THE STORY OF DAHAM SEVANA PROPAEDEUTIC SEMINARY OF THE MOST SACRED HEART OF JESUS
“Daham Sevana” Propaedeutic Seminary of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, is a place that captures the essence of God’s beauty, serenity and Divinity. Surrounded by luscious green, situated on a hillock beside the beautiful and calm waters of river Kalu, it has been the haven for many seminarians, over the past two decades, who earnestly sought to comprehend the will of God for them, through a serious process of guided discernment and spiritual growth.
As Saint Pope John Paul II correctly noted in ‘Pastores Dabo Vobis,’ a seminary should be a spiritual place, a way of life, an atmosphere that fosters and ensures a process of formation so that the person who is called to the priesthood by God may become, with the sacrament of orders, a living image of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the church (42). Daham Sevana indeed has been the ideal location for anyone aspiring to put aside all else, in order to know what God whispers in the sacred silence and solitude.
Archbishop, Most Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando during his tenure of service (1977-2002), together with the Bishops’ Conference, National Seminary and the Episcopal Commission for Seminaries and the clergy, after many discussions at various stages, prayerfully decided to start the pre-philosophate as Daham Sevana in the year 1980. Previously ‘Hawarden’ Seminary in Haputale served as the Intermediate Seminary and now a new phase of formation in the Church in Sri Lanka was to be embarked upon.
A Dream come true for the Archdiocese
The perfect location for this year of pre-philosophate was handpicked by Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando. The property, now to become the new seminary, was originally purchased by the OMI Congregation for the purpose of shifting the Novitiate from Bambalapitya, allowing them to have their own scholasticate independent of the Archdiocese.
Once the OMI Fathers decided to shift the Novitiate to Bandarawela in 1970, Archbishop His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray purchased the property with the existing chapel and other buildings and handed the property over to the OSB congregation to start a monastery with the condition that it be returned if the purpose was not served. The place was used for about nine years for the mission purposes of the Cursillo movement and was again handed over to the Archdiocese in the year 1979. Mr Theodore Perera’s assistance at the purchasing of the property and the love and care he showed to the seminary at the initial stages are also gratefully remembered.
Pioneers who climbed the Mont Eden
Very Rev. Father Ignatius Gamlath and Rev. Fr. Malcolm Ranjith were appointed as the First Rector and the Spiritual Director respectively, of the Daham Sevana Prephilosopate. On 30th September, Nineteen Seminarians (six for the Archdiocese, ten for the diocese of Galle and three for the diocese of Chilaw) were sent to begin their formation in order to experience a more focused and intense year of formation in solving the accompanying issues in the spiritual, intellectual and disciplinary areas, which had become crucial.
Daham Sevan Seminary was officially inaugurated on 4th October 1980. For the last forty years, many have contributed immensely and selflessly to this House of Formation. We extend to them all, our heartfelt gratitude and God’s choicest blessings for the yeoman service rendered in forming seminarians.
