Monday, August 6, 2012


By a decree of 9 September 1847 Rome erected two vicariates apostolic in Sri Lanka, the northern vicariate of Jaffna and the southern vicariate of Colombo, the former dependent on the latter, and with Bettacchini as its Pro-Vicar. Two years later, by the apostolic brief of 13 August 1849, the northern vicariate became autonomous with Bettacchini as its Vicar apostolic.

The Italian Sylvestrine, Joseph Bravi, was nominated coadjutor to Caetano Antonio in Colombo. The northern vicariate comprised the Northern, North Central, Eastern and North Western civil divisions or provinces, while the remaining provinces (Western, Central, Uva, Sabaragamuwa and Southern) together formed the Southern Vicariate.

Thus from 1849 there were two vicariates in Sri Lanka, Jaffna and Colombo, both having Oratorian bishops, Caetano Antonio, an Indian, in Colombo. and Orazio Bettacchini, an Italian, in Jaffna. In 1856 the Oblate Semeria was appointed coadjutor to Bettacchini in Jaffna. When in the following year (1857) the Oratorian vicars apostolic of both Colombo and Jaffna died, their coadjutors succeeded them, so that Colombo had a Sylvestrine bishop (Joseph Bravi) and Jaffna an Oblate (Stephen Semeria).

This position of Sylvestrines being in charge of the Colombo Vicariate continued for the next quarter century, three Italian Sylvestrines being Vicar Apostolic one after the other: Joseph Bravi (1857-1860), Hilarion Silani (1863-1879) and Clement Pagnani (1879-1882). The Oblates had charge of Jaffna for the next 115 years (till 1972).


In 1868 the first Oblate Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna, Stephen Semeria, died and Christopher Bonjean was appointed to succeed him. He was followed by four other French Oblate bishops, Andrew Melizan (1883-1893), Henry Joulain (1893-1919), Jules Brault (1919-1923) and Alfred Guyomar (1924-1950), and then by a Sri Lankan Oblate, Emilianuspillai (1950-1972). After him came for the first time a bishop of the diocesan clergy, Bastiampillai-Deogupillai.

We have seen that in the vicariate of Colombo the first two bishops, who were Indian Oratorians, were followed successively by three Italian Sylvestrines. But the Sylvestrine order was not in a position to supply the vicariate of Colombo with the missionary personnel it needed. The Holy See therefore decided to entrust Colombo too to the Oblates and in 1883 transferred Bonjean from Jaffna to Colombo, after he had been Bishop of Jaffna for 15 years.

At the same time a new territorial unit, the Vicariate Apostolic of Kandy, comprising the Central and Uva Provinces, was created and Bishop Clement Pagnani transferred from Colombo to Kandy. Thus 36 years after the setting up of the first two vicariates, Colombo and Jaffna, a third was erected, but Colombo and Jaffna, both now looked after by the Oblates, remained the two major vicariates in the island, where most of the island's Catholics lived.

In 1886, three years after Bonjean's transfer to Colombo, came the decision of the Holy See to establish the hierarchy in India and Sri Lanka. At an Episcopal assembly in Colombo on 6 January 1887, the Apostolic Delegate, Antonio Agliardi, promulgated Rome's decision. Colombo became an Archdiocese, and Christopher Bonjean the first Archbishop of Colombo.   Jaffna and Kandy became Colombo's suffragan dioceses.

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