Categorized | Alma Mater

Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Peter A Pillai, OMI – Apostle of Social Justice

Posted on 16 February 2014 by admin


Rev. Fr. Dr. Peter A Pillai OMI

by Stanley E. Abeynayake


Peter PillaiPeter Alcantara Pillai was born on 19th October, 1904 at Wennappuwa. His parents Jacob and Anna Pillai, school teachers hailed from Kayts, Jaffna. His schooling began in his mother tongue Tamil in the school where his parents were teachers. Later he joined St. Benedict's College, Kotahena, Colombo at the age of nine years.

In 1918 he passed the Cambridge Junior with eight distinctions. He was then only 14 years. He passed the Cambridge Senior at the age of 16 years in 1920 also with eight distinctions becoming the first in the whole of the British Empire. Subsequently he became an undergraduate of the then University College of Colombo and obtained the BSc degree with a first class in 1923. In the next year, 1924, he also got through the BSc Hons Mathematics in the first division. Peter Pillai was most deservingly fortunate to win the annual government scholarship in science awarded to the best student and proceeded to the University of Cambridge where he obtained his BA and MA (Cantab). Thereafter he passed the MSc (London) quite easily. He would have entered the much lucrative CCS (Ceylon Civil Service) – the plum of government service got an academic part in the University. However, he opted to become a Catholic priest to serve his God and man.

His elder brother Fr. Cadjetan Pillai, a teacher at St. Joseph's died of plague whilst administering to the sick. His two other brothers too had already joined the clergy. Armed with PhD and DD (Doctorate in Divinity) – Rome he was ordained in 1934. On his return to the motherland, he was appointed to the staff of St. Peter's College, Bambalapitiya and warden of Aquinas Hall, the University Student's Catholic Hall. No other Sri Lankan educationist had such high qualifications. To fight against the twin evils of the day – 1930s – namely, injustice and exploitation, he created two journals, 'Social Justice' (English) and 'Samaja Samaya' (Sinhala). His campaigns and untiring efforts resulted in the enacting of the Shop and Office Workers' Ordinance, Wages Boards Ordinance, Employees Provident Fund Act, Industrial Disputes Act etc. all in the field of Labour or Industrial Law. He also advocated and expounded the theories of worker participation in management, profit-sharing, better housing and living conditions for the working class.

In 1940 Rev. Fr. Dr. Pillai was appointed as the first Sri Lankan Rector of St. Joseph's College, Colombo, the premier, Catholic Collegiate school in the island which post he held with great acceptance and distinction for 21 years till 1961. Highly concerned with moulding the character of youth besides serving in some government commissions, he was the president of the Headmasters' Union, member of the University of Ceylon Senate, founder of the Catholic Students' Federation, the Graduate Federation, the Catechetical Institute, the Xaverian Movement – and the Aquinas College of Higher Studies. Further, as a result of his championing social reforms, it resulted in bringing to statute books such welfare legislation as the National Housing Act, Debt Conciliation Board Ordinance and Land Redemption Act.

An extrovert, a great trait of his character was that he was not at all a racist or communal minded – in that he treated Sinhala, Tamil, Moor, Malay, Burgher students alike. He was not only a tower of strength to Catholic students, especially Josephians but also equally to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic (Muslim) students aspiring for higher studies. When he passed away untimely on September 27th 1964, he was only 60 years of age, 10 years short of the psalmists span of life – three score and ten, which means 70 years. He lived exactly like three score years – 60 years due to ceaseless, unfatigable exertion of his strength in the service of humanity. His excellent services to the country are immemorial

Comments are closed.

Advertise Here
Advertise Here
%d bloggers like this: