Information | His Eminence Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray

“H.E. Thomas Cardinal Cooray Omi [1901-1988] The first cardinal of Sri Lanka Born in Periyamulla”

Birth              :       28th Dec., 1901 at Periyamulla, Colombo, SL
First Vows   :       25th January, 1925 at Bambalapitiya
Final Vows  :       25th Janurry, 1925 at Rome
Oblation No.:      4019
Ordination  :       23rd June 1929 in Rome
Consecration :   4th March 1946 in Colombo
Archbishop :       28th July 1947
Cardinalate :       25th February, 1965 by Pope Paul VI
Death            :       29th October, 1988 in Colombo

Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray was born on the 28th of December, 1901 at Periyamulla, Negombo, in the Archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He had his early education at R.C. Boys’ School, Dalupotha, Negombo and entered St. Aloysius Seminary, Borella in 1913. He continued his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo from 1915 to 1921 and then entered the University of Colombo in 1921and successfully completed his B. A. London in 1924. He joined the Oblates on the 24th of January 1924 and after his Novitiate at Bambalapitiya, made his first Profession of Vows on the 25th of January 1925. He did his Philosophical studies at St. Bernard’s Seminary, Colombo during 1925-1926 and proceeded to the Oblate International Scholasticate in Rome for his Theological Studies. He made his final vows in the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate on the 25th of January, 1928 and he was ordained a priest on the 23rd of June 1929. He completed his Theological studies at the Angelicum, Rome obtaining a Ph. D. And a D. D. With Summa cum Laude in 1931


On the return to Sri Lanka, he was appointed teacher at St Joseph college Colombo in 1931. He was made the warden of the catholic university hostel, Aquinas Hall in 1934. He was the first Sri Lankan to be appointed as the superior at the oblate Scholasticate and he held that position from 1937 – 1945 till he was nominated coadjutor archbishop of Colombo on the 14th of December, 1945. His Episcopal ordination as the Coadjutor archbishop of Colombo to place on the 4th of March 1946 . When Mgr. Jean Masson, Archbishop of Colombo died on the 28th of July 1947, Mgr. Thomas Cooray succeeded him and was installed as the archbishop of Colombo. He should be noted that Mgr. Thomas Cooray OMI was the Sri Lankan archbishop of Colombo.

When Mgr. Cooray took charge of the archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka was a crown colony and the whole life civil life was British. The catholic Hierarchy in Sri Lanka was predominantly European. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, mostly foreigners, had been working in Sri Lanka for a hundred years. With the creation on the new diocese Chilaw in 1940, the number of the local clergy of the archdiocese had dwindled. Therefore Mgr. Cooray had first to build up a local diocesan clergy to take up the apostolate in the archdiocese from the foreign missionaries, and then organise the parishes and extent the church’s life to areas not penetrated so far, educate the laity to take their place as active members of the church, animate the religious and lead the church in Sri Lanka as the chairmen of the bishops Conference.
Promotion of the Local Diocesan Clergy


As soon as Archbishop Cooray assumed responsibility of the archdiocese, he began a building program to increase the inter take of candidates to St. Aloysius’s Seminary Borella. In 1947 there were 40 minor seminarians, 17 major seminarians and 27 diocesan priests. But in 1974 when he retired from the see there were 134 minor seminarians, 60 major seminarians and 121 diocesan priest for the arch diocese.

His concern for his priest was both paternal and friendly. A large number of priest were either his former students of his colleagues in the priesthood or those whom he himself had admitted to the minor seminary. He was always accessible to his priests. Though he was a strict disciplinarian, he was sympathetic to the wayward and the faltering, not compromising with sin but sympathetic to the sinner.

As archbishop of Colombo, Mgr. Cooray visited the entire archdiocese, its parishes and institution. During the Paris visitations, he celebrated mass for the people, confirmed children, met the elders of the parish, addressed the apostolic groups, visited the schools, made canonical visitation of the religious Houses etc.
If the church was to come of age, the people, the laity had to educated to take up responsibility in the church. Hence archbishop Cooray  set about to improve the schools under his charge and opened more new schools. There were spread out in every parish of the archdiocese. The system at that time – Assisted Denominational Schools – prevailing in Sri Lanka was such that the government approved the schools, paid the teachers on conditions that the church of voluntary organisations provided ted the land, building and equipments for the school.
In order to promote higher education, archbishop Cooray, using intellectual powers of Fr. Peter A. Pillai OMI, inaugurated the Aquinas University collage in Colombo 1955. About this time he invited the Salesians to open in Technical School in Negombo, encouraged the Christian brothers to begin a technical school in Ragama and Enabled Fr. Ignatius Perera to establish radio and electronic laboratory in Colombo.
Religious Education
From the very outset, Archbishop Cooray stressed the importance of regular catechetical instructions of the children. He himself taught catechism in the parishes when were he went on pastoral visitation. With the schools take over the government in 1960s, he became more convinced of the need for training catechists and religion teachers. So at Aquinas University College, he inaugurated catechetical formation of teachers [both religious and lay] an later established the diocesan catechetical commission and the diocesan office for religious education, and also the catechetical training institute in Negombo.
Realizing the value of education through the radio, he build a catholic radio centre to assist radio VERITAS, Manila with programmes from Sri Lanka and to use the National Network to beam out and religious and educational programmes. He established the catholic film office 1965 and later in 1972 the national catholic film office [OSIC] Sri Lanka. Then the Catholics came to view cinema from a Christian point of view.
Presence of the Religious
Mgr. Cooray was well aware of the importance of religious in the life and growth of a diocese. He allowed the oblates and the other religious congregations to continue to have their houses of formation in the archdiocese with the proviso that they should be mind full of the obligations of the ordinary to build a diocesan clergy suffusion to take over the responsibility of the archdiocese of Colombo.
St Vincent home, Maggona – an Industrial complex with a school for youth offenders, a printing press, a carpentry, industrial work shop, a Foundry, A Motor Garage, a clock making industry, and orphanage with government assistant school, together with 400 acres of rubber and coconut land was given to the oblates in 1950. Later in 1952, the parish of Maradana, the parish of Peter and Paul at Ragama and lately the district of Gampaha were given to the oblate fathers for pastoral care and administration.
Archbishop Cooray encouraged religious congregations to come to his diocese and establish their houses there. They would also give more personal to minister to the people. 13 new congregation of religious sister established themselves during his episcopate of 29 years. 4 institutes of religious priests also established their houses in Colombo during his period.
North central province archbishop Cooray was deeply interested in the Sinhala Catholic living in the north central province, then part of the diocese of Jaffna. In agreement with Bishop Emilianus Pillai of Jaffna, his co-novice, classmate and close friend, Archbishop Cooray opened in 1950 the Allagollawa Mission. In 1963, apostolate in the north Central province was officially entrusted to the Oblates.
Concern for the Poor
Archbishop Cooray had a great concern for the poor, he encouraged organisations such as co-operatives for fishermen, farmers and carpenters. In order to work for the community development of the poor, he started the Socio-Economic Development centre [SEDEC] in Colombo. He also had a special concern and love for the church. Perhaps he had inherited his spirit from the oblate congregation. In fact, the church was the preoccupation of St. Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Oblates.
Created a Cardinal
In appreciation of the tremendous work done by archbishop Cooray in his archdiocese and to honour the oblates of Mary Immaculate for their pioneering apostolic work in Sri Lanka and in the mission work at large, Pope Paul VI elevated archbishop Thomas Benjamin Cooray to the Cardinalate on the 25th February 1965.
Thomas Cardinal Cooray was also the founder member of the federation of the Asian Bishops conference [FABC] [1968-1975]. He also saved as a consultant member of the sacred congregation of propagation of faith and oriental churches [1968-1975], and the Pontifical Commission for the revision of canon law [1968-1982].
On reaching his 75th year, Thomas Cardinal Cooray resigned from the office of the Archbishop of Colombo in 1976 and retired to Emmaus in Tewatte. Yet he participated in the two papal conclaves to elect Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II in 1978. In the midst of his very high positions and the pomp and glory connected with them, He remained till the end a holy priest, a man of God, a Faithful religious, and Exemplary oblate, a committed missionary, a shepherded and a noble prince of the church.

After a brief illness he passed away quietly to his Eternal reward on the 29th of October 1988. The funeral took place on the third of November. It was a moving spectacle and a fitting tribute to his great prelate who had presided over the archdiocese of Colombo from 1987-1977. Fr. General was represented by Fr. Daniel Corijin OMI, the Vicar General, at the obsequies where all the bishops of Sri Lanka were present along with members of Parliament, Ministers of other religious and many of the laity. The remains of this great Oblate Pastor and Shepherd were laid to rest in the crypt of the National Votive Basilica, Tewatte.


by His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith
" the fragrance of his holiness and faith spread throughout the Church in Sri Lanka " Archbishop Oswald Gomis

His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith declared the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of His Eminence Late Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray at the Eucharistic celebration held on 29th Oct. 2010 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka, Tewatta.

His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith preside at the Eucharistic Celebration together with His Excellency Archbishop Joseph Spiteri the Apostolic Nuncio in Sri Lanka, His Grace Archbishop Emertius Nicholas Marcus Fernando, His Grace Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis, Very Rev. Fr. Clement Waidysekara the Oblate Provincial, Very Rev. Fr. Francis Senanayake the Judicial Vicar and several other Fathers. A large crowd of faithful participated in the Memorial Mass.

At the end of the Mass, 04 Priests of the Committe took oaths. Rev. Fr. Leopald Ratnasekara OMI as the Postulator, Very Rev. Fr. Francis Nicholas Senanayake as the Episcopal Delegate, Very Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Fernando as the Promoter of Justice and Rev. Fr. Quintus Fernando as the Notary. Thereafter His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm and other bishops and priests present prayed at the tomb of His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray.

His Eminence Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray from the Parish of Periyamulla, Negombo, was born on 28th December 1901, was ordained a priest on 23rd June 1929 in the Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Thereafter he was appointed as the Co-adjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo on 12th December 1945 and succeeded as the Archbishop of Colombo on 26th July 1947.

He was elevated as a Cardinal on 22nd February 1965 by Pope Paul VI.

His Eminence was called to Eternal Rest in the Lord on 29th October 1988 and his mortal remains were buried in the crypt chapel in the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka, Tewatta on 03rd November 1988.

New York Times issue on 01st No. 1988, quoted, ''During the years of suppression or limitation of religious freedom, Cardinal Cooray constantly affirmed the spirituality of his own mission and the loyalty of Roman Catholics'' to the Sri Lankan Government, the Vatican said."

His Grace the Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis, preaching at the Mass recalled the exceptional holiness and simple, but deep faith of Cardinal Cooray. Archbishop Gomis said ;

" His Eminence Cardinal Cooray was born on 28th December 1901 at Periyamulla, Negombo and his parents were Jayalath Aratchige Jacob Cooray and  Jayasinghe Aratchige Marguerite Silva. Having received the primary education at Dalupotha Roman Catholic Boy’s School, he entered St. Aloysius’ Minor Seminary on 16th September 1913 and while in the Seminary he went to St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10 for  Advance Level studies. In 1921, he became the first student in the Seminary to obtain permission to do studies in a University and in the University of Colombo he obtained Bachelor of Arts degree, B.A. (Lond)  specializing in botany. Thereafter he entered St. Bernard’s Seminary for Philosophy.  Then he spent one year at the Oblate Novitiate at Bambalapitiya. Having made First Vows and Second Vows at the Oblate Noviate, he was sent to Rome to do higher studies at the Angelicum University. There he obtained the Doctor of Divinity degree, D.D, Summa cum Laude and also Ph.D at the Academy of St. Thomas in Rome. He was ordained on 23rd June 1929 in Rome and returned to motherland in 1931."

" On his return to Sri Lanka, there was a welcome ceremony at Periyamulla organized by Rev. Fr. Paul Alles. In that welcome ceremony, Fr. Paul Alles said, “ it is so difficult to say what would be the eminent and noble position that Fr. Thomas Cooray would hold in the Church in future ”. This prediction became true when he became the first Sri Lankan Cardinal. His supreme holy life cannot be compared with anyone or make equivalent to any person. . In many matters, he became the first. He was the first student Seminarian to be sent to the University, he was the first Oblate student to be sent to Rome for higher studies, first Sri Lankan Archbishop, first Sri Lankan Cardinal, likewise he was first in many things."

