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St. Bridget's Convent

 A tribute to St. Bridget’s Convent

by Prof. Savithri Gunatilleke
Department of Botany University of Peradeniya
As a past pupil of this august institution, it is a pleasure, a duty, and indeed an honour, to have been asked to present this tribute to St. Bridget’s Convent on her centenary. It is with great humility and a deep sense of overriding responsibility that I stand here today to accomplish this important task.

A century ago St. Bridget’s was born to this little resplendent isle through the good offices of the Good Shepherd nuns of Ireland. These founder nuns, in the prime of their lives, left behind their parents, loved ones and the shores of their motherland, to devote their life to the edification of the children of Lanka. Together with their main vision of keeping Catholicism alive, they also imparted their educational skills, discipline, their music - Irish songs and dance, to the children of this land, and through them to the nation as a whole.

Today, we pay a very special warm tribute to the nuns and teachers who pioneered St. Bridget’s. Both literally and metaphorically, they laid a solid foundation. A foundation so strong and a commitment so deep, that our Alma Mater has been able to withstand the test of time and the many political, financial and social storms, that have blown through her portals in years gone by.

Since the establishment of the school, successive generations of nuns and teachers responsible for her academic progress, have faithfully guarded and preserved her rich traditions. These teachers have kept ablaze that magnificent obsession and glorious vision for excellence in education of their predecessors.

Teachers who have been responsible for the non-academic and extra - curricular activities during this century must be admired and recognized. Extra-curricular activities are an important component of character and confidence building in a student’s life. Especially today, the multiple responsibilities of a woman as wife, mother and part or full time breadwinner are immense. Yet, these teachers have found time after normal school hours to devote to develop sports, music, drama, guiding and other activities of the many school societies. The nuns, like Mothers St. Daria, St. Lourdes and St. Francis Xavier of our times, whom I vividly recall, supported, directed and encouraged the music teachers. It is purely their vision and dedication that added such a rich musical flavour to Bridgetine life. My contemporaries at St. Bridget’s, like me, should have nostalgic memories of the many excellent operas such as Mikado, Gondoliers and HMS Pinafore - each with music from a full orchestra, staged at Bridget’s under the able tutelage of those inspiring artistes, Mr. Arthur Van Langenberg and Mother St. Francis Xavier.

Although time does not permit me to recall all the names of the numerous nuns and teachers individually, I urge each generation of students present here to day to recall those of their own time and recognize the contribution they have made to this seat of learning and, in particular, to your own advancement. To all these Bridgetine nuns and lay teachers who have devoted their lives to classrooms, to drama and music, to sports and to many other school activities, we pay a special tribute today. Indeed, the many and varied sacrifices they have made in their own lives to enrich the lives of the Bridgetine girls, are truly laudable and praiseworthy.

Students are the most vital and vibrant component of any school. They are surely the jewels that adorn the crown. Emanating from diverse and varied backgrounds and homes, the school nurtures them to blossom in character, personality and individuality.

The school teaches them patience, tolerance, respect for the views and ideas of others, tactfulness, honesty, gratitude, morality, ethics and spiritual values; all, essential ingredients in character building. Bridgetines have certainly acquired them. The great heights reached by many past pupils, serving many institutions in Sri Lanka and abroad, are testimony to our school’s high standards. Every Bridgetine, irrespective of what post or position she holds, has the opportunity to radiate the Bridgetine spirit acquired in the formative years, in her own home and in her place of work . We recognize all the past pupils, including those who have left Lanka’s shores, and those who have left this earth, for upholding that Bridgetine spirit in their endeavours and disseminating these to the world.

On this special occasion, we must not forget, the often easily forgotten support staff of yesteryears and today. They have worked diligently backstage, maintaining the wonderful atmosphere of the school. Through their services and dedication they have provided one of the cleansed and prettiest environments any student can hope for in Sri Lanka. Today we recognize their hard work and say a very special "thank you" to each one of them.

The alumni, parents of students and well wishers of St. Bridget’s, have supported the school in many ways, including fund-raising and even providing new ideas to enable St. Bridget’s to keep abreast in a fast developing world. On this occasion, I particularly recall those who have been working closely with St. Bridgets. Of course I should add that we would not be here today but for the wonderful programme laid out by the Centenary Committee to mark this significant milestone of our Alma Mater. The tireless efforts of all these Bridgetines and well wishers are much valued, including the many opportunities provided for fellowship among the past Bridgetines.

These occasions certainly revive the wonderful memories of our teens and take us back to our youth, for some of us that is as much as 40 - 50 years back and more!

Last but not least, a ship without a captain to provide direction and make decisions goes nowhere, and will soon be lost. The Sister Superiors and Principals of yesteryears must have spent many sleepless nights in prayer asking God for wisdom, courage and foresight to provide the best vision and direction for the school, especially when the education systems in the country were being overhauled from time to time. They have carried out their heavy duties with un-daunting courage, without compromise and phenomenally well. Their understanding nature, words of wisdom and encouragement to one and all, unreserved support for all progressive activities, and gentle but firm negative responses to retrogressive ones and advice to mischievous students; have made St. Bridget’s what it is to day and Bridgetines what they are. To all these leaders who have played a pivotal role and been the guiding light at St. Bridget’s, we are deeply indebted.

As I stand here today, it brings back the sweetest of memories of my childhood spent in the majestic portals of this institution, which I am privileged to call my Alma Mater. Alma Mater, you have given us everything a school could give, and never even once asked for anything in return. Strength and perseverance always flow from recognition. May this celebration of your centenary and recognition of your past successes be a strength and an inspiration to the present and future teachers and students, so that you will reign supreme for another hundred years, nay, a thousand years and more.

May your strong edifice and your committed teachers be an everlasting fountain that will continue to provide a sound and fruitful education to all those who come under your wings.