Since Chilaw had been  famous for pearl fishing from time immemorial, there had been an  influx of  pearl dealers from neighboring counties especially from South India . They spoke Tamil. In fact the word Chilaw is derived from the Tamil word, Silapam which means diving. Indians  had received the message of Christianity from the very beginning, especially from St. Thomas the Apostle himself. Accordingly there had been a settlement of Christians from India in Chilaw probably from the first century itself. They came for  the purpose of pearl trade.


Portuguese Period

1534 –  Ecclesiastical Territory of Goa was established covering a vast territory from Cape of Good Hope to Japan . Thus Ceylon officially came under Goa .

Miguel  Vaz Coutinho, a Portuguese layman with a Doctorate in Canon Law became the first Administrator and Vicar General. 1st Bishop Of Goa , Juan de Alberquerque, a Spanish Franciscan was appointed in 1538.

1537 –    Diocese of Cochin, South India was established . Ceylon belonged to it.

Don Andreas de Santa Maria ,  a Franciscan became the first Bishop. Up to the end of the 16th century, Ceylon was looked after solely by the Franciscans.

1602 –    Jesuits too were invited to serve in  Ceylon by Bishop Juan de Alberquerque since Franciscans alone couldn’t cope up with the work of evangelization. Four Jesuits under the leadership of Fr.Diogo da Cunha, a Portuguese arrived in Ceylon.

A dispute arose between the two Congregations during the time of Don Jeronimo d’ Azavedo and to settle it Ceylon had to be divided into two territories namely, North of Maha Oya ( Kochchikade) which  was given to Jesuits and the South  to Franciscans.

So, Chilaw, Jaffna and Trinco came under the Jesuits.

1610 – Catholic Churches established in Kammala( = Sindatriya) dedicated to Three Magi, Madampe(=Mahawewa) dedicated to O.L.Of  Assumption with sub stations at Marawila ( St Francis Xavier) and at Katuneriya ( St Ambrose)

Chilaw,( St.Peter), Munneswarama ( John the Baptist), Puttalam and Kalpitiya.

1611 –Churches  at Metiyagana, Makandura and We Uda were built.

1616 –12.06 A group of local soldiers killed some of the priests and burnt churches .

1602 – 1658  Northern part of Ceylon had been served by 128 Jesuits from Europe


Dutch Period

In 1658 All the Catholic missionaries were expelled  from the Island by the Dutch.

  • 1687-    Arrival of (Blessed ) Fr. Joseph Vaz in disguise heading towards Jaffna
  • 1690 –    Fr. Vaz in Puttalam
  • 1692 –   Fr. Vaz arrested  suspected as a Portuguese spy at We-Uda on his way to Kandy .
  • 1694 –   He worked a miracle ( a rain ) and the king released him so he could travel

anywhere in his    territory without any hindrance from the Dutch who were all out to  destroy the Catholic church.

  • 1696           Three Oratorian priests smuggled into the Island by Fr. Vaz
  • 1705 8.31  Arrival of  five more Oratorians including Fr Jacome Gonsalvez  and meet Fr.  Vaz at Madhu.
  • 1705.09.08 : First recorded Pilgrimage to Madhu Feast.
  • 1705.9.9     Division of Ceylon into 8 mission fields by Fr.Vaz..
  • 1707.          After the Octave of Easter. The First Missionary Conference at Puttalam.
  • 1709.06.04 Death of Wimaladharma Sooriya II,  the kind hearted king of Kandy
  • 1711.1.16  Death of Fr.Vaz in Kandy . He was buried in the church  at  Bogambara facing Hanthana, the mountain bearing the name of  St Anne (Santhana)
  • 1745 –   Wijaya Rajasinghe, the first Nayakkar King, at the instigation of Buddhist leaders,expelled all the Catholic Priests from Kandy  giving them only two days’ grace, and ordering them to leave the Island within two weeks. But they went into hiding in Wanni.  (They would have removed the sacred remains of  Blessed Joseph Vaz with them and buried at Madhu Shrine.)
  • 1762 – Catholics took the side of the Dutch when a dispute arose between the king and the  Dutch Govt. That pleased the Government. So, they  started treating Catholics favourably.


