Tribute to Rt. Rev. Dr.J.S Semeria
We, the members of the Family of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles express our deep gratitude to our revered Bishop of the Vicariate of Jaffna. Through his apostolic zeal, foresight and perseverance, had personally contacted, our Venerable Founder to assist him with the presence and service of the Holy Family of Bordeaux in Ceylon. His life can be dealt on three important phases: as a religious, a missionary and a Bishop.
He was born on 7th February 1813, at Colla, Italy to an honourable and pious family. He was an in- fatigable, diligent, and very clever boy. At the age of 16 he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and was admitted by Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, who recognized the great potential in this young man,
- As a religious his regularity, perfect obedience, tender delicate conscience, the sweet gravity of his manners and his scrupulous charity were outstanding. At the age of 22 on 17th September 1835, he was ordained a priest by Bishop de Mazenod. He was endowed with a precious gift of wisdom. His first ministry was among the dock labourers of Marseilles, where misery and ignorance ravaged. The young father Semeria exercised his duties with epatient dedication and courage for four years. The solidness of his weekly instructions, his dedication and courage during the Cholera epidemic was well remembered for many years. On the 20th May 1939, Fr. Semeria was to Corsica to succeed Fr. Albini who had died. On his arrival he was made the Superior of the Oblate House in Vico and Director of the Oblate Mission in Corsica. He won over their confidence and esteem. His apostolic virtues such as his piety, zeal, dedication, self-forgetfulness, delicate tact and his prudence brought people closer and closer to God and to himself. By his sermons, sweetness of character that was remarkably amiable he effected marvelous conversions among the rude islanders, be brought public reconciliation between families that were against each other for generations, banished thuggery and robberies from the society. Peace and the spirit of Christian charity reigned where mutual hate and insensate revenge raged.
- As a missionary for 20 years – Bishop de Mazenod looked for one of his men to be the head of his missionary expedition and Superior of new Oblate Mission foundation and the lot fell on one of his most cherished sons. Fr. John Stephen Semeria who was only 34 years of age. The Congregation loans its members but does not donate them. Fr. Semeria was the religious to head the small community. They left Marseilles on the 21st October 1847 and on 24th October joined Mgr. Bettachini who was waiting for them at Civita Vecchia. On 28th November they set foot in Galle later went to Colombo on 3rd December. When they arrived in Jaffna the Catholics gave an enthusiastic welcome. Fr. Semeria was continually busy with Mgr. Bettachini writing his personal, Pastoral or Circular letters. He applied himself seriously to the study of Tamil. Fr. Semeria was officially appointed as Secretary to Mgr. Bettachini and Parish Priest of mission in Jaffna. He built his missionary apostolate on the good qualities of the people. His affection, tolerance, his care and concern for the sick, his tender love for the youth, his prudence and charity and the art of management made him to be revered by his parishioners, as a model pastor. He composed a long exposé of Christian doctrine for the children and brought about areal renewal in the lives of the people. From 1849 – 1855, the outbreak of Cholera affected the life of all in Jaffna and its suburbs. Fr. Semeria and his men were the ministering angels to these people and he did it with heroic determination. In March 1855, he exhorted the people to have recourse to Mary Immaculate for the cessation of this epidemic. He organized a Tridium held from 5th – 7th March in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Jaffna. The whole town participated in it and on the last day a gigantic penitential procession was held, with that ended the epidemic of cholera. The people were very grateful to him and his missionaries for all the assistance rendered to them. He worked hard to get the Govt. grant for Catholic School. In 1855, as Vicar –General and Administrator of the Vicariate with prudence and charity maintained a good harmony and relationship among all the missionaries.
- As a Bishop for 10 years – On 20th August 1856 he was consecrated Bishop/ On 26th July 1857, when Bishop Bettachini passed away, he became the Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna. He called on the Oblates to re-dedicate themselves to the work of God and to work arduously for the spiritual revival of the Catholics in the Vicariate. He organized Parish Retreats and Missions, established more pious Association for men and women and diffused good Catholic literature. Improved Catholic Schools and established more Catholic Schools for Catholics and non-Christian children, increased the number of missionaries. He had great faith in the people and was convinced that the preaching of mission was the principal object of his Congregation. He committed himself and presided in these missions even though his health weak. Through these Missions there were great improvements in the life of the people and more schools were established. During his tenure of tenure of office he was instrumental in bringing the Holy Family Sisters of Bordeaux to Sri Lanka. To every Church he attached a vernacular school – one for the boys and one for the girls. He is the Founder of two local Congregations – one for men “The Brothers of St. Joseph”, founded on 17th April 1864 which was directed by the Oblates and one for the women, “Sisters of St. Peter” founded on 27th January 1865 directed by the Holy Family Sisters. In 1857, there were 14 Oblates and 1861 there were 23 Oblates. In 1859, he opened the first Catholic Library. He peacefully entered into the heavenly bliss on 23rd January 1868.
We, the Holy Family Sisters with deep gratitude remember Bishop John Stephen Semeria OMI for sowing the seed of the Holy Family Spirituality and Charism in our country which has arrived for 150 years spreading its branches everywhere and bring all into the One Family of God in communion.
Holy Family Sisters