TULANA – a jesuit apostolate of the sri lanka   province

0fficially Mandated by the Superiors of the Society of Jesus

TULANA,  as it evolved during the four decades, cannot be defined in one word. The name ‘Tulana” means four things taken together: elevation, weighing, comparing and deciding for the weightier thing  – in short, discernment. Over the years it has developed into many things in one:-  a mini-university where scholars from here and abroad come for research,  research guidance  and consultation; a mini-retreat centre,  where people come for meditation and spiritual accompaniment; a social animation centre for those engaged in social issues; a forum for artists, who want to express their philosophy in non-logical, non-verbal media of communication. It has also served as  an asylum and sanctuary  for the politically persecuted, for the socially isolated and the spiritually perplexed.

The TULANA Story

The founder and current director of TULANA, Marian Aloysius Reginald Pieris was born on 9th April 1934, in Ampitiya, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He took his vows as a Jesuit on 23rd December 1953, and was ordained a priest on 4th July 1965.


Fr Emmanuel Crowther, the first Vice Provincial of Ceylon sends Fr Aloysius Pieris for doctoral studies in Buddhism at the Kelaniya Vidyodaya Campus of the University of Ceylon with these memorable words:-

“Son, we are sending you on uncharted ground. We cannot guide you; you will have to guide us later. Therefore do not be afraid to make mistakes, even serious ones, only keep us informed!”

His successor, Fr Bill Moran, spelt out Fr Aloy’s  mission within the society and the province as that of an oriental scholar working as writer and professor in the international academe.  In accordance with a consultation Fr Moran had with  the Jesuit General (Fr P. Arrupe),  the East Asian Assistant (Fr Horacio de la Costa) and  the Indian Assistant (Fr Correa-Alfonso), he fine-tuned the mandate as that of  serving the church and the Society as a globe trotting Indologist-cum-Theologian based mostly at the Gregorian University in Rome and with  an annual assignment at the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila.

After the first semester at the Gregorian, and the first stint at EAPI (1972-1973), Fr Aloy submitted to the new Provincial (Fr Perniola) and his consulters an evaluation of the first year of his ‘international academic apostolate’. In Rome, as mentioned earlier,  he was  accompanied by his spiritual guide, Fr Juan Alfaro in discerning the best possible manner  (and location) to  execute  the superiors’ mandate. Fr Aloy feared that unless he kept his roots firmly sunk in Sri Lanka rather than in the West, he would suffer the fate of so many Jesuits who wrote books from books and become a spent force in no time.

Fr Aloy claimed that he could continue the international academic apostolate as Theologian and Indologist more effectively if his base was in  Sri Lanka,  whereas spending six months at the Gregorian and another stretch of time in Manila plus some other teaching assignments elsewhere would leave him very little time to absorb an Asian culture or to do any serious research. The Provincial and the Socius were in total agreement with this observation.

Furthermore, his  experience of the insurrection of  university students in 1971 during his doctoral studies, (most of them coming from rural  Buddhist families) made a strong case for having his Sri Lankan base in some place where this particular  target group would be within easy reach. His choice was Kelaniya, the University Town, as the possible venue for his Sri Lankan Base.

Eventually, Fr Aloy stopped teaching at the Gregorian, with the knowledge of his superiors. (But his Pali student, Dr Michael Fuss, a German diocesan priest, replaced him much later and still teaches there).  However, during a very personal meeting with Fr Arrupe, two years later at the Curia in Rome,  Fr Aloy had the chance to explain matters to him.

Fr. Aloy readily agreed that the EAPI assignment in Manila gave him a chance to learn more of the Asian reality as the students came from a variety of Asian nations, including many from Oceania and Australia. It is where many future bishops and future major superiors (and even Jesuit generals) were formed according to the spirit of Vatican II. So even after establishing Tulana, in 1974, he continued to teach at the EAPI as mandated by the superiors. His annual Manila lectures (from the academic year 1972-73  to 1994-95), began with 16 hours, but increased over the years to 36 lecture-hours given within a two week attachment.

Consequently, while remaining a good stretch of time in Sri Lanka, Fr Aloy arranged his international academic apostolate by holding professorial chairs in both pontifical and protestant faculties and giving lectures or teaching courses in many universities in USA, Europe and Asia, serving as resource person in very many international congresses, working in the editorial board of Concilium, regularly publishing research papers in both Indology and theology, writing books, and editing the international journal Dialogue, and later also Vagdevi (Journal of Religious Reflection). He not only served the international academe but also earned money to maintain Tulana. Even today, a community of  about 7 residents and several daily employees as well as three libraries, not to mention, a variety of apostolic ventures undertaken by Tulana, are all maintained mostly  with the money saved from such earnings over the years.

1973 – 1974

The desirability of having Fr. Aloy’s base in Sri Lanka was officially accepted by the Sri Lanka Jesuit Provincial Fr. Vito Perniola s.j. and his consulters following a period of discernment about its appropriate venue. The Provincial mentioned it in his  annual report to the Jesuit General, Fr Pedro Arrupe.

Cardinal Cooray’s written permission was obtained through the mediation of Fr Joe de Mel, the Vicar General of that time. The  intended Centre  was going to be an extension of the Colombo Jesuit house (‘Nirmala’) in Clifford Place, Bambalapitiya, and a Research Centre (not another ‘independent religious house’)

7th June 1974

Fr Aloy moved into no. 267, Kohalwila Rd, a small two roomed house in Dalugama, Kelaniya, with no fanfare and no send-off, with hardly any member of the community informed about his departure from Nirmala on that day!

