St. Anthony’s Parish, Thoduwawa
St. Anthony’s Parish, Thoduwawa is situated in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka and particularly in the District of Puttalam. The Parish comes under the Diocese of Chilaw and it is one of the most important Parishes in the Diocese due to its Catholic population and resources. The Parish is 100% Catholic and hardly one will figure out there a member of another cult. A traditional fishery folk lives in Thoduwawa with a very simple life style but with regard to the faith, they are very steady and are very much traditional. This is the hallmark of this Catholic Community. The Parish had a very simple beginning but now She has grown very strong and steady in faith and in other aspects as well. The Parish has two large Substations namely St. Mary’s Shrine Kudamaduwella and St. Sebastian’s Church Barudelpola that directly come under the main Church of St. Anthony, Thoduwawa. At present there are about 4000 Catholic families living in all three places. Apart from these main three Churches, there are several other Churches in the Parish that facilitate the spiritual needs of the people. Simple fishery folk has a deep faith in Our Lady, St. Anthony and St. Sebastian. St. Mary’s Shrine is very significant in the faith life of the people in the Island because in a time when the faithful could not visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, Catholics from all over the Island visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Kudamadhu in Thoduwawa to invoke the blessings of our Blessed Mother. It is with great pride that all the people in the Parish remember Kudamadhu Shrine as a hallowed Church which served as a substitute to the miraculous Madhu Shrine in a time when people could no longer visit Madhu.
The history reveals that St. Anthony’s Parish had only 500 Catholics in the year 1873. The first Church of the Parish was a cadjan sheltered small house. The first Priest who served in the Parish is Rev. Fr. Joan Salvadore who is an Oratorean and he came in 1841 with the blessings of the Major Superior of the Congregation of the Oratoreans. Then 24th April 1867 onwards the Catholic marriages were registered in this Church. At this time the Church was managed by the Parish of Madampe. In this time the people felt the need of a new Church and then with the guidance of Rev. Fr. Thursian who came from France, people began to build a small new Church in the close vicinity of the cadjan sheltered Church. People helped the construction in different ways and they contributed a lot. In 1894 Rev. Fr. Pahamune who took up the Parish of Mattakotuwa came forward to complete this Church and this Church is a part of the present Edifice of St. Anthony in Thoduwawa. In the meantime the Parishioners worked together to build a mission house for the priests who would come to serve them. Almost all the people supported this task. Since then many Catholic Priests visited Thoduwawa Parish and served there. As time passed by the Church could not contain the increasing number of the Faithful and thus the Parishioners together with the Priests who served at the Parish began the work to enlarge the Church. The construction work went on for a long time under the toil of the Faithful and the supervision of many Catholic Priests who rest in the Lord now (though the names are not mentioned here). Then by 1929 the Parishioners could complete the work of the present large Church under the guidance of Rev. Fr. Robert who has been visiting Thoduwawa since 1923. Then in 1929 the new Church was blessed and declared open by Most Rev. Dr. Anthony Kuder the Archbishop of Colombo. As it was mentioned earlier that Thoduwawa was under the Parishes of Madampe and Mattakotuwa until the year 1950. Since 1950 Thoduwawa was raised to the status of a Parish in the true sense of the word and it is believed that the other Substations were formed afterwards and the Parish grew strong in faith through the intercession of St. Anthony year after year. The first Parish Priest was Rev. Fr. P. Joseph. Rev. Fr. P. Joseph and all his successors labored hard for the growth of the Parish and the people are still grateful to those holy souls who have brought the good news to them.
The Parish comes under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw and a line of Diocesan Clergy served the Parish as Parish Priests. Among them, Rev. Frs. Sarto Nonis, Emmanuel Vijitha, Nihal Pius, Morris Anderson, Alex Weerasooriya, Neville Sebastian, Bennet Shantha and Marius Fernando are note worthy. They served the Parish in many great ways and their services still resound in the hearts of the people.
In 2006 the Parish turns a new page in the history by welcoming Sylvestro Benedictine Congregation into their midst. Rev. Fr. Shamindra Jayawardena OSB becomes the first Benedictine Parish Priest and Rev. Fr. Niranjan Wijeratne OSB becomes the first Assistant Benedictine Priest in the ever Benedictine legacy in Thoduwawa. Benedictine Fathers served the Parish of Puttalam over six years and at the end of the contract with the Parish of Puttalam under the kind request of the Bishop they took up Thoduwawa. They organized many programmes for all the categories of the Faithful in the Parish to cater to their spiritual needs. They once again beautified the Church and enlarged it with the support of the people. They also built a very special Shrine room for the eternal adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and put up a lovely Grotto for our Lady of Lourdes. They renovated St. Anthony’s Church and the Church of our Lady of Kudamadhu completely with the two jubilees they celebrated and constructed a new Church for St. Sebastian at Barudelpola. They mainly worked to eliminate the pest of Christian fundamentalism from the Parish and strengthened the Basic Christian Communities (ASIPA). Benedictine Monks like wise still render a valuable service to the Parish. At present they have taken up the education of the children in the Parish School. After the services of Rev. Fr. Shamindra Jayawardena OSB and Rev. Fr. Niranjan Wijeratne OSB, Rev. Fr. Eugene de Silva OSB became the Parish Priest and Rev. Fr. Dushantha Pererea OSB became the Assistant Priest. These two Benedictine Monks still serve there until this day. It should be noted down here that after being immersed in the profound Benedictine Spirituality that the Parish of Thoduwawa entered in to a period of spiritual, pastoral, human and physical renewal. In other words it could be called the renaissance of the Parish.
This Parish is over 75 years old now and the blessings of God the Almighty through the intercession of St. Anthony is very evident in the Parish when you look into the lives of the fishery folk. It becomes further evident through the number of Priests and the Religious that She has produced to the Holy Mother Church. To be very particular about this She has gifted over 25 Priests and over 60 Religious Sisters both living and dead to the Church. This fact itself is a proof for the abundance of the blessings that God has granted to the Parish Family. God still grants His blessings to the Parish through St. Anthony of Padua.
The Benedictine mission in Thoduwawa has borne much fruit and will continue to bear. Benedictine Spirituality has begun to become a part of the common life of the people and Benedictine peace (Pax Benedictina), simplicity, poverty, community living and especially the obedience inspire the faithful to follow Jesus closely. The Benedictine Congregation who built the local Church continues to do so in different localities and Thoduwawa is one of them. Our prayer would be that the whole Parish of Thoduwawa may spell the syllables of holiness and arrive at the haven of sanctity being moved by the Benedictine Charism.