BRO MICHAEL ROBERT:
The La Sallian Historian
A myriad of past Maryite stars glitter and glisten in all spheres of
professions today, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. That does not exclude a
whole horde of past Marians serving the nation and humanity incognito.
Recently, I recognized such a luminary in the person of Bro. Michael
Robert, a past pupil of St Mary's, presently at De Mazenod College,
He is running in his 58th year of dedicated service as a De La Salle
brother. During the past few years of his retired life, he has come into
limelight for this persevering effort in research, writing and printing
the history of De La Salle Brothers in Ceylon in three volumes spanning
143 years of their on-going La Sallian mission. Bro. Michael's writing
are highly appreciated not only by the La Salle brothers but all
connected to them here and abroad.
His parents were Bastian Santiago Pinto and Magalin Fernando, his
siblings, Michael, Dr Phebus, Leonard (Ph.D), Helen and Gertrude, the
late Mabel and Nelson.
I interviewed Bro. Michael Robert recently and he recalled his early
days. "My family name i.e. My baptismal name is Joseph Pinto. Friends
called me Joe. We lived in Aluthwatte, Chilaw. I belong to the 'old
school of Brothers' when a 'religious name' had to be selected at the
taking of the robes. The old brother Michael Lewis at St Mary's
influenced me to select my new name."
Following the educational policy of the time, Joe Pinto attended
Chilaw Sinhala School from 1940-44. In 1945, he joined St. Mary's
College, 'paying respects to Bro Hugh Faringdon, the director, only with
betel leaves. He was too young to shine while at College. He was indeed
a bright student. He says, "Sometimes God writes straight with crooked
lines. Such is my case. Although I studied three years at a brothers'
school, St Mary's, I never studied even a single period under a De La
Salle Brother. I was never a member of the elite group Archconfraternity
of the Divine Child. I never studied inside a single classroom of the
college building. Only the Sunday school class, I attended sometimes
under Bro. Marcian. I was never an altar server. I thought of joining
them but a note on the cathedral notice board listing the names of altar
servers recently sacked, discouraged me. I must say, that I was really
edified by the sight of the De La Salle brothers, dressed in black robe
and white rabat, walking two by two to the early morning daily Holy Mass
at the Cathedral."
With this background, how Joe Pinto joined the La Sallian Brotherhood
aroused my curiosity. It was apparently a straight question by brother
director Calixtus to the 13 year old Joe. "Do you like to become a
Brother?" Bro. Michael recalls, 'How could I say 'No'? so I said 'Yes'.
A couple of days later, Lokubalasuriya and Stanley Nannayakkara, filled
with the spirit, came to my house and preached the blessings of a
religious vocation to my bewildered parents, who knew nothing of my
The two years Joe Pinto spent at Mutwal juniorate studying at De La
Salle, were remarkable. He won the first place in the Brothers' J.S.C.
exam and also the first place in the Junior La Sallian competition. He
received the robes in Penang in June 1952 with a new name - Bro Michael
This young intelligent brother had to forego higher academic
qualifications. His superiors directed him to other activities of the
district. "Obedience directed me elsewhere, and I am quite happy about
it now. I wonder whether the superiors feared me bolting away with
higher qualifications then".
Bro. Michael Robert toiled in three brothers' private schools - St
Benedict's, St Sebastian's and De Mazenod. He had served in various
posts: teacher, supervisor, vice-principal, acting principal, hostel
warden, formator etc. He was a strict disciplinarian.
His past pupils are ever grateful to him now. He was a hard
task-master, but a loving father at the same time. Very methodical in
his work, his students, especially the past hostellers, still admire him
for what they learnt by his example. Bro. Michael Robert was a keen
sportsman. Yet, accidents in the field curtailed his pastime. A torn
knee cartilage disabled his soccer enthusiasm. He recalls his 'last
serve' at the volleyball court, where he collapsed with a heart attack
way back in 1990.
But how did this ailing pensioner turn out to be a historian and an
author? In the preface to 'De La Salle Brothers in Ceylon Part III' the
author Bro. Michael Robert writes, "I vividly remember that day in 2001
when I first entered our Brothers' District Archives at Mutwal, Colombo.