British Period (began in 1796).

They found Catholics to be very strong in their faith.

  • 1806- Abrogation of all  anti-catholic laws. Religious freedom given to all.

Oratorians started re-organizing the Church from Puttalam to Galle.

  • 1834-  Suppression of Oratory in Goa by the Portuguese Government.

Ceylon , a separate Vicariate Apostolic under Propaganda Fide, Rome .

All the Oratorians were drafted to it.

Vincent de Rosairo, an Indian Oratorian was appointed the first Bishop of Ceylon.

  • 1842- Caetano Antonio, another Indian Oratorian succeded him.
  • 1845- Arrival of Fr. Florentinu Garcia, a Spanish Cistercian ( who served the churches

from  Maha Oya to  Chilaw ) and Fr. Froliano Oruña, another Spanish monk ( who  looked after the churches from Deduru Oya to Kalpitiya)

  • 1848 –  Horatio Bettachini, a European who had been a missionary in Ceylon was made
  • an Auxiliary Bishop in the Northern division of the country.
  • 1848 –    Bishop Bettachini brought 4 Oblates from France .
  • 1848    Ceylon was divided into two Vicariates  as in 1602, i.e. North and South of Maha Oya. Northern Part comprising of  North, North Western, North Central and Eastern Provinces thus making Chilaw  (NWP) a part of the North which was entrusted to Bp.Bettachini.               By that time there were 40 churches and 14,000 Catholics in the NWP.
  •    Oratorians shifted to the Southern Vicariate which was under Bishop Caetano.
  • 1850 –     Fr. Garcia completed the church at Bolawatta  (O.L. of the Assumption) and was              Bishop Bettachini spent his retirement in Bolawatta until his death in1857.Both are  buried in  Bolawatta church.
  •                blessed by Bishop Bettachini. Garcia lived in Bolawatta until his death in 1900.
  • 1850 –  Bp.J.Bravi ( O.S.B.) succeeded Bp.Caetano in the South.
  • 1857 –  Mgr. Stephen Semeria succeeded Betachini as Bishop of the North till 1868.
  • 1860 –   Fr. Oruna completed the Church at Chilaw ( Mt.Carmel) and was consecrated on               I  t is the oldest consecrated church in the Island
  •             Friday the 16th of November the same year by Mgr.Semeria, the Bishop of Jaffna.

NWP under Jaffna Oblates

  • 1863 -66  An Oblate Preaching Band was started with Fr.Christopher Bonjean and Fr.
  •  Constant Chounavel  making Chilaw their centre..The grand wooden retableux was
  •  Constructed during this time when Fr.Chounavel was the PP ..

Arrival of  Holy Family nuns took place during the same period.

  • 1868    A Convent was started at Kurunegala.
  •  Bonjean became the Bishop of Jaffna. (1868-1883)
  • 1871    English schools for boys and girls separately started in Kurunegla.
  •  Kandy Vicariate created and given to OSB’s and Colombo given to Bonjean
  • 1873    Vernacular schools started at Bolawatta, Nainamadama, Boralessa and Gonavila.
  • English school in Chilaw
  • 1875    Chounavel started his preaching mission to non Catholics at Wennappuwa
  • 1883    Diocese of Jaffna was created covering the whole of Northern Vicariate..
  • 1883.8.6- St Bernard’s Seminary was started
  • 1886- Sept. Ceylon Hierarchy was established with Bonjean as the 1stArchbishop.
  • 1892.08.03 –Archbishop Bonjean died. , 4 French Oblates  succeeded him.
  • 1893 – 1905 – Msgr.Theophilus Andrew Melizan was the archbishop.
  • 1893-    Diocese of Galle was carved out of the Archdiocese and compensated with

NWP under Colombo,( after being a part of the North for centuries.)

