There were four ecclesiastical regions, Kalpity-Puttalam, Chilaw, Kammala and Kurunagala, in the Northwestern province of Sri Lanka, which had an area of about 3,400 square miles and about 220,000 inhabitants in 1860. This province was generally flat and uniform except on the southeastern part bordering on the central province and on the western province. The soil was fertile. The coastal regions had an abundance of coconut trees. The northeastern part was not cultivated for lack of rain. These four regions were the only ones in the Northern (Jaffna) Vicariate that were economically rich and healthy.
Kalpity which was also known as Calpentyn earlier is located at the mouth of Puttalam lagoon, beyond which is the Gulf of Mannar. The region of Kalpity was considered an island since it was bound by the ocean on the North and the West, by the Deduru Oya on the South and by the canal and the sea of Puttalam on the East. The island of Kalpity is from North to South about 45 miles in length, and a little less than three in breadth. According to the geographical map of Sri Lanka Kalpity is 158 miles from Jaffna, 35 miles from Chilaw, 103 miles from Colombo, and 12 miles from Puttalam.
According to a report on ‘The Various Missions of Ceylon’ sent to propaganda Fide by Bishop Caetano Antonio, Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon on 12 February 1844, the number of Catholics in the general areas of Chilaw, Kalpity and Puttalam were 5285 of people of Tamil and Sinhala. In the mission of Kalpity there were fourteen churches, of which two were constructed of stones covered with tiles; the others were of clay and covered with thatch, and they were small. Seven were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, four to St Anthony, one to St Paul the apostle, another to St Anne, another to St Stephen. Only one was twelve miles from the other; the others were distant from one another by two miles, three miles, and one mile. In this mission, as in the whole of the North-Western Province, the Protestants were few but the Muslims were numerous and they grew in number, wealth and influence since they try to monopolize all the commerce.
Bishop Bettachini, an Oratorian, in a report on his Vicariate of Jaffna on 8 December 1852 had this to say: In Kalpity “we meet four or five catholic communities among a few pagans in a land full of forests. This is in the charge of two Oblate fathers. There are four schools, three thousand five hundred Christians with thirty-two chapels: half of them are in the island and the other half on the neighbouring territory of Ceylon. In this mission, though it is the most extensive of my vicariate, the yearly conversions hardly reached twenty-five.”
The missionaries of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate arrived to Sri Lanka in 1847 on the invitation of the Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna Bishop Bettachini, an Italian Oratorian, and soon extended their mission activities to all corners of the Jaffna Vicariate. Fr. Frédéric PompéeMouchel, o.m.i., arrived in Jaffna on 12 May 1849 in the second band of missionaries; and after a year of ministry in Batticaloa he was sent to the mission of Kalpity on 08 September 1850 as a successor of Fr. Don Froilano Oruna, a Spanish Benedictine. He was the first Oblate to go to the mission of Kalpity.
Kalpity then was a very poor terrain, dry and without any cultivation. The mission of Kalpity, which then included the Christians of Akkaraipattu, extended up to Kaddaikadu. This mission was generally feared by the missionaries on account of its unhealthy climate, difficulty of communication through sand plains, the strong wind blowing from Puttalam, and especially of some malpractices of its inhabitants.
Fr. Mouchel was successful in his ministry. Fr. Louis Marie Keating, o.m.i., I was his companion in the mission from 1850 to 1852. Fr. Léon Pélissier, o.m.i., immediately after his arrival in Jaffna in 1852, was sent as Assistant to Fr. Mouchel in the mission of Kalpity. He took up residence in an isolated out-station of the mission, without the knowledge of the local language or an interpreter, and applied himself vigorously to the study of the indigenous languages. Very soon he was able to speak Tamil very fluently. Fr. Mouchel fell ill with fever and with boils and eruptions all over the body. He was recalled to Jaffna and sent to the seashore mission of Point Pedro in September 1853. He was succeeded by Fr. Erminio Guidi, an Italian Oratorian.