The unkempt room prompted me to be of service to the district archives.
I salvaged enough documents to launch on printing and preserving the
memory of 'La Sallian heritage in Ceylon.' A basic knowledge of Latin
and French languages, which he had gained early in life, helped him in
the translation of letters and documents. In his research, a slight
acquaintance with modern technology, especially the email facility
spared him strenuous visits to archives abroad.
Bro. Michael Robert, though a retired elderly brother in his 70s
still keeps working and writing. "I keep reading, writing and learning
daily. I trust in God, who never fails me - in the long run.
Health-wise, I believe in the slow breakdown of the body. After all, the
Creator gave it a guarantee period. I appreciate the caring gratitude of
past pupils. I enjoyed relaxed visits and stay in wildlife parks - the
Creator's Garden of Eden. So, praise the Lord!"
In a lighter mood, Bro. Michael recalled some 'unforgettable'
incidents of his early days at St Mary's College. "I remember one Monday
morning, Bro Director Calixtus visited our classes with an assistant who
was carrying a basin of boiled gram (Thambapu Kadala). He dished out
spoonfuls of gram to students who attended the Sunday catechism class,
the previous day. His ploy however, did not improve the attendance".
"I remember a Saturday noon, when we were enjoying 'illegal' kurumba
on young coconut trees near the large tamarind tree. Upstairs, along the
verandah, we detected Bro. Director Hugh Faringdon walking up and down
reading a book.
Later on, as a Brother, I recalled how quiet we were then, for it was
the time for Brothers' spiritual reading".
"I remember playing tennis ball soccer at the grounds during the
lunch interval - an activity forbidden by school authorities. One of us
had to take turns as watch-dog, signaling the players when the De La
Salle Brothers had finished their lunch. I remember that sight - the
black robed brothers, coming out of the refectory, always armed with a
tooth-pick and attending to dental care".
Yes, today we meet many true sons of St. Mary's walking the normal
path of life as honest citizens of our country. There are three past
Maryites, who are De La Salle Brothers today: Bro. Denzil Perera is the
present provincial visitor of the district of Colombo. Bro. Damian
Susath Nanayakkara is a dedicated missionary in Pakistan. Bro. Michael
Robert is at De Mazenod College, Kandana. All past Maryites deeply
appreciate the contribution made by De La Salle Brothers towards the
educational progress of youth in and around Chilaw.
N.B: This article was written before the demise of Rev. Bro. Michael
Robert (FSC) who peacefully answered the call of God on the fifth of
May he Rest in Peace!
W.G.A. Leonard Fernando.
retired Principal, Primary Dept, St. Benedict's College, Colombo 13.
Doris Vivienne Esther de Silva:
A lady of ladies
A lady of ladies. If we were to wax eloquent and extol the many
virtues of this good and gracious lady, we would write endlessly.
Sufficient then, is the fact that she was a 'class by self', God
fearing and humble, she endeared herself to one and all alike. Her good
and kind deeds were legion, and she spared no pains to come to the aid
of anyone in need or in distress. She was a qualified social service
worker. Need we say more? Doris was a person who had great courage and
consequently bore many a cross with fortitude and faith during her
chequered life. Her greatest blessing that helped her to weather every
storm was the undying love and gratitude and consolation she received
from her devoted daughter and son-in-law, Swarna and Mervyn and their
sons Ravin, Priyan and Harin who enjoyed their grandmother's jokes and
sense of humour. Through every obstacle she endured in life she emerged
Rest Eternal grant unto her Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon
An irreparable loss
Bandupala Danwatta retired as the Senior Asst. Secy. of the Housing,
Construction and Common Amenities Ministry in the mid '90s.
After retirement he served as the G.M. Liberty Plaza Management
Corporation for a short period. Subsequently he engaged in social work
and rendered yeoman service to the Uyankelle area in Panadura where he
Danwatta was the Hony. Secretary of the Panadura Uyankelle Sarvodaya
Society for a continuous period of ten years and Hony.
Treasurer of the Sri Chandamuni Dharmayathana Development Society of
the Welipitiya Temple, Panadura. He held both posts up to the time of
his sudden demise on 9th March 2012.
