1976 – 1989
Fr. Anton Thilakaratnam R June 12, 1932 at Karampon, Kayts, he began his primary education at St. Charles; soon he joined St. Martin’s Seminary and had his formative years of learning at St. Patrick’s then schooled at St. Francis Xavier Seminary for philosophy and theology all in Jaffna before he was sent to Rome to further his theological studies and after completion of which, he was ordained a priest in Rome on December 21, 1957. On return to his homeland, he started his pastoral work as Asst. Parish Priest at St. Sebastian’s church, Mannar.
From there he came to St. Henry’s College Ilavalai in 1959 still bubbling in his
youthfulness, as Warden under the erudite Rector, Rev. Fr. L. A. Singarayar. Thus he began his long drawn and fruitful linkage with St. Henry’s which spanned over half a century even after his
retirement. Before long, he became the Vice-Rector of the college and was a source of strength
behind Fr. Rector in administrating the school and the Hostel in its customary disciplinary traits. In 1960, Fr. Anton was instrumental in restarting the engines of the Colombo OBA of St. Henry’s; he in fact, came to Colombo on a mission at the initiatives of Fr. Rector and had which was briefly defunctat the time, through it was founded as far back as in mid Colombo on a mission at the initiatives of Fr. Rector and had revived the OBA s far back as in mid 1930s.
After the brief stint at St. Henry’s, Fr. Anton took charge of the administration of st Martin’s Seminary for a couple of years and from there he was posted to St. Mary’s Cathedral Jaffna as Parish Priest from 1966 to 1969. A most challenging exposure came his way in 1969 when he was appointed as Vice Rector of the Propagation of Faith University in Rome; he stayed in the same position until 1974.
his return from Rome in 1976, with the wealth of experience acquired in the West, and duly qualified with degrees and finally crowned with a Master’s degree in Education from Ottawa
University, he came to Ilavalai again, this time as the Rector of the St. Henry’s. His predecessor Fr
John Francis had done the spade work in putting St. St. Henry’s College Football teams to national
level and winning all island trophies since 1974 but the pinnacle of this dominance came about
beating St. Patrick’s 2-1 at the ANCL all island under 19 football tournament in Colombo in
1977.The same year also marked another turning point for our Alma Mater. St. Henry’s College
having been managed by the Bishop of Jaffna for 17 years, had to be handled over to the state due to dire financial constrains. His rector-ship during this crucial transitional phase and the period that followed, spoke volumes of his managerial ability; he steered the college in the same cherished
tradition as his illustrious predecessors. Fr. Anton made the college administration simply a fine
art. “A sweet diplomat” recalls a long standing teacher ofhis time Mr. P.A. C. Anandarajah. During
his long stay from 1976 to 1989 at St. Henry’s his indefatigable effort saw the long felt needs of the
College being accomplished. The elegant double storied classroom block, an Open Air Stage and
parapet wall right round the sprawling playground are all now living monuments of Fr. Anton
Rajanayagam. His paramount achievement was that he found, nurtured, and groomed a most able
successor for St. Henry’s – Revd. Dr. Justin B. Gnanapragasam- who had already served many
ears as Vice Rector under him and took the reins of St. Henry’s in January 1989. Fr. Justin not only lived up to the lofty ideals of the college but made it even better as he charted its course amidst of war, displacements, evacuations and eventually exile during 1990 to 96 from all of which even,St Henry’s was not spared, yethe survived those dark days and trying times.
During this period he was equally engrossed in the affairs of the church as Vicar Forane for
llavalai and its suburbia, where he had his share of troubles too. Against great odds and various
forces at work Fr. Anton boldly changed the order of things. He made tremendous endeavours to
reopen St. Anne’s Church after years of its closure following the social upheavals and succeeded in
opening it. The subtle transformation he set motion in the strongly stratified Jafina society
manifested the true spirit of Christianity and his rooted attachment to the church, which he argues
as the movement of those at the periphery, the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized lot.
Equally significant was his founding of St. Jude’s church in the West of Ilavalai. In consequence
today, the marginalized and the oppressed lot found a new dignity and new identity in the society.
After his retirement from St. Henry’s, he took up pastoral service briefly; he was serving as
Parish Priest of St. Anthony’s Church, Manipay till 1993 then at St. Mary’s Cathedral once again
until 1996; by that time his heart ailment forced him to go for virtual retirement. He then came to
live at the Priest’s Residence at Gregory’s Road, Colombo to avail accessibility for medical
assistance. Yet, he was all cheerful by himself went about doing things.
He was attending to the spiritual needs and guiding the gathering of displaced people from
the North East for their regular Sunday Eucharistic service at the Jesuit Chapel, Bambalapitiya
which portrayed him as a devout Shepherd, who had never forsaken his flock. About the same time
his last all important assignment was that he served as the Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference Sri Lanka.
Henricians Colombo owes him much for his wise counsel, solidarity and support over the
last ten year. There was not a single occasion without his gracious presence among us in Colombo.
The OBA honoured by inviting Fr. Anton Rajanayagam as the Chief Guest for their AGM and
Annual Get-together in the year 2000. Addressing the Henrician community he said; “It does not
matter in life the kind of job or profession one does; all that matters is how he docs it” the message
was a clarion call to the younger Henricians to grow in their own space and make a mark of one’s
On 13h July 2004, he was lying down for while in his easy chair just before saying the holy
mass and peacefully passed away, that too was precisely on the Henry’s Day. There was solemn
gathering of Old Boys and a large catholic crowd at the requiem mass held at St. Lawrence Church,
Wellawatte before the mortal remains was taken to Jaffna, where it was laid to rest.
Fr. Anton Rajanayagam’s priestly life had been many sided. He was a missionary, a
social reformer, a man of virtue, a great Rector and his years at St. Henry’s College and at Ilavalai
mission should be inscribed in gold.