In memory of Rev. Fr. Harold Panditharatne
My priestly formation at the minor and major seminaries spanned thirteen years. I was under four great rectors (leaders) namely, Fr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando (later the Archbishop of Colombo) who admitted me to the minor seminary; Fr. Kingsley Jayamanne who recommended me to the national seminary; Fr. Harold Panditharatne who admitted me to the National Seminary; and Fr. Joe De Mel who recommended me to the priesthood. Frs. Harold, Kingsley and Joe De Mel have gone for their eternal reward and may they rest in peace. During my years of training, Fr. Kingsley provided us with numerous opportunities to take the initiative and leadership. He defined a leader as “one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way,” and motivated us to become leaders of this calibre. This classic definition was given by John Calvin Maxwell who was an American author, speaker and pastor. This meaning of leadership has reverberated, inspired and uplifted me throughout my life. Fr. Jayamanne introduced to us Fr. Harold Panditharatne as a dedicated priest, prominent intellectual and a visionary leader.
The preaching and addresses of Fr. Panditharatne had a positive influence which drew us all closer to God. He did not engage in abstract and disembodied preaching of theology but explained the meaning of the Word of God in the simplest way and applied meaning to the human condition
My admiration of the priestly life of Fr. Panditharatne developed as I began to know him as a rector, teacher, mentor, priest and a friend. The first instance I met him was the day when thirteen seminarians from the Archdiocese of Colombo were admitted to the National Seminary in Kandy. When we met him in his office, he welcomed and greeted with a warm and humble smile. He was an excellent teacher who taught us logic. He was a beloved rector and mentor who moulded us to become dedicated priests. He was a brother priest when I was serving at St. Joseph’s College, who exemplified the life of a priest. When he was in the hospital at his last stages, I was fortunate to visit and bless him. I was delighted that Fr. Panditharatne attended St. Joseph’s College for his Advanced Level studies where I became the rector later years.
TEACHER: A TRUE LEADER WHO KNOWS THE WAY
Fr. Panditharatne was a brilliant intellectual and a scholar who was well-versed in his subjects. He had a clear vision. His friends called him “Brilliant Pandith.” It is true that some people are born with greater gifts than others. But the leadership ability is really a collection of skills and all of which can be learned and improved. Fr. Panditharatne was always top in the classes from his young age and obtained an upper division pass at the matriculation examination. As a seminarian, the rector and the staff realised his potential, courage, audacity and confidence and he was sent to Rome for his philosophical and theological studies. He pursued his studies brilliantly and successfully defended his first thesis in Rome and second in London. His lifestyle motivated us to discover our talents and capabilities plus the need to develop them to the fullest.
The purpose of Fr. Panditharatne’s studies was to discover God in his life. Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, described his journey of life as “discovering myself in discovering God.” Ultimately, he says “if I find Him, I will find myself, and if I find my true self, I will find Him.” It was obvious from the teaching, preaching and pattern of life that Fr. Panditharatne had been deeply rooted and discovered God in his life. He often expressed his profound desire to discover God in him in all what he did. That may be the reason why, apart from his philosophical brilliance, he accomplished his licentiate in sacred theology with magna cum laude. In his quest for his true self, he appreciated and accepted his personality and his life as an essential way God called him to be himself. It is imperative that we discover our true self rather than revolve around our false self. Merton delineated true self as the person we are before God and the person we are meant to and our false self as the person that we wish to present to the world and the person we want the whole world to revolve around.
The genuine humility of Fr. Panditharatne was a trademark of his personality. Humility is a key virtue in many philosophical and religious teachings. Fr. Panditharatne was teachable and available to listen to anyone because he had a deep awareness of his own fallibility and thus needed other people to remind and show his blind spots
Fr. Panditharatne was an outstanding and conscientious teacher who could impart his knowledge of deep truths and theories in simple language. I believe and taught the teacher at St. Joseph’s College that “teaching is to touch a life forever.” Fr. Panditharatne was an amazing teacher who touched and transformed our lives. I loved his logic class because it was inspiring and interesting. When we questioned him, he was always willing to answer them and never disdained. He was humble and bold enough to say “I do not know” without beating around the bush, and the very next day he explained the answer. His examination question papers were relatively easy to answer because he prepared the papers from what he taught and tested what students knew rather than preparing papers from what he has not taught and to test what the students did not know. This is a mark of a distinguished intellectual. A true leader knows where he is going, and how he is going to get there.
