It was such an honour to be invited to write a message for the magazine to be published for the celebration of 50 years of priesthood for our beloved Father Stephen Abraham former Principal of St Anthony’s Collage Kandy, Sri Lanka.
My first encounter with Father Stephen was when he spoke at the college assembly soon after taking over as the principal of St Anthony’s College Kandy. While I was not mature enough to know a good speech from a bad one, the tone of his voice and the charisma of his personality were electrifying. I cannot remember any of the words uttered by this great man given the passage of time but his personality made us have mixed feeling of hope, respect and fear.
Father Stephen was such an encouragement to us sportsmen of the college. I cannot remember any match that he was not present at. He would always give us a word of advice and encouragement if he meets us before a game and he would remember to acknowledge us when he meets us at assembly or in the corridor the next day. He also insisted that we focus on our studies and it was always a treat when he walked in to class during the absence of a teacher or take an occasional class.
I remember the encouragement and support he gave me when I was competing to get selected to represent Sri Lanka at the world youth forum and jamboree for Boy Scouts. My selection as one of two Sri Lankans to represent Sri Lanka at this event would not have been possible if not for Father Stephen. I still remember the talk he gave us when I got selected as a prefect. He mentioned that the word ‘prefect’ comes form the Latin word praefectus, which means perfect participle. He wanted us to ensure that we are ‘perfect’ and become the best examples for the rest of the students we lead. Such inspirational words have definitely helped us to remember some of the principles that have helped us to become who we are today.
We always looked forward to go to Sunday Mass at the Sacred Heart Church as Father Stephen’s sermons were a treat to listen to. They were highly energetic, full of humour and always contained an inspirational message.
When he spoke to us he always had a sparkle, a mischievous smile in his eyes. Seeing this despite the fear we had for him due to his tough exterior, powerful voice and the stories of punishment he would dish out to the troublemakers in college made me have a deep feeling of respect and gratitude towards him.
I used to wonder how he finds the time to do all this and now I know that for a person passionate about what he does, there will always be time to do what is important.
Father Stephen was a praefectus of tough love.