- Fr Ignatius Gamlath (1980 – 1981)
- Fr Anselm De Croos (1981 – 1983)
- Fr Sam Quintus Perera (1983 – 1993)
- Fr Francis Nicholas Senanayake (1993-1998)
- Fr Cecil Joy Perera (1998 – 2001)
- Fr Expeditus Jayakody (2001 – 2011)
- Fr Anthony Perera (2011-2015)
- Fr Cecil Joy Perera (2015-
Vice-Rectors and Staff
- Fr Malcolm Ranjith (1980 – 1983)
- Fr Sam Quintus Perera (1981 -1984)
- Fr Sam Quintus Perera (1986 – 1993)
- Fr J.D. Anthony (1985 – 1990)
- Fr Cyril Joseph (1993 -1997)
- Fr Julius Christopher (1997 – 1998)
- Fr Cyril Joseph (1998 -1999)
- Fr Expeditus Jayakody (1999 – 2001)
- Fr Merril Wijesinghe (2001- 2003)
- Fr Sheron Dias (2003 – 2004)
- Fr Lalith Felix, (2004)
- Fr Ignatius Warnakulasingham (2004 – 2008)
- Fr Shelton Dias (2008 – 2010)
- Fr Prageeth Chamara (2008 – 2013)
- Very Rev Fr Emmanuel Fernando (2009)
- Fr Pradeep Manawadu (2013 – 2015)
- Fr Sachitha Kalum Jayalath (2015-2017)
- Fr Asitha Hettiarachchi (2017-2019)
- Fr. Eranga de Silva (2019-2020)
- Fr. Jude Ousman (2020-
Pre-philosophate?Intermediate? Properdeutic - Three Titles but One Mission
It was some thirty years ago – on 19 March 1985 – the Council proceeded to amend the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis ‘The Gift of Priestly Vocation’ promulgated on 6 January 1970. Since then there have been numerous contributions on the theme of the formation of future priests, both on the part of the Universal Church and on the part of the Conferences of Bishops and other individual churches. Above all, recalling the Magesterium of the Popes have immensely contributed towards the formation of seminarians; Saint John Paul II’s avant-garde Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (25 March 1992) ; Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter ‘motu proprio’ Ministrorum Institutio (16 January 2013); and Pope Francis’s guidance that let the church to formulate the new Ratio Fundamentalis (08 December 2016)
The Rectors of Daham Sevana, right from its very inception, took all these documents into consideration and began to look for ways and means to form seminarians during this year of discernment. The formation process at the seminary involves prayerful reflection and growth in discipleship to Jesus Christ in a community setting, so that candidates may become comfortable with and committed to their priestly identity in Him. The primary agent in the seminarian’s formation is God – the Holy Trinity. Life in the seminary demands the integration of the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions of the candidate over years of community life. In this year of discernment, the seminarian cooperates with God’s call as he tries to take on the mind and heart of Christ. The journey, then, is a growth in freedom in response to God’s call and is meant to clarify one’s vocation as consistent with God’s will for that person.
With this single integrated and continuous formation two phases can be identified, namely initial and ongoing. Ratio Fundamentalis identifies various stages in this initial phase; The propaedeutic Stage, the discipleship stage (Philosophical studies), configurative stage (Theological studies) and the pastoral stage.
Though the Daham Sevana seminary was accomplishing its vision and goals by providing the best of the formative values and guidance, the journey of formation has now developed in several ways since the ratio Fundamentalis of 1970. With the initial and primary experimentation of the trial period begun by the synod of bishops of 1990 (VIII General Assembly), the propaedeutic stage is not considered now as an optional stage but a phase of formation that is necessary and mandatory. Hence, Daham Sevana began to adopt the name “Propaedeutic” to emphasise this.
Serving the Propaedeutic Identity
With this new outlook towards Propaedeutic formation, in keeping with new formation directives at Daham Sevana, Spiritual and Human formation are given primary attention while Academic and Pastoral Formation is also given due attention.
Be Human, Be Holy
Human Formation, which is centered on Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is the necessary foundation of all priestly formation and every priest “should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 43).
Forming a man of Communion
The goal of the Human Formation Program at Daham Sevana Seminary, is to form seminarians “who, as priests, will have a clear sense of their identity as ministers who are set aside to act in the name and person of Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Head of the Church…and are men of ecclesial communion, united by special bonds with the Pope, the College of Bishops, their own Bishop, other priests, deacons, consecrated religious and the lay faithful.”
Our Program for Human Formation cultivates the personal and emotional maturity of each candidate for the priesthood and develops the human qualities which are necessary for them to be balanced and capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. These include the ability “to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, balanced in judgment and behavior” (Pastores DaboVobis, 43).
Entering into the mystery of Celibacy
Another primary aim of the Human Formation Program at Daham Sevana Propaedeutic Seminary is to prepare seminarians for lives of celibate chastity. The Seminary educates students concerning the theology and meaning of celibacy and inculcates the necessary skills for embracing chastity joyfully and wholeheartedly, including the need for healthy friendships, emotional maturity, self-reflection, priestly fraternity, priestly asceticism and spiritual direction.
Foretaste of Joyful Labourer
Another major part of their daily time table is manual labour. The seminarians help maintain the 43 acres of land at Daham Sevana. Even though this is a diocesan seminary, during this spiritual year the seminarians will often be reminded of the famous monastic rule; Ora et labora. Hence, doing daily chores is considered not just a physical activity, but a part of human formation.