  • 1892 – 1916- Msgr. L. Zalesky was appointed the Delegate Apostolic of East Indies.
  • 1905 – 1929 – Msgr. Anthony Coudert was the archbishop.
  • 1929 -1937  – Msgr.  Peter Marque was the archbishop.
  • !937               – Msgr Jean Marie Masson became the Archbishop.
  • 1939.01.05- NWP was declared a separate diocese with Chilaw as its centre.
  •  The new Diocese was set aside for the secular clergy. Mgr.Aloysius Perera OMI was nominated as its first Bishop but he died before taking charge of the diocese.
  • 1939.4.20 – The new diocese was proclaimed at the new Cathedral of O.L. of Mt. Carmel and was entrusted to Archbishop Masson for administration.
  • 1940.01.12- Rev. Fr. Edmund Peiris O.M.I. a son of the soil, was nominated as the Bishop of Chilaw. He took charge of the diocese on the 25th of March, 1940.             
  • 1940.4.25 – Episcopal Ordination of the 1st Bishop of Chilaw diocese i.e. whole of NWP.
  • He was the  first Sinhala Bishop of Ceylon , 1st Ceylonese being Bp. Bede Beekmeyer who  succeeded Bp. Pagnani as Bishop of Kandy in 1912.


The period of Bishop Edmund Peiris

Situation of the diocese at the time of its inception.

  1. There were 77,425 Catholics in 27 parishes.
  2. 10 English Schools and 118 vernacular schools with 18,454 children
  3. De La Salle, Franciscan and Marist Brothers looking after boys’ schools.
  4. Holy Family Sisters looking after girls’ schools and an orphanage at Kurunegala
  5. Holy Family Sisters working as Nursing Sisters at Kurunegala Govt. Hospital .

Training College for Women Teachers at Wennappuw

Development under the new administration 

1941 : Seven minor seminarians from St.Aloysius’ , Borella came to Wennappuwa and for a few days put up in an old bungalow  just opposite Joseph Vaz College . It belonged to Mr.Eugene Fernando.  Mgr.Hugo Fernando,  the Vicar General was the first Rector.  Bishop stayed at “ Nazareth ? for some time. And when the Seminarians could be shifted to an old house belonging to Mr.Martin Peiterz in Ulhitiyawa, about 1 ½  miles towards the beach,  Bishop Peiris moved to the bungalow. On  the 2nd of February, 1941 he blessed the ‘new’  residence of the seminarians and thus St. Paul ’s Minor Seminary was born. Bishop stayed opposite Joseph Vaz  till he was donated a  mansion in Chilaw (the present Bishop’s House) by one Mr.C.H..Z.Fernando from Colombo , having business in Moratuwa.

  • 1942.01.25 St. Xavier’s College (English) in Marawila started with 36 boys.
  • 1943.01.08 Arrival of Apostolic Carmel Sisters (Chilaw Girls’ English School was

srarted immediately with 120 girls

  • 1948: Seminarians joined St. Xavier’s College and shifted from Ulhitiyawa to a house

belonging to Dr. Sydney Jayawardana just opposite the College .

  • 1949: Home for the Elders at Lansigama was opened and entrusted to Sisters of Our Lady

Of the Sacred Heart, from Naples , Italy . They had to stay at “ Rocca Porena ? for a

short while until the buildings at Lansigama were ready.

  • 1950.05. Seminarian occupied the present  permanent building put up by Mgr.Cajetan Fernandopulle in the same land where the College stood.St. Peter’s Press and Technical School  was started for  vocational training of the   poor boys, and Muthukumaru Home in Puttalam for poor girls as a finishing school. Boarding houses in Kurunegala , Kuliyapitiya and Mawathagama were established for  poor children so they could enjoy a  good education.
  • 1954:Salvatorian Sisters from Italy replaced the HF nuns at K’gala Govt. Hospital.
  • 1959 All the nursing Sisters  working in Govt. Hospitals were asked to leave by the

Buddhist Government.. So, in March,1959 the Salvatorians were brought to Marawila and  St.Anne’s  Nursing      Home was started at Dr. Fonseka’s   bungalow at Weerahena, with only ten beds. A new building with accommodation for 40 beds and a chapel with residential quarters for the nursing nuns was being put  up by Rev.Fr. Cajetan Fernandopulle in the meantime on the 23-acre land on Church Road , Marawila donated by Mr. Charles William and Mr. Michael Richard of Wennappuwa ( sons of late Mr. Wks..Kalugamage. Zecharias Fernando) on 02.02.’50 (Candlemas)

  • 1961 :  Schools Take-over at the instigation of Buddhist Renaissance.

