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Rev. Fr. Joe Vas : A great director returns home

Most past students of St. Benedict's College, Kotahena who passed through the portals of the school during the 1950s to the 1990s would agree that their beloved teacher Rev Bro Edward (now 75 and living in retirement) was their most unforgettable character.

For, the charisma, selflessness, chosen words and organising genius of this amazingly diversified character, held us in awe. And his popularity was widespread for he was equally articulate in English and Sinhala. But soon, St Benedict's lost their genial teacher, when in 1979 he was ordained a Catholic priest in Oklahoma City, USA, taking the name of Fr. Joe Vas.


Rev Fr Joe Vas stayed in Oklahoma City, until he returned in retirement to Sri Lanka, recently. Fr Vas now resides at "Rosendra" 25, 2nd Lane, Welisarawatte, Mahabage, carrying out his religious duties. Notwithstanding brain surgery he underwent, following an injury to his head, he is fit enough to do his gardening, but avoids the head stand in his yoga asana routine. Looking younger than his chronological years, Fr Edward (of the past) wishes to communicate with his past students.

It is indeed difficult for us Benedictines to think, or refer to our great teacher by any other name, than the one we knew him best, Bro Edward. Born in Haputale, in 1929, he attended De La Salle College, Mutwal and De Mazenod College, Kandana and at age 12 entered the novitiate.

Bro Edward had taught at St. Andrew's College, Puttalam, De La Salle College, Mutwal, St. Anthony's College, Wattala and St Sebastian's, Moratuwa, before he came to St. Benedict's in 1958. principal

At St. Benedict's he was the principal of the middle school, being Form I and Form II, 'as it was known time', in addition to being in charge of the boarding department.

Bro Edward recalls boarders, Ryle Caspersz, Dr Michael Joachim and Vijay Silva. But, it was in his role as principal that the writer knew him.

A genius at organising, Bro Edward had the boys play inter-class cricket and football matches (in addition to the inter-house matches) while the whole class was present to cheer their teams. Amidst work, there was play and in this context, the 'spelling bee contests' he held, comes to my mind.


Bro Edward's versatility was never more vivid than when he used the rod to maintain discipline and with the same blink of the eye, he remained a friend to his pupils too.

In those days St. Benedict's lunch interval continued from 12 noon to 1.15 p.m. According to Bro Edward's measure, time had to be spent gainfully and he conducted a musical half-hour from 12.30 to 1.00 p.m. with amplifiers, so that the whole school could listen to the music.


It was called 'request time' and a request for playing a musical record carried the payment of 5 cents. These requests times, evolved into 'Our Own Musical Shows,' with students of St Benedict's performing as vocalists and musicians. Tickets were sold at 10 cents and with the first show, Rs. 70 was donated towards sending a schoolboy cricket team to Australia.

Twice a year the student of St. Benedict's and girls of the neighbouring Good Shepherd Convent held a joint musical show with each school allowed 300 tickets and Cupid did not even bother to aim the arrows he shot. Anything new in music and entertainment was added in, and the hoola hoop, a hit in late 1950 was included in the agenda. The girls events included vocal and even tap dancing. These joint musical shows were performed at the Kandy Good Shepherd Convent and at the Maharagama Teacher Training School too.

Consequent to these musical events, the two schools produced some outstanding vocalists and musicians of the day and in those days when the popular local musical groups were formed, the Benedictine and Good Shepardians formed the core.

Some of these Good Shepardians Bro Edward remembers best are, Wilma Schuilling, who used the stage name, Wilma Singling, Dalrene de Kretzer, Deanna Abeydeera and among the boys, Tery Soysa, Dynamite Thuering and his brother Wildhelm Thuering (The Thuerines later became international balancing artistes) the L Brothers, and Denzil and Bosco who yet sing together. Even the comperes matched the excellence of the musicians and Anselem Gunesekera, Derrick Gooneratne and Ryle Caspersz are also such outstanding people.


In 1967, Bro Edward went to the Philippines to read for his MBA and Masters in Religious Education. Back in St Benedict's in 1972, he was appointed director of the school and proved to be one of the great directors, the school produced. But a year later, Bro Edward found it not to his liking to collect money to run the school and asked to be transferred to Pakistan, where there are schools run by the Lasallian Brothers.

Soon, Bro Edward felt that his vocation was with mature people and not in the care of schoolboys. So, he went to Oklahoma City in USA. There, he was a prison and hospital chaplain. What the Americans admired most in Fr Joe Vas was his flawless knowledge of English and his devotion and dedication to their spiritual needs, we understand.

Did he miss the boys? "No" was the answer. But when he heard that the Thuering brothers were in town, he did not rest until he got their telephone numbers.

Courtesy: Sunday Leader 21st November, 2004 by Elmo Leonard
 Posted by webmaster on January 18 2006 05:49:46 0 Comments 3414 Reads Print
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