Rev. Fr. Vito Perniola SJ – 100th Birthday –

Rev. Fr. Vito Perniola S. J. – one of the best Catholic writers

100th Birthday

Rev. Fr. Vito Perniola S.J celebrates his 100th birthday on 10th April 2013. Without any exaggeration, one could see him as a legend and a living saint. His devotion and uncompromising loyalty to the catholic faith and religion has never been in doubt. To my humble opinion, he has demonstrated as the best catholic writer of this century on documenting the history of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. He always believed that he has come to this world to fulfil a special mission of God. Countless memories of Fr. Perniola comes back to my mind. His deep sense of knowledge and humble attitude of touching the pulse of the people changed thousands of lives towards the positive path of the Christian way. The famous quotations he often cited are entrenched in my memory.
“Prayer is a dialogue with God, leading to a deeper experience of God” “Any path to knowledge is a path to God”. Fr Perniola was born in the city of Bari in Italy on 10th of April 1913. He is the 5th of nine blessed children of Michelle Perniola (father) and Lucia De G Regoris (mother) of which two of them are priests and two others are nuns. His parents were landowners and owned a town house in which they resided during their school days.
Fr Perniola’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and mother Mary has changed his life entirely. At the young age of nine he attended the church daily until a firm calling to be a Jesuit Priest. He says, on 3rd of December 1924, on the feast of St. Francis Xavier, his vocation to commit himself to the divine calling came into limelight and prayed before Mother Mary with joy of tears.
He excelled in studies during his school days. On 4th of October 1925, he joined the Apostolic School in Lecce. On 10th of April 1928 he entered the Novitiate at Villa Melecrinis in Nepales to start his religious training as a Jesuit Priest. He finished his preliminary training at the Novitiate and was sent to South India on 30th of December 1932 where he had his deep study in philosophy in Shembaganur. On 2nd of June 1936 he sat for the London Matriculation examination focusing on English Language, Mathematics, Italian, Latin and Greek. Thereafter, he was sent to Elpitiya to be in charge of the boys where he also taught English Language and Religious Knowledge. In October 1936, he started studying Pali and Sanskrit. Soon, he sat for the University of London Intermediate Examination where he chose Pali, Sanskrit, Italian and Latin as the relevant subjects. In 1940, Fr Perniola graduated from the University of London with a BA (Hons) on Oriental Languages: Pali and Buddhism as main subjects and Sanskrit and Hinduism as subsidiary subjects of the degree. Thereafter, he joined the Papal Seminary in Kandy, and ordained as a priest on 21st of November 1943. In 1946, he was sent to the Deniyaya Church as an assistant parish priest.
From 1948 to 1955 Fr Perniola worked as a teacher at St. Aloysious College, Galle where he taught Ceylon history to the senior classes and Pali for those students studying for the HSC examination. In the year 1949 April, he became the Rector at St Aloysious College where he remained to fulfil his duties until the year 1952. In 1952 he was selected to continue the deep study on the history of Ceylon of the Catholic Church which was initiated by Rev Fr. S. J. Perera.
His first mission was printing of the new edition of the history of Ceylon Catholic Church which focused on the life of Rev. Fr. Joseph Vaas. On 27th of January 1955, Fr. Perniola joined as a lecturer at Aquinas College in Colombo where he lectured Pali for the intermediate and final year students of BA (Hons) degree of the University of London.

He was awarded a PhD in linguistics by the University of Poona in 1964. He contributed articles of short meditations every month to the ‘Messenger of the Sacred Heart’ for years. Later, these meditations were published as a booklet named ‘Light and Love’.in 1963, he lectured theology at Aquinas College for the young religious and became one of the main lecturers. During his stay there, he prepared more advanced editions of Pali grammar. However, since the London exams were no more in act his grammar was translated into Sinhalese and published. He preached the word of god and delivered religious speeches for over 4 years to the Rev Sisters of Good Shepherd Congregation and Holy Family Congregation. In the same year, Fr. Perniola was appointed as the chaplain to St Luke’s Guild of ‘Catholic Doctors Association’ in Sri Lanka.

He was also appointed as a member of the Senate of Priests in Colombo and actively involved himself in preparing the National Synod of 1968. In the year 1972, he was appointed as the provincial whereas in the year 1974 he was elected to take part in the 32nd General Congregation. During the years 1982-89 Fr. Perniola was sent to the Dehiwala Church as the parish priest. In 1989 he was sent to the Kandy retreat house as the Bursar.
The most significant and remarkable publications were ‘Praying with Scripture’ written in 1978, ‘Touching the Divine’ in 1979 and ‘Abiding in Love’ in 1984.

They were also printed in Bombay by St. Paul’s Society which was later on translated into Tamil and Sinhalese. In 1998, he was requested to look into unfinished work of Rev Fr. S G Perera of translating and publishing the documents of the oratorians who had faith in Sri Lanka. Fr Perniola’s greatest work was documenting the history of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka about the Portugese period as volumes 1-505-1565 printed in 1989, Volume 2-1566-1619 printed in 1991 and Volume 3-1620-1658 printed in 1991. Further, about the Dutch period Vol. 1-1658-1711 printed in 1983, Vol 2-1712-1746 printed, in 1983 and Vol 3-1747-1795 published in 1985. He also wrote the following of the British Period about the history of the Catholic Church.

Vol 1-1795-1844 (Colombo Vicariate) printed in 1992; Vol 2-1845-1849 (Vicariates of Colombo and Jaffna) printed in 1995; Vol 3-1850-1855 (Vicariates of Colombo and Jaffna) printed in 1995: Vol 4-1856-1863 (Vicariates of Colombo and Jaffna) printed in 2001; Vol 5-1864-1878 (Vicariates of Colombo and Jaffna) printed in 2001; Vol 6-1879-1882 (Vicariates of Colombo and Jaffna) printed in 2001; Vol 7-1883-1886 (Vicariates of Colombo, Jaffna and Kandy) printed in 2003; Vol 8-1887-1899 (Archdiocese of Colombo) printed in 2004; Vol 9-1893-1923 (Diocese of Galle) printed in 2004; Vol 10-1893-1923 (Diocese of Trincomalee and Batticaloa) printed in 2006; Vol 11-1887-1923 (Diocese of Kandy) printed in 2007; Vol 12-1887-1923 (Diocese of Jaffna) printed in 2009; Vol 13-1900-1923 (Archdiocese of Colombo) printed in 2010. Fr. Vito Perniola’s work, the result of many years of research is the most comprehensive collection of original documents on Catholic Church history yet published. The history of the church is recorded through documents from the archives and libraries of Rome, Lisbon, Goa, Brussels, Paris, The Hague, Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna of which some were also from many other institutions in Europe and Asia. They were translated and presented in English.

Fr. Perniola is particularly suited for this task. He’s an Italian who has been in the island of Sri Lanka for 37 years. He is well versed in Latin, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, Italian, Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit. He took the Masters Degree in Ecclesiastical Studies both in Philosophy and Divinity and secured an Honours Degree from the University of London in ‘Indi Aryuan’ languages and obtained a Doctorate from the University of Poona. In the year 1949, for the work he has rendered he was made an Honorary Citizen of Sri Lanka where he still continues to serve. He is a true legend of this century and his masterpieces will undoubtedly be read by the religious from years to come.

‘Ad Multos Annos’.

By : Godfrey Cooray


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