The young seminarian learns the many important skills such as electrical work and wiring, welding, carpentry, masonry, plumbing, horticulture and animal husbandry.
Through Gifts towards the Gifts Giver
Formation at Daham Sevana also has recognized that Sports and physical activity are not simply fun and games but something more than that. In fact, Vatican guidelines for priestly formation stress the importance of helping seminarians live a healthy life. Ratio Fundamentalis released by the Congregation for Clergy in December 2016, says that seminarians should dedicate time to physical exercise and sports to attain the solid physical, psycho-affective and social maturity required of a pastor. It is just a good, natural way to get to know others who live with them and build community. A balanced sports life at the seminary also shows there are greater values at play, values that go beyond childhood dreams of a professional all-star career and money. Daham Sevana provides the seminarians with the opportunity to play basketball, cricket, football, badminton and plenty of indoor recreation.
A Journey in Search of the “Powerhouse”
As discerning become the most important aspect of the formation at Daham Sevana, a lot of emphasis is laid on spiritual formation. Thus, Spiritual formation nurtures maturity of those aspiring, in a way that the candidate is able to enter into an intimate union with and imitation of the person of Jesus Christ. The serene atmosphere and the nature surrounding the seminary keep inviting the seminarians to be still and ponder on the mystery of their lives and especially their vocation to the Holy Priesthood. Hence, everything else becomes secondary to the spiritual activities during this intense year of spiritual discernment and growth.
The Secret Door to the Sacred Life
Giving prayer the first place in its Program of formation, Daham Sevana tries her level best to raise the minds and hearts of each seminarian to God in prayer. This serves to help them progress in the life to which the Lord calls them. A prospective candidate can never grow in intimacy with Jesus, unless he is deeply connected with Jesus through prayer. Most of them enter the propaedeutic seminary after finishing their School education in the minor seminaries. During which their main focus becomes ordinary level and advance Level examinations. As a result, this stress to attain academic success may rob them of time for personal prayer, even though the minor seminaries are so keen on giving priority to their spiritual growth.
Hence, the Formators are deeply committed to accompanying them in prayer which is twofold: communal and personal, which are both equally important.
Public prayer finds expression in the Liturgy of the Church, namely the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. The community and each member of the community are called to foster an intense Eucharistic spirituality, which includes Eucharistic adoration. Daham Sevana instills in the heart of each seminarian a true love for the Holy Mass, Divine Office, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, meditation, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, examination of conscience and spiritual reading which introduces them to Spiritual giants of the Catholic Church. All this serves to strengthen their personal relationship with the Lord, who called them leave behind everything and follow Him. Once a month they are have the privilege attending a silent of day of recollection which indeed is a day of renewal for their souls. The annual retreat conducted by Rev Fr Darrel Coogne at Supuwath Arana helps lay a good foundation for the spiritual formation.
Then there is personal prayer, which is not a communal act but a community priority. The celebration of the Eucharist and of the Liturgy of the Hours become deeper experiences for those who are faithful to private prayer. The goal of the Spiritual Formation Program is to form future priests to be men who continually work to establish an intimate relationship with God the Father in Jesus Christ His Son through the Holy Spirit.
Mystical Blend of Intellectual and Pastoral Mission
Although this year of discernment and formation does not include a great amount of study of various subjects, the seminarians are initiated into the basics required to begin a program of studies in the future. With this aim in mind, they attend courses on Methodology, Spirituality of Diocesan Clergy, Theology of the Body, Current Issues, English Grammar, Spoken English and Special Usage of the English language, Tamil and Sinhala, while the reading segments of the Vatican II Documents is done on week days.
The discernment program at Daham Sevana does not consider Pastoral formation as an urgent aspect, since the seminarians concentrate on this aspect later during the seven years of formation in the Major Seminary. However, students are sent to parishes near-by in the Deanery on many occasions to be initiated into the needs of the pastorate.
