On 2nd March 2021 St. Joseph's College celebrated 125 years. Tracing the College's origins and proud achievements, there isn't a better time to track 117 years of evolution, stemming from a seed sown by the then Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Dr. Christopher Bonjean in 1892 the idea of a Catholic College. Unfortunately the Most Rev. Fr. Bonjean did not live through to see his vision come alive. But the good York was carried out by Rev. Fr. Charles Collin and Rev. Fr. Charles Lyntten, both who went on to be Rectors of the College.
The original plan was for the building of a Catholic College in a land at Mattakkuliya, which eventually evolved into the property at Darley Road as the chosen site. 12 acres as it stands now.
With the foundation stone laid in December 1894, by the Papal Delegate for Asia, Rev. Msgr. St. Joseph's College, Colombo, was declared open on the 2nd of March 1896. From a humble beginning of an initial 211 students in the school proper and 96 students in the preparatory school, Rev. Fr. Charles Collin, quite fittingly was appointed the First Rector. The College building was formally declared open by Governor of Ceylon West Ridgeway and was blessed by Most Rev. Msgr. Zaleski, and the Archbishop Rt. Rev. Dr. Melizan OMI gracing the occasion.
The Rector's office, the College office and the classrooms were all housed in the first building - the Clock Tower Building of the College, housing the classrooms, the Rector's office and the College offices. The College Magazine was started in 1905. The Bonjean Hall was the third building to be completed, by Rev. Fr. Charles Lytten, the second Rector, a glowing tribute, perhaps the least, to Fr. Bonjean, a great visionary.
Rector, Rev. Fr. Emil Nicholas OMI was the third Rector appointed in 1912. One of Rev. Fr. Emil Nicholas' greatest achievements was the creation of the first Religious Association of the College - the Guild of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which most students past and present our proud members of.
Four years later, in 1919, another legendary educationist, scientist and efficient administrator Rev. Fr. Maurice J. Legoc OMI was appointed the fourth Rector. Continuing the expansion to meet the growing demand for education, in 1933, the present Primary Building - originally named "The Maurice Block", became the newest addition. It was a replica of the Bonjean Hall adding symmetry aesthetics and architectural marvel to the sprawling facility. The next large expansion was the South Wing, a two-storied building to house classrooms.
Being a scientist, Rev. Fr. Legoc in the 1930's could foresee the significance of Science in education and its role in a changing world. He took leadership in placing great emphasis on incorporating Science subjects into the curriculum As a Botanist, he published "Tropical Botany" a text that was widely known in Ordinary Level classes, both in India and Sri Lanka. Fr. Legoc was also responsible and introduced a scheme of scholarships for the under privileged students, making a difference to the lives of the needy and that of the future generations. Fr. Legoc's vision was to widen the provision of education, continuing to make a difference to the lives of those we had to reach. The initiative saw the birth of,
(a) St. Joseph's College South, later St. Peter's College in 1922
(b) St. Paul's College, Waragoda (1935)
(c) St. John's College, Dematagoda (1939)
Oh the feast of St. Joseph, 19th March 1929, the foundation stone for the College Chapel was laid by the Archbishop of Colombo, yet, another unrivalled architectural marvel, a building with splendour, no columns and acoustic brilliance, one of its kind, the very few in the world, even in today's day and age.
Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai OMI was the fifth Rector, from 1940 to 1961, the first Sri Lankan, a great scholar widely respected in Asia. The Grotto at St. Joseph's, a replica of the Grotto in Lourdes, France, was built in 1940. The College buildings were taken over by the Army during World War II, but the institution continued education with branches housed in Homagama, Kelaniya, Gampaha and later at Borella.
On 30 July 1952, the swimming pool was declared open by Lord Soulbury, the Governor General of Sri Lanka, the first amongst schools to have its own swimming pool meeting international and Olympics' standards.
Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai was followed by Rev. W. L. A. Don Peter the sixth Rector, appointed in 1961, the first diocesan priest to hold this responsible post. Fr. Don Peter, a scholar in Sinhala presided over the most challenging times of education in Sri Lanka, during the state's takeover of schools, with financial support from the state then withdrawn. In 1960 the College became a private, non -fee levying school which was a daunting challenge in difficult times. To ensure sound financial management and continuity of the College, Fr. W. L. A. Don Peter founded the Welfare Association. He also started a pre-school for St. Joseph's.
Fr. Mervyn Weekakkody the seventh Rector followed Rev, Fr. Don Peter, continuing to face the challenges of a non fee levying institution. Rev. Fr. Weerakkody retired in 1974,
Rev. Fr. Quintus Fernando became the eighth Rector. He was called the architect of the green revolution at St. Joseph's. In keeping with times, he gave prominence to agriculture. The Agro 74 was a great exhibition with real agricultural plots created for purpose. He stressed the importance of agriculture in the school curriculum. He continued to improve the financial position of the College and was responsible for initiating and completing our Cricket pavilion, the 'Open air stadium' and the "Turf Pitch' for cricket. On 19th September 1977, the Hon. Ranasinghe Premadasa, the first Old Boy Prime Minister was felicitated by the Josephian family.
In 1979. Rev. Fr. Neville Emmanuel was appointed the ninth Rector. During the era of Fr. Neville he tried his best to enhance and build a spiritual atmosphere at College. Rev. Fr. Neville started the scheme of granting incentives to teachers based on punctuality, attendance, good teaching etc. Fr. Neville initiated the sports council, in an effort to take sports to the next level.
In May 1983, Rev. Fr. B. Stanley Abeysekara was appointed as the 10th Rector of St. Joseph's College. To provide an opportunity for deserving under-privileged students to study at St. Joseph's, a grade 5 scholarship examination was initiated. Based on results of this examination these students were granted an opportunity to study at St. Joseph's. Fr. Abeyesekara initiated building expansion projects, to add capacity to increase student intake. The Enderamulla branch was initiated during Fr. Abeysekara's tenure.
On 30 March 1996, Rev. Fr. Victor Silva (11th Rector) was appointed as Rector of St. Joseph’s College. The Choral singing at St. Joseph’s College reached very high standards, with Mr. Francis Almeida as music director. The Bonjean Hall and the College swimming pool were renovated with funds from Old Boys from the country and overseas. The introduction of the boating facilities were a valuable addition to St. Joseph’s College during the era of Fr. Victor Silva, three classroom buildings were constructed for the Enderamulla branch school. The branch-school of St. Joseph’s at Kadolkelle – Negombo was inaugurated during the latter days of Fr. Victor Silva.