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Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo new Bishop for the Diocese of Colombo

A mission to serve humanity

S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia
S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia

The Anglican Church of Sri Lanka was bestowed with a new Bishop for the Diocese of Colombo. Reverend Dushantha Lakshman Rodrigo, affectionately known to thousands as Fr. Dushy was recently appointed as the 16th Bishop of Colombo.   

The decision to appoint him to this high office in the episcopate was made by His Grace Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his capacity as the Metropolitan of the Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The Episcopal ordination and Installation into this high office is set to take place in November at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour Colombo. The installation of an Anglican Bishop is a key ceremony in the church, laden with decorum.  

 I have been privileged to know Fr. Dushantha Rodrigo for the past 15 years. He is an unassuming gentleman, a prudent decision-maker, a leader with Christian charisma and importantly a humble person. He is blessed with a sense of humour which he gently unleashes from time to time.  

I recollect many instances of his humility and resolute character. In 2017, there was a cyclone like wind condition in some parts of Sri Lanka. On hearing the terrible damage this wind had caused to the buildings of S. Thomas’ Preparatory School, I visited the school with my friend Ravi Francis. I was not surprised to find Fr. Rodrigo attired in his cassock standing in the middle of the junior playground, amidst the rain. Ravi ran back to the vehicle to grab an umbrella for the Headmaster. The humble Fr. Rodrigo proceeded to talk to me, politely refusing the umbrella. His heart was totally focused on rebuilding the damaged sections and recommencing school. He did the rebuilding with great passion supported by all old boys. He is a leader who boldly leads by example, a trait which is important for such a high office which deals with the spiritual formation and guidance of all Anglican adherents.  

Fr. Dushantha Rodrigo becomes the first Thomian to take on the mantle of Bishop of Colombo. Ever since Rt. Rev. James Chapman, the pioneer clergyman who sailed to Ceylon, set up the Anglican Churches and schools such as S. Thomas’ College (STC), there were no Bishops from STC, Mount Lavinia. The great school by the sea has produced many good priests but no Bishops. Interestingly, cricketing rivals Royal College has produced four Bishops. Thus, the vision of Rt. Rev. James Chapman (the first Bishop of Colombo) took almost 169 years to become a reality with the selection of Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo. Needless to say that the Thomian community is very jubilant about their son who has created history.  

I met up with the Bishop-designate at school. He was seated in his office. Fr. Dushy explained, “I started my education at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. I am from the batch of 1987. In school, I was fond of playing soccer and cycling. I took a keen interest as an altar server in the Chapel of the Transfiguration. During my college days, I worshipped at Christ Church Dehiwela, where I was also an altar server. The Vicar Fr. Lionel Peiris realized that I had the character of a priest. I too felt the voice of God gently prompting me towards the ordained ministry. This was duly identified by the Chaplain of S. Thomas’ College Fr. Sunil de Silva, who subsequently left the college. He updated the Sub-Warden Fr. Duleep de Chickera (who later became Bishop of Colombo) to mentor me and guide me towards God’s service. As I look back I can say with great respect and gratitude that Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera helped me and remains my mentor to this day.”  

Becoming a priest is a process in the Anglican Church. Young Dushantha Rodrigo was fresh out of school. He spoke to the then Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Swithin Fernando who said, “Son, you are still young. Why don’t you work somewhere for two years? Learn to experience the corporate sector and then if you really want to serve God, you will break every fetter and return to the church.” The young Thomian worked at Ford Rhodes (presently KPMG) and then faithfully answered the call of Christ’s gospel.   He underwent his Parish training for one year at St. John’s Church, Colombo 15 before entering the Theological College of Lanka at Pilimathalawa, Kandy in 1990. Two of his batchmates were Rev. Adrian Aaron and Rev. S.D.P. Selvam. In 1994, Dushantha Rodrigo was ordained as a Deacon having completed a Bachelors Degree in Theology. His first posting was to the hill country at Holy Trinity Church, Nuwara Eliya and Christ Church, Ragala. His ministry knowledge was further augmented with a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Senate of Serampore, India. Recognizing the potential of this dynamic young priest, he was posted as the Chaplain to S. Thomas’ College, Gurutalawa. Over the next few years, he served as curate and vicar of many churches including a stint in Matara.  

Bishop-designate Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo recalled God’s divine grace over his life, and added, “I was the vicar at Christ Church Mutwal where a great banyan tree has stood for nearly 150 years, in the church garden. One night I returned home with my wife around 11 pm after conducting a bible study. Suddenly there was a gale-force wind. Before we could enter our home the big banyan tree came crashing down on the house, had we been inside we would be dead. God saved us. However, during this time, as the Anglican community, we were able to celebrate 150 years of the old cathedral (which is the Christ Church). I then served as Vicar of St. Michael’s Church, Polwatte and Chaplain of Bishop’s College for five years. In 2011, I was transferred as Chaplain to STC, Mount Lavinia. It was a memorable moment. I was going back to my alma mater as the Chaplain.

The system of education had changed a lot and we did not have corporal punishment. The students were seen and also heard. ” In recognition of his service to the school, he was appointed Acting Warden. In keeping with the requirements of the church, he was relocated as Vicar of St. John’s Church, Nugegoda where he served for five years.  

The year 2015 was a significant year for Fr. Dushantha as the Bishop invited him to take on the mantle of Headmaster, S. Thomas’ Prep School Colombo 3. On June 11, 2020, he celebrated 25 years as an ordained priest. When the incumbent Bishop of Colombo was due to retire, Fr. Dushantha Rodrigo was encouraged by his fellow clergy to offer himself for the sacred post. There were two other clergymen as aspiring candidates alongside him.  

The final decision came from the Archbishop of Canterbury and thus the dynamic Thomian priest will soon be ordained to the highest office in the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka. Fr. Dushantha concluded by saying, “I am truly humbled by this experience. I am very conscious of the fact that S. Thomas’ College was established to produce an ordained priest for the Christian ministry. We have duly produced many great men of God. I hope to work closely with the youth in all our churches. ”  

The Archdeacon of Jaffna, Rev. Samuel Ponniah (also an old boy of STC) said, “On behalf of the Archdeaconry of Jaffna, I would like to extend my hearty congratulations to Fr. Dushantha Rodrigo as he has accepted the invitation to become the Bishop of Colombo. Fr. Dushy is no stranger to my Archdeaconry as he was here last year to conduct a workshop on liturgy and worship. He was also at St. John’s College on two occasions in my three and a half years here. On both occasions, he came to Jaffna using public transport - once to witness his under 17 cricket team play against St. John’s College in 2017 and next for the installation of the new principal of the college this year.

The church in the North joins me in praying for Fr. Dushy as he will face the challenge to be a shepherd who will understand the hardship his flock is enduring and stand in solidarity with them in their efforts to search for truth and justice and meaningful solutions to governance issues and in the collective journey towards reconciliation. ”  

As the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka moves forward with her new Bishop it would be prudent to remember the words of the great theologian St. Augustine who said to fall in love with God is the greatest romance, to seek him the greatest adventure, to find him the greatest human achievement. This is a magnificent journey of a young altar boy who remained faithful to his calling and whom Almighty God blessed and duly promoted as Bishop.