Reverend Father OSWALD BERNARD FIRTH, OMI who was living out his retirement at Marian Grove in Kohuwala, was summoned to everlasting rest on 19 June 2023. Oswald Bernard Firth was born on 13 September 1942 in Nugegoda, Sri Lanka. He is the eldest of seven children, three boys and four girls. His father Claude Reginald Firth and mother Hyacinth Mabel Wille were devout Roman Catholics who fostered the vocation of young Oswald to religious life and priesthood. He studied at St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa and joined the Oblate Juniorate in Kohuwala in 1958 at the age of 16, aspiring to be a priest in the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. After his preparation at the Juniorate, he was sent to the Oblate Novitiate in Kalutara, where he made his first profession on 31 May 1961 and made his perpetual oblation on 31 May 1964. Having completed his philosophical studies at the National Seminary (1961-64), he was sent to the International Oblate Scholasticate in Rome for higher studies. There he pursued theological studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (Angelicum) obtaining a Licentiate in Theology in 1967. He was ordained a priest in Rome by Archbishop Joseph Patrick Fitzgerald, OMI on 20 December 1967.


On his return to Sri Lanka, Fr. Firth was assigned to the Oblate Scholasticate, Ampitiya, and taught philosophy at the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka, Ampitiya (1967-68). He was then assigned as the assistant parish priest of Wennappuwa. After his tenure as an assistant parish priest (1968-71), he was sent for doctoral studies in Philosophy to the State University of Strasbourg, France (1971-74) where he wrote his PhD thesis entitled Raison et révélation: Controverse de pensée dans la période de la lumière. On his return after his doctoral studies, Fr. Firth was assigned as the Director of the newly founded Oblate College of Philosophy, Colombo in 1974. The purpose of this institution was not to set up a house of formation parallel to the National Seminary in Kandy, but to evolve a formation in accordance with the hope and aspirations of Vatican II. Students would not only learn the different approaches to Philosophy but also study philosophy in dialogue with the realities of the world. In 1980-81, he studied at the University of London, and on his return he was assigned to the Oblate Scholasticate in Ampitiya as a formator, and at the same time as a lecturer in philosophy at the National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka. After a brief spell at the Oblate Scholasticate, Ampitiya (1982- 83), he was assigned as the assistant parish priest of the Ampitiya Parish (1983-85), and continued to teach philosophy at the National Seminary. While at Ampitiya Parish, Fr. Firth was invited by Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando, then Bishop of Kandy to be the director of The Social Economic and Technical Institute of Kandy (SETIK). Under Fr. Firth’s directorship, SETIK initiated development projects for the remote villages situated at the periphery of the diocese. The best example of this would be the villages around Hasalaka. In 1990 Fr. Firth left SETIK to be the Director of the Social and Economic Development Centre in Colombo. During his tenure of office as director of SEDEC, the social arm of the Sri Lanka Bishops’ Conference, he took the bold step of officially establishing independent social and economic centres in each diocese. This localisation of social entities paved the way for each diocese to appoint well trained and experienced social activists who were aware of the ground realities of their respective dioceses. After his tenure at SEDEC, Fr. Firth followed a Diploma Course in Rural Development and Project Planning, at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague in 1996. On his return from the Netherlands, he was invited to be the director of the Centre for Society and Religion. Among the far reaching achievements accomplished by Fr. Firth at CSR were the organic paddy farming project at Dehiattakandiya, peace initiatives involving Sinhalese and Tamils and the seven country peace research on “Response of Grassroots Christians in Situations of Violent Conflict” conducted by the Centre for Mission Research and Study at Maryknoll, New York. In 2002 he was elected to be the Provincial Superior of the Oblate Province of Colombo (2002-2004). Apart from the usual provincial routines, Fr. Firth supported Fr. Clement Waidyasekera OMI, then Superior of the Oblate Scholasticate in Ampitiya to found the Asian Institute of Theology (AIT) to provide a contextual formation to the Oblate scholastics in order to better equip them for the future mission. The experiences recorded by the scholastics show that the programme is spiritually nourishing, pastorally enriching and academically sound. At the General Chapter of the Oblates in 2004, Fr. Firth was elected Assistant General for Missions (2004-2010). His tasks included animating the missions, taking mission to the people and most of all creating a spirit of solidarity among those working in difficult mission territories. After six years of intense laborious work at the General Administration, Fr. Firth has been involved in the Oblate Province of Australia (2011-2020). He worked as co-pastor in the parishes of Mulgrave and Sunshine (in Victoria), and in the parish of Dernancourt (in Adelaide, South Australia). He was superior of the Oblate Scholasticate (Melbourne), and lectured in philosophy for one year at the Catholic Theological College functioning under the University of Melbourne. All the parishes he served in were multi-cultural with migrant families from Vietnam, Ireland, India, Poland and Sri Lanka.


He is also the Founder-Director of The Oblate Institute of Higher Learning (OIHL) which is an attempt to respond to a crucial need to promote justice, peace and reconciliation in a country wounded by a long civil war. Oblate Institute of Higher Learning (OIHL) was established on 21st May 2016 during the Bi-centenary Jubilee Celebration of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Academic Year 2016-17 was inaugurated on the 1st of October 2016.


He began enjoying his retirement in 2020 at De Mazenod House in Mattakkuliya before moving on to Marian Grove in Kohuwala, where he breathed his last. Fr. Firth’s significant contributions to the Church and the world as an Oblate, Priest, Formator, Academic, Administrator, and Peacebuilder will be remembered forever. His dedication has given many people a future, particularly victims and the poor. We bid you farewell, Dear Revd Father Firth. May you rest in peace.