He has also held the posts of secretary of the Red Cross Society,
Uyankelle branch and the secretary of the Development Society of
He was a devout Buddhist who observed sil on every poya and lived a
simple and exemplary life.
I still remember his unique way of greeting friends "Ayu Waddako,
Dana Waddako, Siriwaddako, Yasa Waddako, Bala Waddako."
where he deviated from the traditional way of greeting.
As a friend who associated him closely for almost four decades I am
quite aware that this irreparable loss is unbearable to his family,
friends, relatives and residents of Uyankelle, Panadura.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!
Dr. Somasiri Abeykone:
Qualified in both branches of medicine
The news of the passing away of a friend of over six decades can only
be received with profound sorrow heightened with reflection of some
aspects of the departed friend's life and softened with thoughts on some
shared experiences. So it was when I heard about the death of Somasiri
Abeykone, my contemporary at Richmond.
Abey was a product of Richmond College during the heyday of the E.R.
De Silva, Shelton Weerasinghe combination as Principal and
Vice-Principal. The former taught him maths and the latter English. Of
course their influence extended beyond the classrooms and the subject
They set the tone of the school, it's very atmosphere was impregnated
with their culture and values. For both Abey had an abiding affection
till the very end. In one of his last telephone calls he mentioned how
he saw Mr. Weerasinghe in a dream and felt that he himself was in
Abey pursued studies in the science medium and had an obsession for
medicine. In spite of his great commitment he could not get through the
needle eye to pursue medical studies in the only faculty of the time.
His commitment was however to medical studies and not to one school
thereof. Hence there was no avenue he spared - not even ayurveda.
Ultimately his efforts were rewarded when he gained entry to a medical
school in Calcutta, facilitated by the good offices of the Metropolitan
Bishop the Rev. Lakdasa de Mel. While in India he completed a full
university course in homeopathy as well, thus becoming one of the few
Sri Lankans to be fully qualified in both branches of medicine.
Abey had established for himself a good practice in Calcutta city in
spite of an intense competition when he took too seriously a request
from the Health Minister of the time to serve his country. Abey was
always a disciplined person at peace with himself and the world. His
wife who shared his life both in India and Sri Lanka and his two
children sustained him especially at the time he encountered a serious
health problem which he overcame with great courage and patience. May
they draw inspiration from his life to face their life ahead without his
May he attain the bliss of Nibbana!
Dr. Tilak de Mel:
A doctor and a gentleman
Dr. Tilak de Mel of Kalutara passed away on 25th February, 2011. He
was 67 years of age at the time of his death. I came to know about his
untimely demise two days after his funeral which took place in Colombo.
One of my neighbours informed me about this sad news via a text
message when I was at Koggala on an educational tour with some of the
children of my school.
It was so depressing to hear the news as Dr. Tilak de Mel was such a
nice and a kind-hearted person. I was one of his patients for the past
twenty five years.
From my younger days my mother used to take my sister and me to Dr.
de Mel whenever both of us fell sick. With time we became very good
friends. Dr. de Mel was even more friendlier with my sister. Our
intimacy was such that we even discussed some of our personal issues too
Dr de Mel was a remarkable family person. He always admired his wife
(aunty Nalini) and daughter Tharindri who also are good friends of mine.
Before his death he had been practicing medicine for about thirty
years at a medical centre at Kalutara North. He had a staff of three
nurses to support him in his career. Dr. de Mel was so concerned about
the poor patients. There were times he did not charge a consultation fee
He was a devout Buddhist. Every year on May 1st (on his daughter's
birthday) he offered alms for the priests at the village temple and he
never failed to attend to the needs of this particular temple.
About two years before his death Dr. Tilak de Mel fell very sick, but
after proper medication he recovered successfully. After that he started
practicing medicine at his home.
When I visited him he was doing really well and I believed it was
mainly due to the good work he had done for the others throughout his
In mid December 2010 I had to see Dr. de Mel for medical advice and
that day we had a very long chat. He said when looking back he has no
regrets about his life. He had done the needful for his family and the
employees under him.
May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana ending all suffering!