects. His answer scripts in these exams are still preserved in the London University. 


He claimed world attention gaining highest qualifications in Arts and Science. At the age of 30 he became a priest. When he was 32 years he served at St. Peter’s College Colombo 4 as a teacher and at the same time was the Warden of the University Catholic Hostel.
At the sudden death under tragic circumstances of then Rector Rev. Fr. M. J. Le Goc OMI Fr. Peter Pillai was appointed the Rector of St. Joseph’s College, the first Sri Lankan indigenous Rector of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. He went on to serve the college long 21 years (1940-1961). At the later part of his Rectorship he founded the academy of highest studies. As he retired from St. Joseph’s College in 1961 he founded the present Aquinas University College Borella and was the First Rector there. 


While at St. Joseph’s College, he founded the Catechetical Institute and few other societies for human development. In 1936 he started the Social Justice’ magazine and was the First Editor. Later its Sinhala version named Samaja Samaya’ was started, and he appointed Mr. Anthony Jayamanne, a veteran teacher and a Sinhala Scholar, at St. Joseph’s College, as its Editor. As I entered St. Joseph’s College Fr. Peter Pillai appointed me the sub-editor of the ‘SamajaSamaya’ and wanted me to help and work with Mr. Anthony Jayamanne. Thus Fr. Peter. Pillai campaigned vigorously for socio-economic reform.  

"At the age of 23 in the London University he obtained his MSc and DD (Doctor of Divinity) in Rome. He was a Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) at 28. He was the first Sri Lankan to obtain BA and MA in Arts subjects as well as BSc and MSc in Science subjects"

As a promoter of social justice, Fr. Pillai campaigned for the fair treatment of the working class, enforced payment of living wage, establishment of an eight-hour working day, alleviation of poverty in the plantation sector and inauguration of an Employees Provident Fund.
He was also keen on promoting religious and communal harmony, economic development geared towards an equitable distribution of resources, retirement benefits, adequate housing, agrarian reforms and a new land policy. 
At the School Take-over, he did a very vigorous prominent part and was almost the Defender and the Saviour of the Catholic Denominational Schools. He “fought a big fight” with the then Government in trying to avoid the Taking of Catholic Schools by the Government. This present concept of “Private non-fee-levying School” system of Fr. Peter Pillai at least saved some leading Catholic Schools mostly in Colombo and in suburbs. 


 Fr. Peter Pillai also started a Printing Press in College and named it ‘Collin Press’ in memory of a past Rector. Fr. Peter Pillai’s ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Samaja Samaya’ were printed here with the hand-picked letter types. Even the College Magazine ‘Blue and White’, Prize Day Reports and other relevant College literature were printed here. Attached to the ‘Collin Press’, Fr. Peter Pillai opened a Radio Lab which was run by Rev. Fr. Ignatius Perera. This lab was later taken to Kotahena which presently exists there, more modernized. 
When Collin Press and the Radio Lab were removed, that building became the wood-work shop and leather-work shop for practical classes in skill-subjects. 


Fr. Peter Pillai also obtained a piece of land from the Sisters of the Poor next door by the far end side bordering the Beira Lake and built a play ground which was called the Beira Grounds. Later for the purpose of practical work for the Subject Agriculture this Beira Grounds were converted to paddy fields. Now this plot of land has become once again the Beira Grounds. 
Fr. Peter A. Pillai served on the University Senate and Court, Divorce Commission, the Social Service Commission and was the President of the Head Masters’ Conference attached to the Government. In the Archdiocese of Colombo he was a Vicar General. He died on September 27, 1964 at the age of 60. 
The Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts printed in UK issued a commemorative stamp for the value of 60 cents in four colours, on May 22, 1985. This Department had printed 1,000,000 stamps in the size of 25x30 mm. This is almost 30 years ago. 


It is also interesting that out of five children in Fr. Pillai’s family four joined the religious life and they were stalwarts in the respective missions they were called to serve. His father, Mr. Jacob Pillai was a teacher at the vernacular school Ulhitiyawa, Wennappuwa and his mother was Mrs. Anna Pillai 
His eldest brother  Rev. Fr. Cajetan Pillai OMI was the prefect of boarders at St. Joseph’s college Colombo. In the year 1920 he died of small pox while attending to the boarders in college who were infected with small pox. His second elder brother Very Rev. Brother Luke was a great educationist. He was the Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers (Christian Brothers). His third elder brother the Most Rev. Dr. Emilianus Pillai OMI was the Bishop of Jaffna, the first Sri Lankan indigenous Bishop of the Jaffna diocese. His younger brother Stanislaus Pillai was the only layman. However the daughter of Mr. Stanislaus Pillai, the niece of the Pillai brothers Very Rev. Sr. Mary Holy Face of the Great Carmelite Order was three times its prioress. 

The writer is the Former Principal of the Upper School, St. Joseph’s College Colombo 10.

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  • Beliro Yan Monday, 28 September 2020 06:51 PM

    160th birthday?


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