Paradigm shift- Launching to the Deep
The formation program has undergone many changes under various Rectors, in keeping with the church’s teaching and needs of the local Church in line with the Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka. Even though Daham Sevana seminary was started as a diocesan seminary for the archdiocese of Colombo, from the inception, the other dioceses have sent their seminarians to undergo this crucial year of discernment. The Archdiocese considers it a blessing to be able contribute towards the formation of priests for all diocesan seminarians of Sri Lanka. Regardless of the fact that the seminary was started with seminarians from just three dioceses, now all the dioceses send their seminarians to this place of discernment. Hence, at Daham Sevana, for the first time, candidates meet their national companions from other dioceses.
The diversity of those in formation is rich and provides ample opportunity to learn how to maintain unity in spite of differences. Rev. Father Cecil Joy, after consulting many priests of the archdiocese who were involved in formation over the years, and studying of and giving serious consideration to, the church documents on formation, introduced a paradigm shift in the formation programme for the seminarians at Daham Sevana in 1998. His contribution has been invaluable and he has enhanced and added a few key modifications that resulted in the programme being actually different in many aspects; with a clear vision based on the Sacred Scriptures and the teaching of the Magisterium; and channeling all possible resources to achieve the objectives.
The present motto (Cessate et Cognoscite), the seminary Crest, the Seminary Flag and the Anthem are also his contributions, while ‘Pulse’ as the annual Daham Sevana Magazine was begun under his guidance in 2016. The recent improvements to the seminary buildings and surroundings are truly valuable, and they are too many to mention here.
The changes to the existing programme were brought about in order to bring about preciseness and efficiency and to provide a conceptual framework for monitoring, for evaluation, or for an integrated monitoring and evaluation framework during this year of discernment and spiritual growth. He did so by mainly introducing to the formation programme, a specific type of group dynamics.
Seminarians are divided into groups with the intention of mixing them up deliberately. Majority of the activities at Daham Sevana are group-based; necessitating interaction and inter-dependence as opposed to inaction and independence. From day one, Fr. Rector begins a one on one journey with each seminarian. He does so by continually giving the seminarians the opportunity to evaluate themselves and activities during the whole year of formation. He also brilliantly incorporated into the newly set programme, a flavour of what is yet to come. He made it a point, in all possible ways, to give them a foretaste of their priestly life, hinting at various instances, what awaits them as a good and holy priest in their missions in parishes.
Fruitful and Faithful at the Same Time
With the objectives mentioned above for the Spiritual, human, intellectual and pastoral development of seminarians, the following programs are conducted during this academic year, especially to derive values for human and integral formation:-
Integral Education and Life Education program, conducted annually, Methodical carrying out of a Study Paper involving field research, Special Lenten and Christmas Programs (drama, crib, carol competitions, Lenten symbols), Encounters with special groups such as the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion of the Archdiocese and youth groups.
Four-day Camping out Experience; Special exposure program at the Nagoda Police Training College;
Visit to the Parliamentary Complex and Ape Gama; Basics of Vocational Training at St. Vincent’s Home (Maggona); Group Projects (Each groups has to carry out an income-generating Project and cultivate a vegetable plot); Cookery classes; Marc Sri Mission (on Wednesdays); Exposure at a drug Rehabilitation Centre at ‘Miduma’; Human Trafficking, Children’s and Women’s Rights; Sacred Art and Architecture workshop; Workshop on Fine-Dining; Blood-Donation Camp; Workshop on Flower-Decorations; Gift-Wrapping and Hair-Dressing; Training on Event-Planning; Swimming coaching; Basketball coaching; Inter-group sports activities; Debating and general Knowledge skills; DLS English Program (by Daphne Lord School); Organizing Deanery Sacred Heart Confraternity Day and Altar Servers’ Day.
Active involvement in the Deanery Pastoral activities such as the Lourdes Feast, Kaluthara, the Deanery Way of the Cross, Panwila and Kethena feasts and the Holy Week liturgical services in the Panwil Parish. In addition all seminarians have an exposure to the Deanery Daham Pasal system.
There are many others, too numerous to mention; all with specific objectives; eventually contributing towards the realizing of the main goals.