PRIEST: A TRUE LEADER WHO GOES THE WAY
Fr. Panditharatne was a devout and dedicated priest of God. He set an example of holiness to all. Karl Rahner defined a priest as “one sent by Christ, an apostle of the eternal God with one message that surpasses any and all earthly duties and responsibilities. This message is: There is a God and this incomprehensible One wants to be a part of our lives.” When Fr. Panditharatne discerned the call of God to become a priest, he joined St. Bernard Seminary unhesitantly . I have seen him regularly remaining before the Eucharistic face, silently adoring and listening to God. He always joined the morning and evening prayers with seminarians. It was clear from his way of life that he was called not only to minister to souls in the name of Jesus, but more to cling to Jesus, abide in Him, to live in Him and for Him, to live by him and no other. He was resplendent with holiness. He had a special devotion to Blessed Virgin Mary and used to recite the rosary before dinner while walking.
The preaching and addresses of Fr. Panditharatne had a positive influence which drew us all closer to God. He did not engage in abstract and disembodied preaching of theology but explained the meaning of the Word of God in the simplest way and applied meaning to the human condition. It was evident that he prepared well and had always used a script to focus on his talks, preaching and teaching.
Fr. Panditharatne was generous to assist everyone in their needs. The authentic Christian service is not only calling forth the gifts of others, but is also the ability to empower the one being served to develop his talents and call forth his gifts. He allowed and wholeheartedly supported us to engage in different cultural, sport and humanitarian activities to teach us to live peacefully, loving everyone. As a rector in November 1978 a cyclone with strong winds and the rains caused extensive damage to Ampitiya, Fr. Panditharatne sent us to support the villagers. Moreover, he provided his full assistance with the seminarians to conduct mathematics, science and English classes for needy children of the village. A true leader is always the first person doing what he is saying.
RECTOR: A TRUE LEADER WHO SHOWS THE WAY
Fr. Panditharatne was an effective silent leader. Lao Tzu, sixth-century philosopher claimed that “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” He was not a micromanager who acted outside and against the advice of his staff and always willing to listen and consult others. He was a silent leader who was composed and confident, even in the midst of chaos. Through reflective preparation, he was able to keep cool in different scenarios. Once he shouted at us for breaking silence during a retreat. Later, we saw him walking away calmly. We were afraid to approach him because of his intellectual stature but he was always willing to listen to us. A leader always motivates his followers for the best. Fr. Panditharatne never ever degraded anyone because of lack of knowledge or understanding. He was methodical since he was also a qualified librarian.
The genuine humility of Fr. Panditharatne was a trademark of his personality. Humility is a key virtue in many philosophical and religious teachings. Fr. Panditharatne was teachable and available to listen to anyone because he had a deep awareness of his own fallibility and thus needed other people to remind and show his blind spots. When he returned to Sri Lanka after receiving his doctorates, the Archbishop appointed him to the staff of St. Peter’s College, Colombo. He always displayed an unquestioning obedience and submission to the superiors. His way of life was not craving to fill his emptiness with vain pursuits, positions, lust and possessions. The prestige and the power vested on him as the rector was used to empower others but not to overpower them. When you are showing people how to get the vision, you do it with them; you keep them close.
A true leader has a clear vision, (knows the way) follows that vision, (goes the way) and shows others the way to achieve the vision. A conundrum that I notice in many leaders is that they often skip knowing the way and following the way and go straight to showing others the way. Let Jesus’ life be the example and the standard by which I strive to imitate in my leadership. As Frank Sinatra sang “My friend, I’ll say it clear I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain, I’ve lived a life that’s full, I travelled each and every highway, And more, much more than this, I did it my way” and so did Fr. Panditharatne he “did his way” and lived his life to the full.
The “Philosophers’ Day” which is traditionally held on the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, is an academic event organised by the Philosophate of the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka, Ampitiya in honour of Rev. Fr. Harold Panditharatne, the great Priest-Philosopher of revered memory. It will be held on January 28 at the Marius Peiris Auditorium of the Philosophate. The guest speaker delivering this year’s Rev. Fr. Harold Panditharatne Memorial Oration will be the Senior Lecturer of Kelaniya University Humanities Faculty, Dr. Pulsara Liyanage. The programme will commence at 9.00 a.m.
Rev. Fr. Sylvester Ranasinghe -- BPh. (Rome), BTh (Rome), BSc (SL), MSc (IT) (USA) -- ordained on July 27, 1985. Fr. Sylvester is 33 years a priest in the Archdiocese of Colombo. He has been the Vice Rector at St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa for 2 years and the Rector at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo for 8 years. At present, he is the Parochial Vicar at the Church of Our Lady of Christians, Staten Island, New York.