Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 17, 2003
The psychology of this priest
He said good-by Sri Lanka and hello to life as a priest, psychologist, author and poet
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Oblate Father Brian Jayawardhana, in a search for new horizons and new experiences, left Sri Lanka and emigrated to Canada in 1976.
He's come to fall in love with this new place that is now home.
Unlike ordinary immigrants, there was no really big adjustment for Jayawardhana. As soon as he came to Edmonton, he began working for Catholic Social Services (CSS) as coordinator of a residence for intellectually challenged adults.
"I didn't have many surprises. I didn't experience culture shock or something like that," he said in an interview.
"I still had to adapt because I was working full time and was studying full time at the University of Alberta. I had to adapt to the cold. But culturally I didn't have to."
Does he miss his family? Of course. But for this priest who has spent most of his adult life outside of his home country, looking for new adventures seemed to be second nature.
He was 20 years old when he joined the Oblates in Sri Lanka, where he spent one year in novitiate. He was then sent to the Oblates' international seminary in Rome where he studied and lived with close to 100 seminarians from 21 other nations. Some were Canadians.
After finishing his licentiate in philosophy and theology from Rome's University of St. Thomas, he went back to Sri Lanka and taught in a seminary for eight years.
From there, he went to the Philippines, where he taught philosophy and theology at Notre Dame University in Cotabato City for three years.
At the end of his term, he sought permission to take some time off for reflection and to experience new fields of work.
Because he knew some Canadian Oblates (Oblate Father Martin Moser had been the master of ceremonies at his ordination in Rome), Canada came into the picture.
Having the facility of the English language, adjusting to a new place was not a big deal. He also spoke French, Spanish, Italian and some German.
"I think the Church in Canada and the Oblates in Canada are more, I suppose I can use the word 'liberal,' compared to the Oblates in Sri Lanka, Philippines or Rome.
"I may or may not be correct objectively. But that's my experience."
They don't try to watch your every move. They trust you more and they leave it up to you to live your vows and don't spy on you, said the priest, who will celebrate his 40th anniversary next year.
"They give you a lot of latitude, which I think is good."
That is why he stayed in Canada, along with the fact that he got immersed in his new ministry at CSS and in the Edmonton Archdiocese. After studying at the U of A, Jayawardhana became a chartered psychologist. He thinks the priesthood and being a psychologist complement one another.
Psychologist and priest
"Lots of people come to me for counselling because I am a priest too. They come not only for the psychological aspect of their well being, but for the spiritual as well."
On the other hand, many who approach him as a priest know he can also present some psychological underpinnings to their spirituality. Still, he admits being a priest is more fulfilling. "I think it boils down to who my own hero is, what my own value system is. When I look at the Gospel and see Jesus Christ, that's the person I want to imitate, not the great psychologists, because I can always find flaws with them."
He says psychology will not give a comprehensive picture of life. "There is no way of guaranteeing that explaining the human behaviour is the one way. And there's nothing perfect and the best but Jesus Christ."
As a young man, his father wanted him to be a doctor, if not an engineer. And when he qualified to take up medicine after high school, his father, a private school headmaster, presumed he would attend a medical school.
But instead of taking pre-med courses, he took mathematics. When his father asked why, he said, "I wanted to be an engineer. I cannot stand the sight of blood, which was true. But I did not want to be an engineer at that time. I just wanted to take mathematics."
From the age of 18, he had his mind set on the priesthood. And instead of preparing for university entrance exams after high school, he was working in the slums helping others in preparation for his planned entry to the seminary.
One day he told his parents over lunch, "I want to go to the seminary next year."
Neither his younger brother nor his father said a word. His mother asked, "What for?" Jayawardhana commented, "She's the one who took me to see all the priests she knew."
Although non-committal about his entry to the seminary, his father gave the required parental letter. Jayawardhana is convinced that deep inside his mother liked his decision.
His school, St. Peter's College, operated by the Oblates, introduced him to the priesthood. He was a good student.
"I was a perfectionist. I even studied religion very well and I took it very seriously like any other subject."
Because of his high aptitude in school and good family background his confessor, an Oblate priest, often asked him what he was going to do after high school. "He was looking for a vocation. I think that was how it was planted in my life.
"If I had to do it again, I'd still want to be a priest . . . and a psychologist."
When he retires, he wants to spend time with people studying the Bible, especially the New Testament. But for now, he finds fulfillment in sharing his gifts especially with those with intellectual disabilities.
He gives lectures on the subject matter in western Canada and trains some CSS staff. He has also been published in the British Journal of Psychology.
A man of letters, Jayawardhana, has written poetry over the years and printed them as a collection. He also wrote some short stories while recuperating from a heart attack in 1994.