Shrine of Saint Anne at Talawila
In this island of Kalpity, there is a famous shrine of Saint Anne at Talawila. In the report of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jaffna for the year 1850 it was said: “The church of St. Anne built in a handsome style and richly adorned with flowered satinwood, to which every year resort so many thousand pilgrims from every part of Ceylon and from the continent too, in order to fulfil vows. The festival day is always on the Sunday immediately after the 26 July.” Around this shrine, built almost on the beach, there is a plantation of coconuts that is so much more attractive since around the church there is nothing else but thorns and sand.
According to the testimony of tradition, as recorded by Bishop Ernest Christophe Bonjean, o.m.i., it is most probable that the pilgrimage to this shrine began some time in the 17thcentury. The origin of the shrine was said to be with an apparition of Saint Anne. There were many oral traditions about it. According to a testimony of tradition, there was a Portuguese traveller who was very tired after a long journey; lied down under a banyan tree while commending his soul to Saint Anne fell asleep. In a dream he appeared to have seen a small stature of Saint Anne under the foot of the tree with two candles whose flames composed a halo to the statue who wanted a sanctuary for her in that place. When he woke up he saw a real stature of Saint Anne as the one was in dream. He immediately put up a small hut under the tree and placed the stature in it. Later when his business was successful he erected a small chapel in the name of Saint Anne.
According to the available documents, the first chaplain to the shrine of Saint Anne, Talawila, was a Goan Oratorian priest, called Fr. Naruncha; he commenced his work in 1843. The first Oblate priest to go to look after the administration of the shrine was Fr. Mouchel in 1850. There were other Oblates had been pastors the mission of Kalpity and the administrators of theshrine of Saint Anne, Talawila. Some outstanding among them were Fr. Gustave Desforest, o.m.i., who began his priestly ministry at the Shrine of St. Anne in Talawila in 1864, Fr. Boniface Gourdon, o.m.i., in 1865 and Fr. François Gouret, o.m.i., in 1873.
Bishop Bonjean, during his episcopate, was always proud of this shrine, and did not fail whenever possible to preside at the feasts. He caused new constructions to be raised for the convenience of the pilgrims and appointed some of his best missionaries to take charge of the shrine. Amongst the priests who had been over there, Fr. André Mélizan, o.m.i., was remarkable. In 1875 he was sent to the mission of Kalpity as pastor and the administrator of the shrine of Saint Anne, Talawila. Under the administration of this young missionary the church was considerably enlarged and beautified. His father, M. Mélizan of Marseilles, sent him a bell weighing 300 Kg., which adorns the belfry and enlivens the festivities with its melodious chimes. His successors in the ministry have continued the work adding their share of selfless toil to promote among the faithful a true devotion to the Mother of the Immaculate Mother of God.
Another region in the same administrative district coming under the Jaffna vicariate was Puttalam. This had been a part of the mission of Kalpity. Puttalam was the seat of the administration of the Northwestern province in 1852. There we had a church built around the year of 1850 and piece of land, of a perimeter of about two and a half miles. A small part of it was planted with coconuts; the rest was forest and grass land. There were some ten thousand trees whose revenue was substantial for the Vicariate. Some available documents show a presence of an Oblate, Fr. Joseph-Marie Ghilini, o.m.i., who served at Puttalam in 1891. While at Puttalam, Fr. Ghilini also looked after the mission of Anuradhapura, which was then part of the parish of Puttalam. He was the first resident priest at Anuradhapura in 1891.
Fr. Augustin Rouffiac, o.m.i., came as a resident priest, in 1875, to a place called Akkaraipattu, which had been earlier under the mission of Kalpity.
According to the report sent by Bishop Semeria to Propaganda Fide on 3 September 1861, in the Mission of Kalpity there were several Christian communities but they were generally at a distance from each other. There were two missionaries in three churches and nineteen chapels with 3,710 Catholics in the mission of Kalpity in 1861. There were two schools in different stations.
The old mission of Kalpity is now part of the Diocese of Chilaw, which was erected in 1939 in the area that was carved out of the diocese of Colombo and the diocese of Jaffna. The first bishop of this new diocese was Bishop Edmund Peiris, o.m.i., who was also the first native bishop of Sri Lanka. On his retirement in 1972 Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando, a secular bishop, succeeded him in the diocese. Hence, the presence of the oblates still continues involving in various ministries in the diocese of Chilaw.
Jerome Velichor, o.m.i.