Formation of native girls to Religious Life
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On the 24th of January 1865, the Sisterhood of St. Peter, for indigenous girls who were anxious to live a vowed life was founded in Jaffna, so that they might live a dedicated life according to rules approved by the bishop and adapted to the character of indigenous girls. The first novices were Sr. M. Gabriel, Sr. M. Michael and Sr. M. Angel. The Sisterhood under the direction of the Holy Family Sisters made rapid progress. Already in 1875 there were nine professed Sisters and eight novices and postulants in Jaffna. In 1893 there were 18 Ceylonese sisters and the number steadily rose to 77 in 1918. Since Jaffna Convent was a hive of activity with the various institutions within its premises, in 1896, the Novitiate for the Sisters of St. Peter was shifted to Ilavalai Convent.
They had sufficient knowledge of Sinhala or Tamil to teach in vernacular schools in all classes. The Sisters pastoral work included care for the poor, the orphaned and the sick. The Sisters opened a refuge for poor abandoned girls, providing them with an elementary education, the skills necessary to find a useful place in society and instructing them in the faith.
In 1873, the Sisters took charge of St. James School in Jaffna and in 1890 were placed in charge of poor boys and girls of Our Lady of Refuge, a progressive parish in Jaffna. In 1896, the Holy Family Sisters took charge of Ilavalai School where they established their Novitiate for Tamil Aspirants and moved on to Sillalai, where Blessed Joseph Vaz’s home became their residence and opened a school there. In 1908, the Sisters of St. Peter were absorbed into the Holy Family Congregation, and all distinction in Rules, customs and dress were done away with.
Within a few years the dedication and sacrifice of our six founding members inspired others to join them and so they were able to expand from Jaffna to other parts of the Vicariate, they moved on to Kurunegala, the capital of the North Western Province; due to the need for well conducted Schools for girls in that area.