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Rev. Dr. Don Peter strove to unearth Church History

Rev. Dr. Don Peter of Piyasevana, Ragama who completed his 90th birthday, is an icon of the Catholic Church, who has done so much to revive the Church History in our times. We have to praise God, for his wisdom in the evening of his life. It is with this objective of promoting writing skills among the seminarians that Rev. Dr. Don Peter inaugurated the “Gonsalves Writers Guild” at St. Aloysious’ Seminary and subsequently the “History Union” at St. Peter’s College to provide awareness in Church History among students.

He mastered oriental languages including Pali by studying the textbook by Ven. Buddadatta of Polwatte during his seminary days.

Thereby Rev. Don Peter could read the Buddhist stanzas and gathas that contributed to enrich his texts in Christianity in Sinhala. When Rev. Don Peter was on overseas travel on religious tours, he had the opportunity to visit Lisboa, Portugal. He went there to visit the National Library of Lisboa, and make references to ancient books during the Portuguese era of his country. There he came across on old text written by Rev. Jacom Gonsalves on Christian poetry and hymns. When returned he compiled the “Gonsevas Patavali”, a text written in line of Buddhist stanzas. He also authored some children’s books based on Church History and to mention a few, Saradiel, the Haunted Island, Pickpocketer, Kingdom of Love etc.

Rev. Dr. Don Peter expressed his views on the historical findings from time to time. The recent findings of Roman coins, and some tombs of the dead at Marawila has led to review the Church History.

The items date beyond the Portuguese period. He connects the Church history tracing to the findings at Anuradhapura, the stone cross of the tenth century. Plenie records of Christianity beyond the Portuguese era. Although the written text have to corroborate with the archaeological findings the memory and the vision of historians of the caliber of Rev. Don Peter is so important to research Church History.

When he visited Lisboa he found another account of history of the Augustinian missionaries in Ceylon. If not for Rev. Don Peter we would miss the history of the Augustinians who contributed to the spread of Christianity in Ceylon during the Kotte period. He referred to the old records available in Lisboa Library.

There he referred to the text about the Churches built in the Kotte Kingdom during Dharmapala, and traced the only shrine available in ruins found underground with a holy well at the Narahenpita Catholic cemetery belonging to the 16th century. The Roman arch found at the entrance to the well is also seen. It is the only Roman arch with a history nearly 400 years remaining underground in Sri Lanka. The Ministry of Religious Affairs is taking steps to renovate the site. St. Peter’s History Union is watching the interest of this project.

Rev. Fr. Don Peter is the only Sri Lankan priest so far who had the rare chance to visit and say holy mass at shrine of Our Lady of the Gate of Heaven Telheiras, Portugal, a church built by one time a Prince from Kandy Dom Joao Yamasinghe who became a convert and subsequently became a monk of the Franciscan Order during the Portuguese.

The Church and the tomb of the late Prince of the Church are adorned with sculptures belonging to the Kandyan period in Telheiras. The Town Council of Telheiras has named the square of the Church as Dom Joao Yamasinghe Square as a respect to the late missionary.

This information is found in the text he published by the name “Historical Gleanings”.

He is also an icon in the sphere of education in this country produced by the Church, and during his rectorship at St. Joseph’s he vehemently advocated for the non fee-levying and non acceptance of donations on admissions for schools and increased the intake of children for education. He printed several books on Catechism in the teaching of Catholism in schools in the sixties.

Death seals everything what we achieve in life spiritual or material as the case may be. When it comes to Rev. Dr. Don Peter he has a rare collection of academic writings that would be lessen, the burden of the researcher who is interested in Church History in time to come.

Bandula Nonis,
Secretary, History Union, St. Peter’s College, Colombo 4.

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