But that way of beginning the new venture became the hall-mark of the new centre which its Founder would soon name Tulana: no big boards, no brochures, no manifestos ever advertised its activity. Nor was any report sent to Rome on its work. Thus it started in low key and gradually grew into a nationally and internationally recognized Institute in the same invisibly effective manner, changing location twice until it came to rest in the present address at Gonawala Road  in a property bought with the money sent by Fr General, Pedro Arrupe from the FACSI fund, thanks to the mediation of the next Provincial, Fr Thomas Kuriacose. This property legally belongs to the Province just as Tulana remains a Province project.

The Official Mandate  – 13th June 1974

Six days after the founding of Tulana, i.e., on the morning of  13th June 1974,  the Provincial, Fr Perniola, met Fr Aloy officially to brief him on how to go about the new mission. He took pains to transfer his verbal instruction into a written mandate on that very day. He handed over a copy of it to the Superior of Nirmala, after posting the original to Fr Aloy.The most significant paragraph in the mandate was the following:

“Yours is a new experiment and thus we will have to play it by ear at the moment to see how it shapes and grows and develops. But though it is difficult to have something very definite from the very beginning, yet we can have a certain working arrangement.”

The Vision accompanying the Mission.

The mission had already been given by the superiors in their mandate, as mentioned above. But it was the vision that Fr Aloy himself developed thanks to the breadth of freedom that Fr Provincial (Perniola) guaranteed when he wrote that “we have to play it by ear”. The circumstances that helped him to formulate the new vision were the following.

(a) The first was his first-hand experience of the  Marxist inspired insurrection of rural Buddhist youth in 1971. A Response to the aspirations of the Buddhist youth entered the decision-making process mentioned above and the choice of the location for the Tulana Research Centre. They also became the main target-group of many activities and seminars. But since 1977, this concern was coupled with the need to address the ethnic issue in the conscientization programmes of Tulana, meant mostly for  Sinhala youth.

(b) Fr Aloy’s companion and co-founder of Tulana was Mr Saviel Fernando. He was originally sent by the landlord to serve as  “cook-cum-farmer” when Fr Aloy was still living alone in the first two-roomed house rented out at Kohalwila Rd. He  soon became Fr Aloy’s adviser as well as his PR man. As he shared his abundant Garden products with the neighbours as ‘gifts from the Father’, there was  a grateful reciprocation on their part (which explained why Fr Chiritatti, the Prefect of Health, expressed concern that Tulana’s  food-bills were too low !). The “Lucky Farm” next door would return the money with the eggs which Fr Aloy used to order.  The university students from Kelanya, mostly the rural youth, whom  Fr Aloy met during his daily visits to the University Library began to frequent Tulana and  enjoyed Saviel Fernado’s  hospitality  thanks to the food and drinks which were regularly received from neighbours but could not be preserved as  there was no refrigerator. That was how “the Open House policy” became part of the Tulana’s vision, and this openness was specially directed towards the rural youth, workers, the poor and the marginalized, as the records of Tulana demonstrates, notwithstanding the high-calibre intellectual apostolate which characterized its mission.

(c) The Ashramic idea, too,began to creep in…. due to the influence of a significant historical event.  In 1973, the year before the founding of Tulana, Fr Aloy was invited to serve as a Resource Person at the Second Inter-monastic Congress in Bangalore (sequel to the first such convention organized under the auspices of Thomas Merton in Bangkok), and since then he became involved with the monastic movement and gradually came to be  regarded by it as “the head of an (apostolically active) Ashramic community”. In the Introduction  to  the Acts of that Congress, the world-renowned medievalist, Dom Jean Leclercq O.S.B summed up Fr Aloy’s contribution to that Congress with the following prefatory remark:- “The most recent and bold –and not the least serious– was proposed by a Sinhalese Theologian  who was one of the leading speakers at the Bangalore Congress, A. Pieris, s.j. His exposé is too compact and nuanced to be summed up without being oversimplified and consequently deformed….” (Cistercian Studies, IX / 2&3 (1974), 88.)

This led to Fr Aloy being invited again to the Benedictine Congress of 1980 to deliver the main input on “monastic poverty in Asia” and it was one of his much cited clarificatory interventions that formed the framework of the Final Statement of that congress. It was this liaison with the international monastic movement that made him witness to some of its Asian forms in the way life and work was organized at Tulana. Both Mr Saviel and Fr Aloy shared a common purse and each took money from it, simply writing the purpose in a book. The custom still continues. The members not only take from, but also contribute to, the common purse.

(d) The  “Francois Houtart Seminar” on the Tools of Social Analysis, at Lewella, in 1975, in which Fr Aloy was an invited participant, equipped him with a much needed skill to analyse the national (and global) situation and conscientize students, workers, trade unionists, not to mention young religious and priests about the worsening “National Question” (ethnic issue). Thus ‘awareness programmes’ which enlightened group after group of Sinhala youth about the Tamil agitation, soon became a significant part of the  mission of Tulana. The ethnic issue gradually became a major concern (since 1977) to be addressed in the work-shops conducted by Tulana.

(e) The fifth constituent of the new vision was the principle that a Jesuit Apostolate need not coincide with an ‘all-Jesuit’ community. Rather, Jesuits and non-Jesuits, men and women, Religious and lay people, celibates and the married  can form an apostolic community charged with the Ignatian spirit. This model had been already tried out in many places in the world. The East Asian Pastoral Institute in the Philippines where Fr Aloy taught for 23 years was a successful  example of this experiment. Accompanying this was also a commitment at Tulana to a “trans-ecclesial ecumenism” – to work always with other churches in its apostolic works

In the course of this development, spanning the decades since 1974, Tulana has diversified its activities into five main areas,

Tulana Research Unit
Social Animation Unit
Tulana Media Unit (TMU)
Centre for Education of Hearing Impaired Children (CEHIC)