In his approach towards the pastoral formation, Fr. Cecil Joy considered Kalutara Deanery as the context for seminary formation. Therefore, the pastoral experiences they have in the deanery and their contact with the deanery Fathers, Religious and laity have an important impact on contribution about a possible pastoral context for the future ministry.
Taking a stroll down memory lane- Memories of Episcopal Alumni
“Looking back after forty years of service to the Local Church, Daham Sevana has much to be grateful to God for his benevolence and providential care. I am confident that the seminary formators, who have had the privilege of playing a role in the process of forming future priests for the Church in Sri Lanka, are truly humbled by what, through the intervention of God, they have accomplished.”
Rt. Rev. Dr. Anthony Jayakody who served as one of the pioneering formators at the initial stages of Daham Sevana under the Rectorship of Rev. Fr. Anselm de Croos, recalls his experience at Daham Sevana. He very vividly describes the first hand experience he had working with Fr. Croos, from whom he learnt the alphabet of his formation as a seminarian. This was a blessing which assisted him greatly, when he took over the responsibility as the Rector of the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka.
At Daham Sevana his responsibility was to oversee the time-table of the house. But, as he recalls, it was in a way a formation for him to work under Fr. Croos who always guided and directed him as a Dear Spiritual Father. It was there he learned to give a listening ear to the seminarians and be empathetic. As the Vice Rector, he had an unique and a special opportunity to journey with seminarians and to get to know the future leadership of the Church in Asia. Furthermore, this has given him a feel of where the Church in Sri Lanka is at.
The experiences Fr. Croos shared with him, gave him a glimpse of how he should look after our own Seminarians, with the intention of preparing them for something that is bigger and mightier than them. It was there that he discovered in the person of Fr Croos, that at Daham Sevana formation is very closely inter-connected and interwoven with Mother Nature. He would sometimes notice Fr. Croos touching a tree and talking to it, encouraging the plant to bear fruit or pleading to change its direction or to grow faster. His Lordship said that it was the same approach Fr. Croos took in forming the seminarians as well.
He often reminded him that if you need them to grow, flourish and bear fruit you need to give personal attention to each and every seminarian. It was Fr. Croos together with the seminarians who planted most of the trees that we find today at Daham Sevana. He was someone who had a farsighted vision towards forming priests and clergy, by bringing them closer to God through nature.
His Lordship Rt. Rev. Dr. Raymond Wickramasinghe is the first bishop appointed from those who underwent formation at Daham Sevana. When I asked him about his experience as a student, he easily recalled his experiences with the formation offered in the Spiritual Formation program. He further reiterated that he still continues to cherish to this day (and most likely will for the rest of his life) the experiences, friendships, and paths to God. He is very grateful for all that he received during his time of Formation at Daham Sevana. In addition to the spiritual growth, he said he was introduced to development of many other human skills at Daham Sevana. It was at Daham Sevana that he mastered the game of basketball. According to him the best part of the formation at Daham Sevana was the camaraderie they experienced among all the diocesan groups. He also mentioned that the same fraternity and brotherhood is still shared by all their batchmates to this day.
Many others have related many stories; and there are many important contributions made by each. Many remember Fr Sam Quintus as a very practical person; not so much into theory, but able to drill formative values more by brawn than by brain. His invaluable contribution to the development of the seminary buildings and the estate, and the warm relationships he built with the village are remarkable. Fr Francis is remembered by many for bringing in a blend of the various aspects of formation; his mastery in Canon Law, as some would recall (although they did not realise these while undergoing formation) brought in plenty of preciseness and discipline which are much appreciated. Fr Expeditus Jayakody, with his youthful commitment continued from where he picked up, having collaborated excellently with Fr Cecil Joy Perera for two years as Spiritual Director. His long tenure of office as Rector certainly solidified the foundations laid for the various aspects of formation. He was assisted by a number of Spiritual Directors and his untiring efforts proved him to be a leader with clear objectives in mind; ensuring that they are reached by the students. Fr Anthony Perera brought in heaps of experience as a very senior priest of the Archdiocese; especially with decades of experience serving at ‘Subodhi’ Institute in Piliyandala, and helped students in their quest for self-discovery. He had already been involved in personally guiding and directing students long before he became Rector. All these contributions are precious.