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Tribute to Very Rev. Fr. M.J. Le Goc

Posted on 05 March 2015 by admin

~~VERY REV. FR. M.J. LE GOC: Discovered fungus which threatened sacred Bo tree Etymologically, Le Goc means 'The cheerful man'. True to the word 'great' in all respects, Fr. Le Goc was a cheerful person. His child-like simplicity and charming and generous manner, won the hearts of all. Today, I as a teacher for 40 years, of which a full 20 years were as Principal of the Upper School and the Middle School of St. Joseph’s College, Maradana, Colombo am really fortunate to have got an opportunity of writing something about that great Rector, the unique Frenchman, the Very Rev. Fr. Maurice James Le Goc. In his life time, he was a legend. He was a person of high renown, a celebrated scientist, an astronomer, an architect, a builder of high degree and an educationist of great calibre. Much more than that he was a man of intrepid faith who renounced his fortune, glittering positions and dedicated his life for the services of God and man. Fr. Maurice James Le Goc was born in France in the year 1881. He had his early education in The Christian Brothers’ School in Quimper. When he was 20 years, hearing a call from God he entered the Seminary of the Congregation of The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). He did his B.Sc. and M.A. in London and his doctorate in Rome. He was renowned as a Botanist and an Astronomer. He was ordained a priest on March 30, 1907 at the age of 26 years.

~~In 1914 Fr. Le Goc arrived in Sri Lanka. He was appointed to the staff of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo and was made the Head of the School Science Department. Four years later in 1919 Fr. Le Goc was appointed the Rector of St. Joseph’s College. While being the Rector, he was also a teacher of science subjects, especially botany, biology, zoology and astronomy. He himself wrote a book titled Text on Tropical Botany which was used not only in St. Joseph’s College but in all the schools in the island as a text book prescribed by the Department of Education.

This book became a text book in India as well. Being deeply involved in science in which he showed a special interest, Fr. Le Goc was instrumental in perfecting the college laboratory. His service was so recognized that it did not take much long for the Department of Education to seek the assistance of Fr. Le Goc in the improving school laboratories all over the island, and this assistance he gave very willingly and ungrudgingly.

It was found that Fr. Le Goc was also a great exponent in nature study. His book titled Chapters on Nature Study became the standard text book in Sri Lanka as well as in India. As a botanist, the teaching and the practice of the subject was his great love. His collection of local flora made the college botanical garden very remarkable. He was a very valuable member in 'The Ceylon Natural History Society' to which he contributed immensely.

He was constantly active in extensive research work, especially on nature study. His research and studies on Sri Lanka’s Madu tree, found him recognition in the international field as well. The government of Sri Lanka was very quick in taking advantage of Fr. Le Goc’s exceptional talents, his reputation as a scientist and botanist. Once when the whole of Sri Lanka’s scientists specially the Botanists failed to find the cause of the unknown disease or fungus that was threatening to destroy the sacred Bo Tree (Sri Maha Bodhi) at Anuradhapura, Fr. Le Goc's assistance was sought.

Fr. Le Goc was requested by the then government to investigate the cause. Very soon he discovered the cause to the bewilderment of everybody concerned and helped to preserve this great historical and religious treasure of the entire Buddhist world, which stands in all its majesty today. Fr. Le Goc was a reputed lecturer at the Ceylon Medical College and at the Teachers Training College. He lectures were specially to university students and technological students.

He was on all the councils of education. In the circumstance of studies of natural science, in its theories as well as practicals, Fr. Le Goc started the St. Joseph’s College Farm at Waragoda in Kelaniya. It was a place for the college students to experiment agricultural ventures, hitherto experienced mostly by village children. It was an eye-opener and an experience in life time, to handle garden soil and organic manure of the farm yard.

It was also the vision of Fr. Le Goc to imbibe the students with knowledge as well as experience the dignity of labour. Fr. Le Goc displayed at all times, the importance of the study of astronomy. in our schools. He wrote a book on Astronomy, providing the reader with an introduction to the mystery of the skies. Fr. Le Goc was also an architect of repute. His knowledge in the sphere of architecture is fully and clearly exhibited when one lays his eyes on the beautiful massive buildings of St. Joseph’s College.

There is no one who is not really impressed by the lay-out of the college buildings, the spacious grounds, and the enchanting environment. The magnificent Chapel in the centre of the school premises designed and built by him to the style of the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome, is a very well fitting living monument to him.

While being the Rector of St. Joseph’s College, Fr. Le Goc with the objective of quality education in mind founded St. Peter’s College at Bambalapitiya which was then called St. Joseph’s College South which today is another leading Catholic School in Colombo. Fr. Le Goc also started St. John’s College, Dematagoda and St. Paul’s at Waragoda in Kelaniya. Thus Fr. Le Goc has given four leading educational institutions for or country, Sri Lanka.

Fr. Le Goc served first as a teacher at St. Joseph’s College for four years from 1916 to 1919 and then as Rector of the college for 21 years from 1919 to 1940 thus altogether accumulating 25 years of service at St. Joseph’s College. After his retirement from the College in 1940 he was appointed the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Colombo. His death was shocking and tragic. When on his normal daily routine journey to St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo for Benediction, an out of control Army vehicle hit the car in which he was travelling, at Ward Place.

It was a terrific motor traffic accident. He was thrown out of his own vehicle onto the main road with serious head injuries. Almost instantly, he succumbed to his death. This unfortunate accident happened on the 17th of March 1945. He was then only 64 years of age. I was fortunate to have joined the massive funeral procession from St. Joseph’s College, Maradana to Borella Kanatte. I was then only a 12 year old school boy.

Today while we recollect his 70th death anniversary, we also recall our memories of his 134th birth anniversary. 25 years ago, the Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts of Sri Lanka, issued a colourful commemorative stamp of the size 30×40 mm of the value 75 cents on National Heroes' Day on 22nd May 1989 in honour of this great foreign Missionary, for the remarkable and valuable services rendered by him to our motherland.

May the soul of the Very Rev.Fr. Maurice James Le Goc Rest with the Lord!

Former Principal Upper School/Middle School St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10


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