By that time Chilaw held the first place in literacy in the whole of Ceylon .

  • 1974: Salvatorians left the Nursing Home preferring  rural parish work to nursing and

started living in  Wijaya Katupotha  a remote area in Angunavila parish.

Holy Angels ( Kuliyapitiiya), Benedictine nuns (Wennappuwa), Sisters of Providence (Nattandiya)  and Rosarians (Talavila)  joined the diocese during this time.Institutions such as the Parish Council, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Sacred Heart, Legion of Mary, Sodality of Our Lady etc. were started by the new Bishop.1968.09.06 Co-Adjutor Bishop Rt.Rev.Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando’s arrival  to Chilaw

1972.12.27 Retirement of Bishop Peiris after a service of 33 years.

At the time of his  retirement, there were179,894 Catholics belonging to 90 churches  in 47 parishes with  72 priests.

The period of Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando

Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando, the new Bishop took a keen interest in harnessing the untapped resources of the laity. In fact he compared it to the River Mahaveli which was being diverted to the North to make the arid land fruitful. He got the Parish Councils re-organized.. He started Senate of Priests as well as the Diocesan Pastoral Council of the Laity. As Co-adjutor he had planned and started some sort of a social educational programme which later became Sedec.

First it started as a branch of the Catechetical work. (Rev.Fr. J.B.Antoninus O.M.I. who had graduated from the Cody Institute of  Antigonish , Nova Scotia ,Canada had given an inkling of the social service of the church with his Thrift Societies way back in 1960.

  • 1981 : Sedec was started as a separate institution in an old convent building at    Madampe . 1989 : A new building with a hall and a stage was put up in the same premises.  2008: A multi-storey building was added to the existing complex.
  • 1979  : Sudasuna Hall  as a centre for lay apostolate.
  • 1978  : Family Apostolate:  The first meeting of the Family Apostolate was chaired by the

Bishop on the 27th of  April,1978  with Rev. Fr. Robert Jayatilaka the PP of Haldanduwan as the first Director. It was  was soon shifted to “ Belmont ?, a bungalow of Mrs. Agnes F’do. at  Wennappuwa on  the 2nd of June,1980. Mr.Abel F’do was the first secretary. A plot of land from the Cathedral premises was bought by the Bishop and the work  on a two-storey building was started on  27. 02.82. It was  declared open on 23.05.83. Fr.Robert continued as its Director till he left for Kurunegala in 1987.


Development under the new administration 

  • 1987           –  Fr.Sunil Wijesinghe held the reins till Fr.Emmanuel Fernando’s arrival
  • 1988.02.09- Fr.D.Emmanuel F’do.  was in charge of the Institute
  • 1994.11.01-   Fr Harold Fernando. He was also doing Asipa from there.
  • 1997.05.01-  Fr.Philip Anthony
  • 2004.09.25-  Fr.Jude Nicholas Fernando
  • 1983: Vithanica : Motor Mechanic Course started at St.Peter’s Orphanage was shifted to the present site (in Ta′ppawatta, Chilaw) on Jan.6th 1990 with a few more courses added.
  • 1984            – Sudasuna Press was started.  Radaguru Chintha Books and Tapes published.
  • 1987           – Creation of the Catholic Diocese of Kurunegala covering the whole of Kurunegala District with 35600 Catholics in 15 parishes in an area of 4773 sq.km.

1987.07.18 : Rt. Rev. Dr. Raymond Peiris from the Archdiocese was consecrated as  the first Catholic Bishop of Kurunegala (there was an Anglican Bishop there already) with 22 priests and 50 Religious to help him.Ha.Pa.San.Ka. To encourage our children to improve their talents in cultural activities the Bishop took intiative to  start this Committee. It conducted competitions in various cultural fields annually.Sathmaga: To counteract the bad influence some of the magazines were having on our Sinhala Catholic readership Bishop started a 3-monthly magazine in Sinhalese on the lines of the Reader’s Digest in 1986.Sudasuna Bookshop

  • Family Apostolate Centre
  • Development of Holy Cross Shrine
  • Holy Cross Orphanage         
  • Deduru Oya Retreat House
  • Chilaw Diocesan Medical Assistance Fund

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