The History of St Paul’s College, Kelaniya

Way back in the year 1935, a far sighted personality, a French missionary, and the 4th Rector of St Joseph’s College Colombo 10, Very Reverend Father M.J. Le Goc OMI, founded St Paul’s College for the education of Catholic children in Kelaniya. The agricultural farm of St Joseph’s College, which Father Le Goc often visited with his students was chosen as the location for the school premises. Being a traditionally Buddhist area close to the historic Kelani Temple, Catholic families were scattered in the area. He realised the need of building up a Catholic community in Waragoda. In order to be of service to the Catholic community in Waragoda, he constructed a small chapel dedicated to St Paul in the premises. He put up a residential annex to accommodate a visiting priest who would cater to the spiritual needs of the Catholic community. Then he realised the lack of opportunities for Catholic students in the outskirts of Colombo. Even at that time there was a rush for popular schools in the city. So he opened a school in English medium studies in his farm premises in 1935, with 35 students both girls and boys and with 4 teachers. It was initially named “St Paul’s English School.”

In the beginning the school consisted of four classrooms, an office room, a hall and a chapel. The first principal was Mrs. Pearl Gunawardena. The first staff members were Mrs. Edna Gunasekera, Mrs. Perera, Mrs. Veera Cramer and Mrs. Freda Zilva. Father Le Goc said to the 4 pioneering teachers, “You are the four stalwart pillars on which I build this school.” Father D.J. Anthony and Father Joseph Cabral helped Father Le Goc to improve the school. Also father Julius Pinto while helping Father Le Goc, resided in the small house that was in the farm. With Mrs. Pearl Gunawardena as head of the school, the St Paul’s English School progressed greatly. She would visit every class daily and the students used to wait for a glimpse of her, as she was really a mother to them. As years went by, more teachers, namely Mrs. Inez Rosairo, Mrs. Andrew Silva, Ms. Iris, Ms. Dorris and Mrs. Eroma were added on to the staff. Every year there was an extra class added on and in 1940, when Ms. Eileen Orr joined, the Senior Domestic Science class was begun in order to train the girls in Home Economics. Three years later, a group of girls were presented for the first time for the senior examination in Home Economics and they passed with flying colours.

During World War II in 1945, when the schools in Colombo were closed for security purposes, the boys of St Joseph’s College Colombo 10, continued their classes at St Paul’s during the evening session. St Paul’s had become a government recognised school and it was during this time that the school introduced the annual sports meet on St Paul’s Feast Day.

In 1945, the school experienced the tragic loss of Father Le Goc, who met with a fatal accident. A precious Father and a guiding light were lost to the school. Reverend Father Peter Pillai, the next Rector of St Joseph’s College took over the reigns of St Paul’s College. Having also undertaken the building up of Aquinas College Borella, while being the Rector of St Joseph’s College, proved too much for Father Pillai. Thus, the school was handed over to the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel.

A letter of invitation by the Archbishop of Colombo, Rev. J.M. Mascon OMI in August 1945, resulted in the opening of the ‘Cor Mariae’ convent by the AC Sisters in Waragoda. In the year 1945, Mrs. Pearl Gunawardena resigned from her devoted services as principal, to give way to Sister Mary Joseph. With the guidance and collaboration of Mother Leocrice and the community of sisters, the young Sister Mary Joseph ensured a smooth transition.

On January 12th, 1946 the Apostolic Carmel Sisters had the ceremonial opening of the convent and took charge of St Paul’s English School. The first superior of the convent was Sister Leocrice and the first sister principal of the school was Sister Mary Joseph. Thereafter it became St Paul’s English School for Girls. The school became famous for Home Economics, Aesthetic Studies, Drama and Music along with the building of solid personalities.

The school was registered in the year 1946, with more buildings put up and classrooms increased along with the number of students and qualified teachers. Each of the sister principals who took over did her very best in contributing to the progress of the school. In 1948, the Girl Guides were introduced to the school along with a Past Pupil Association. Sister Beatrice and Sister Julian served as the principals of the school for a short time. Next was Sister Marie, during whose time the Advanced Level classes were introduced along with the Western Band. In 1960, the school achieved two milestones – it celebrated its silver jubilee and was registered as a Government school. In 1966, the school was stepped up as a grade 1 AB school and was named “St Paul’s Balika Maha Vidyalaya”

In 1971, Sister Mary Joseph came in once again as principal. She introduced Science, Commerce, French, Dancing and Oriental Music to the curriculum. In addition, the Hewisi Band was introduced at this time. Sister Marie Antonita was the principal from 1978 to 1983. With her devoted service, she was able to acquire a playground as well as forming the School Development Society. In 1985, the school’s next principal Sister Brenda built a three-storied building for the middle school and a new laboratory for the science students.

After her retirement, Sister Nirmalee Fernando took over and under her leadership the school progressed with an improvement of sports activities such as Badminton, Netball, Basketball, Swimming and Chess. A two-storied building was put up with better library facilities, and large classrooms for senior students. A computer lab was opened making computer studies accessible for students above grade 6. The Western Band was also stepped up with brass instruments, which helped develop their aesthetic talents. Sister Nirmalee retired in 2008 and Sister Siyeni took over the reigns.