After years of struggling and gradual development backed by the dedication and passion of its principals, teachers, parents and old boys, Maris Stella has emerged as a prominent Roman Catholic educational institution in the country. The institution situated on a land which spans 14 acres is close to central Negombo. At the same time it has blossomed to be a dominant force in school's sports.
Today Maris Stella has a branch school just about two kilometers away from the main school building to have a combined force of 3900 students. According to the school's principal, Rev Bro. Sunanda Alwis, the branch school is located on a land that extents up to over 17 acres.
"The whole idea of opening up a branch school was to expand the existing school in a systematic way. There is hardly any difference between the main and the branch school. It was started to provide the students with more facilities. Further expansion on the existing property will only put the students under pressure. Opening up a branch school has brought us many benefits as a leading school in the country," said Rev. Bro. Alwis.
According to information Maris Stella was inaugurated in 1922 by the Maris Brothers. History reveals that the four religious brothers of the order of the Marist had come to Negombo in 1918 and took over the management of St. Mary's College. Four years later the school was moved to its present location on the authority of the brothers after being renamed as Maris Stella College.
The school had three small cadjan buildings for the then population of four students at the start. The school gradually improved to be one of the recognized educational institutions with new buildings being erected from time to time. Maris Stella today boasts to be a complete school with all facilities available in all aspects of academic and extra curricular activities.
"The school is fortunate of its current zoning patterns which took place over the years. Each building from different sections, the offices, the ground and even the cafeteria has been placed presently in a unique way that none is disturbed by the other. This way the students have the liberty to freely engage in their work," added Rev. Bro. Alwis who also happens to be an old boy of the school.
As well as the school's gradual development, Maris Stella also has done equally well to earn a name in the fields of sports and education. The school currently is engaged in over ten different sports disciplines which are at the highest level. Among the popular sports at Maris Stella are cricket, football, athletics, basketball, volleyball, badminton, hockey, gymnastics, karate and a few indoor sports.
To the surprise of many Maris Stella is at the top five or ten schools in the island in all sports activities they are engaged in. Cricket is the obvious choice of many boys but at the same time other sports too are well received and popular as well.
"Cricket is so popular that almost every student at junior level takes up the sport. But as they grow the boys identify their pros and cons and move to other sports. At the start the school faced a major setback as for a particular age groups as on an average only 200 students were available. Out of this lot only a handful took an interestin sports. Today, however with a branch school on our hands we have a lot of talent to select from," explained Susan Thamel, the prefect-of-games.
The branch school which has been in existence for the past six years has contributed immensely to the popularity of Maris Stella in sports. According to statistics, the main school has a ground but only with the capability of holding a junior cricket match or a 300 meter running track for athletics. But with the branch school Maris Stella is capable of holding 400 meter track and field events or a first XI cricket encounter. However the facilities are still being developed.
"At times the ground is bursting at the seams by sportsmen. This sometimes hinders our cricketers to practice freely as there is the possibility of upsetting others who are using the ground. But on a positive note, similar to cricket, all other sports enjoy a good following. So it's obvious to have such a large number of students occupying the ground at the same time," said the cricket coach, Harsha Gamadikari.
Cricket, football, athletics, hockey, basketball and volleyball are considered as sports with a great future by the Maris Stella authorities. These sports collectively and on an average have contributed over ten sportsmen to the national stream annually. Apart from sports, the school also has over 20 societies and clubs who are engaged with great interest. The school makes it a point to provide all facilities to its students to engage in activities of their choice.
"Instead of Colours Night, the school has a programme called 'Talent Appreciation Night' where we honour various talents. The school is full of talented students. This is the best way to appreciate their abilities and encourage them further," Rev. Bro. Alwis added.
To assist their interest are an active contingent of past students in the Old Boys' Association (OBA) and the Maris Sports Association. Maris Stella is also engaged in social welfare activities targeting less fortunate students of the area. They conduct an evening school for over 300 students who cannot afford to pay for extra classes. This has been carried out for the past six years with contributions from their teachers and students. This helps outsiders to assume the level of discipline maintained by the authorities of Maris Stella.
"Maris Stella from its inception has maintained a particular system of discipline. The students are reminded regularly of this and they abide by this without fail. In addition students who are engaged in sports regularly gain very good results at exams. However most of the students are engaged at some extra curricular activity. This shows the impact of our system. Most parents think that youngsters tend to be violent during their youth. Of course they are violent. What they do not understand is that at this stage of life they are full of energy. There should be a correct method to make use of this energy in a fitting manner. At Maris Stella it is correctly channelled and we know our students turn out to be well balanced citizens after leaving school," Rev. Bro. Alwis emphasized.