A large number of family members of the involuntarily disappeared persons staged a protest when President Maithripala Sirisena arrived at St Patrick’s College, Jaffna to declare open the newly built Technology Centre of the school last week.
The Old Boys of St Patrick’s College Jaffna who were the students of former Rector Rev. Fr. G. A. Michael Francis Joseph also joined hands with the protestors carrying aloft the portrait of their former Rector who was among hundreds of people disappeared after surrendering to the Security Forces at the end of the separatist war in May 2009.
Rev Fr. G. A. Michael Francis Joseph was the twenty first Rector of St Patrick’s College, which was founded by Catholic Missionaries 168 years ago, in Gurunagar a staunch Catholic hamlet in Jaffna, in 1850.
The prestigious Catholic educational institution was popular for instilling discipline in students, right from its inception and the school’s Rectors had been the foreigners from Catholic countries in Europe and the last foreign Rector of St Patrick’s College, Jaffna was Rev Fr. Timothy M. F. Long.
Until the late 1950s students from overseas studied at St Patrick’s College, Jaffna and the school was even popular with a large number of Sinhalese students from Southern Sri Lanka.
The Irish Rector Rev. Fr. Timothy M. F. Long’s period from 1936 to 1954 for seventeen years was remarkable in many ways as the educationist was even instrumental in founding the Jaffna Public Library.
As a mark of respect a life size statue of Rev. Fr. Long erected by the Jaffna civil society still stands majestically within the Jaffna Public Library premises.
So it was during Rev. Fr. Long’s period Leader of the Opposition and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), R. Sampanthan studied at St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna and it was during Sampanthan’s period there were a large number of students from the southern part of Sri Lanka had their schooling at this prestigious institution.
Last week when President Maithripala Sirisena arrived at the school to declare open the newly built Technology Centre, Sampanthan not only in his capacity as the Leader of the Opposition and the TNA but as an Old Boy of the school of Rev. Fr. Long’s era welcomed the President at the entrance to the school along with the Catholic Bishop of Jaffna Rt. Rev. Dr. Justin Gnanapragasam who was also a former Rector of St. Patrick’s, Jaffna.
As the welcoming ceremony of President Sirisena was in progress at the school, a mass protest was being held near the Jaffna Bishop’s House which is in close proximity to the school.
Among the portraits of involuntarily disappeared persons carried by the protestors the portrait of twenty first Rector of St Patrick’s College Rev. Fr. G. A. Michael Francis Joseph had been the cynosure of all eyes.
Rev Fr. G A Michael Francis Joseph had been the Rector of St Patrick’s from 1979 to 1992 during the peak period of the turbulent days in the Peninsula.
Rev Fr. Michael Francis Joseph who was in Jaffna after retirement was compelled to leave Jaffna when the LTTE evacuated the people in the Peninsula to Vanni when the Security Forces launched `Operation Rivirasa’ to take control of the Peninsula.
In Vanni Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph was serving the internally displaced people extensively by taking classes to the young displaced students. He was even taking English classes to the LTTE cadres in Vanni.
When the LTTE was neutralized and the Security Forces made the announcement for those who were in contact with the outfit in Vanni to surrender Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph was the first along with hundreds of others to surrender to the Security Forces thinking that he being a catholic priest will not be harmed.
According to the families of those who surrendered to the Security Forces including the Northern Provincial Council Minister Ananthy Sasitharan, who is the wife of senior LTTE cadre Sasitharan alias Elilan, it was on the guidance of Rev Fr. Francis Joseph, scores of cadres and civilians had surrendered to the Security Forces in Vanni in May 2009.
So it is in the backdrop of the fate of former St Patrick’s College Rector and hundreds of others is unknown, the Old students of the College had staged the demonstration questioning President Sirisena what happened to their former Rector and to hundreds of others who had surrendered with him to the Security Forces.
The Old Patricians were also furious over inviting President Sirisena to declare open the Technology Centre at their school.
They had even pointed out as the construction of the new facility was entirely funded by the past students it should have been declared open by a prestigious past student or a high profile Catholic figure in the calibre of Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Cardinal Malcom Ranjith.
Therefore, the event to declare open the Technology Centre at St Patrick’s College, Jaffna the alma mater of Leader of the Opposition and the TNA R. Sampanthan was very significant in many ways to highlight even a Rector of a prestigious educational institution in the country is among the list of those who were involuntarily disappeared.