" As a priest, he first served St. Joseph’s College as a staff member, then he served as the superior in charge of priestly formation in the Oblate Scholasticate and also as a staff member of St. Bernard’s Seminary. In December 1945, he went with some Brothers to Maggona and in Maggona we went on a boat trip. The boat was capsized in the sea and had a narrow escape. As he came to shore, he was asked to come to Colombo for an urgent message. Upon reaching Colombo, he was given the telegram sent from the Vatican to say that he was appointed as the Co-adjutor Archbishop of Colombo on 14th December 1945. Then his Episcopal Consecration was held on 07th March 1946 by Archbishop Leo Peter Kierkels CP as the Principal Consecrator and His Lordships Bishop Edmund Peiris OMI and Bishop Bernard Regno OSB as Co-consecrators. Then on 28th July 1947, he was installed as the Archbishop of Colombo. From that time onwards he fulfilled his pastoral ministry like a real good shepherd. The fragrance of his holiness and faith spread throughout the Archdiocese of Colombo, when he became the first Sri Lankan Archbishop of Colombo and the first Cardinal of Sri Lanka and first Cardinal who had opportunity to vote in the conclave in choosing the pope. In fact he twice had the opportunity vote in the conclave. Being appointed as the Archbishop of Colombo, he had a vision for the Archdiocese and for the Church in Sri Lanka. To serve the faithful in the Archdiocese, he wanted spiritually well equipped and virtuous priests. Then on 07th March 1950, he laid the foundation for the Minor Seminary and trained students with a missionary commitment. Seminary formation was a priority for His Eminence. Every moment of his life was dedicated for the people. Thomas Cardinal Cooray was truly a very committed and dedicated holy priest of God.Holiness of his life spread wherever he went. His unassuming life style, the fraternal way he spoke to the priests calling them "my sons", his pastoral zeal to visit his people very often in accordance of his episcopal motto - "ministrare non ministrari" - to serve and not to be served and these qualities of his life brought much desired changes in the transition of the Archdiocese."

" For the Archdiocese of Colombo, His Eminence had two main targets ; first was to build up local clergy and increase in numbers. For a long time we had missionaries from many different countries, we had missionaries from France, Italy, Belgium, and from different European countries. But he was convinced of having local priests to build the future Church in Sri Lanka. Because of his far sighted vision, today we have enough local priests from our own parishes."

" He was also convinced if the future Catholic Church to be built, our schools should have a religious education. In view of this, he opened a Catholic School at Hunupitiya. At that time there was a Navy camp, and in that be bought a building and started a school by the name of St. Michael’s School. In 1960's our schools were taken over by the government, not on a vision of better education but to attack the Catholic Church and to disrupt the religious education. His Eminence deeply disturbed and saddened by the "School Takeover Bill" appealed to the government to give at least the primary schools. Government having realized that there were more students in the primary departments rather than middle schools, primary schools were taken over by the government. Then the Church in Sri Lanka had to find ways and means to educate our children and maintain religious education in the schools. His Eminence was well convinced that he would somehow or rather maintain our Catholic schools to educate the Catholic children."

" His Eminence was also concern of the economy of the Archdiocese. He purchased lands for future schools and churches and estates to strengthen the economy of the Archdiocese. He even convinced that the Brothers to work in the estates during the holidays to support the Archdiocese. Look at the Basilica Watta, many trees planted here are rare and they were very carefully chosen and planted by His Eminence. Not only he purchased lands for the Archdiocese, but also he was concern about the welfare of the other dioceses as well. Once on his way to Madhu Shrine, he met his friend Fr. Emilianus Pillai OMI, who later became the Bishop of Jaffna looking after Anuradhapura diocese as well. Fr. Emilianus informed Cardinal Cooray about a Catholic Community in Alagollewa and who had no services of a priest. His Eminence not only arranged a priest to lookafter the Catholic Community at Alagollewa, but also personally visited those areas very often and purchased lands for the present diocese of Anuradhapura."

" Then on 22nd February 1965, he was elevated as the first Cardinal in Sri Lanka. He had a great devotion to Our Blessed Mother and kept on encouraging the faithful to recite the Rosary  devoutly and pray for the country. In the early days of World War II Archbishop Jean Marie Masson, the last Frenchman to be Metropolitan of Sri Lanka, made a vow in 1940 to the Blessed Mother to build a Marian shrine in her honour if the country was saved from the ravages of the war. His Eminence Cardinal Cooray, kept the vow made by Archbishop Masson and started to build this beautiful Basilica, slowly but steadily inspite of the criticisms. Some were asking, why build a huge basilica instead of building houses for the poor. His Eminence not only purchased lands for the poor but also built houses for them. Amidst all the work, His Eminence completed the construction of the National Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka, which today has become a spiritual haven for us. Look at the hundreds of pilgrims who come here at the weekends for prayers and retreats. This Basilica today has become a nursery for spiritual growth."

" After the Vatican Council II, many were keen on getting involved in doing social work. But His Eminence said, if there is vow made to Our Blessed Mother for our country, we should fulfill it and complete the construction of this Basilica. So every stone of this Basilica would testify to his commitment in completing this beautiful Basilica. "

" We have come together to thank the Lord for the holy and committed life of His Eminence Cardinal Thomas Cooray and to pay our respect to him. More than our praying for him, ask him to pray for us and for our country. Today very specially we have gathered here, to declare the Cause for the beatification of His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray. Let us therefore pray fervently and earnestly that he would be raised as a Saint in Sri Lanka."

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