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Fr. Marcelline Jayakody

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was born on June 3, 1902 at Dankotuwa in Sri Lanka. He had his early education at a school in Madampe, a village close to Dankotuwa. And, both the villages, Madampe and Dankotuwa are in Chilaw District. He had his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. In 1920 he entered St. Bernard’s Seminary and was ordained a priest on December 20, 1927. He had an eventful career replete with ups and downs. He was a priest ahead of the times and all his defeats later turned out to be victories. No other Catholic priest in Sri Lanka had touched the hearts and lives of the people in our country like Fr. Marcelline Jayakody.

There was always the love for national culture in his veins. As a young priest Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was criticized in Church circles for offering some Lotus flowers at the sanctuary at the wedding Mass of one of his relatives. Since then much water has flowed under the bridges in Sri Lanka. Now the national culture is given its due place in the Catholic Church and Fr. Marcelline Jayakody is considered an exponent of indigenous culture.

In the 1940s and 1950s, especially around Independence, there was a national awakening in Sri Lanka. This national consciousness had its effect on the Catholic Church as well. Accordingly Fr. Marcelline Jayakody too began to compose hymns with a national fervour. The outstanding hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody at the time like, ‘Ronata Vadina Bigngu Obay’, ‘Nelum Pipeela Pethi Visireela’ and ‘Suvanda Jale Pipi Kumudiniya’, with their superb lyrics, sweet music and local setting, captivated the hearts of all.

These hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody were simple and close to the people. They are appreciated by even non-Catholics. They contain both Christian aspects and national sentiments. They are a clear example for cultural adaptation in its true perspective.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody underwent some training at Shanthinikethan, the famous oriental arts centre set up by Rabindranath Tagore. When Fr. Marcelline Jayakody returned to Sri Lanka he was sent to Tolagatty in Jaffna as punishment for leaving the country without the permission of the Church authorities. Later he served as teacher at St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody made use of his stay in Jaffna to make a study of the Hindu religion and Tamil culture. He wrote a series of articles to the ‘Times of Ceylon’ on Hindu culture and the simple and serene life of the people and the beauty of Jaffna.

In 1953 Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was appointed to the staff of St. Peter’s College, Colombo. And few years later he was transferred to St. Joseph’s College where he joined tutorial staff of his Alama Mater.

Continuing his literary work, he published the book, ‘Muthu’, containing the poems in ‘Kaviya’. ‘Mutu’ won for Fr. Marcelline Jayakody the Presidential Award for the best poetry book in 1979 and in 1983 the famous international award, the Magsaysay Prize.

That is not all. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was the author of several books of prose and poetry, both in Sinhala and in English. He was also a well known journalist who has carried columns in both Catholic and secular newspapers. He was also an active member of the ‘Hela Havula’ for several years. Until his death he was the president of the Sinhala Poets’ Association.

Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera has written a book on Fr. Marcelline Jayakody titled ‘Malpale Upan Pansale Piyatuma’. This is the first book in the whole world written by a Buddhist prelate on a Catholic priest.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was awarded the Kalasuri title by the state and Kirthi Nandana Pranamaya by the Catholic Church for his outstanding contributions to the arts and culture in Sri Lanka.

The death anniversary of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody OMI, the well known Catholic priest, musician, poet, author, journalist and patriot falls on January 15. A household name in our country and a legend in his lifetime, he passed away on January 15, 1998 . He lived long till the ripe old age of 96.

Sincere to God and sincere to man, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody is the proud boast of Catholics, as a national artist and patriot.

The above is taken from an article written by Mr Lesli Fernando.

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