An American Jesuit’s Life in Sri Lanka

“I feel at home only here,” says Jesuit Father Harry Miller in describing Batticaloa, the east coast city of Sri Lanka where he has lived for the last 64 years.

Raised in New Orleans to devout Catholic parents, Father Miller decided at the age of 16 to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and join the Jesuits.  In all, six of his seven siblings would become Jesuit priests or nuns.

When he was missioned to Sri Lanka in 1948 at the age of 23, Father Miller traveled by train to New York and then boarded a ship for the long voyage to South Asia, finally arriving at the Jesuit mission in Batticaloa.

Before Father Miler’s arrival, Jesuit missionaries had come in waves to Sri Lanka. Although French missionaries had traditionally been sent to the country, in the 1930s, the Vatican called upon Americans from French Louisiana to help out with the Jesuit schools in eastern Sri Lanka.

“We didn’t volunteer for a few weeks, a month or a year. It was for life,” Father Miller said about his 60 years of service to the people of Batticaloa as educator, priest, protector and witness.

Through the years, Father Miller taught physics, English and history, and coached the soccer team at St. Michael’s College, a boys’ school founded in 1873.  He worked actively to build bridges between communities and documented the unrest in Sri Lanka that claimed thousands of lives.  Many people simply disappeared during the Sri Lankan Civil War and a 1980s insurrection; one of those still missing is Father Miller’s friend and colleague, Jesuit Father Eugene John Hebert.  Father Hebert, who was known for his human rights work, disappeared in August of 1990.

In 2009, unsure whether he would stay in the United States, Father Miller returned to his native New Orleans. Once there, he realized that his true home was in Batticaloa, and he quickly returned.

In this video piece, Father Miller talks with great love about his home in Batticaloa.

2 Responses to “An American Jesuit’s Life in Sri Lanka”

  • Chris Kunze:

    Dear Sir,

    My uncle, Fr. Ralph Rieman SJ. worked at Kalkudah Estate in Ceylon in 1960 and 70′s and probably before that. I was just reading a few letters he sent to my father during that time that I found while cleaning out the attic. I was hoping for a little information about where he was when he first went over there in the 50′s. My mother had a mission group who I remembered would roll bandages from sheets and send to him (I thought)for a leper colony.

    There is no one left to ask here except my mother and she doesn’t have a memory of that any more.

    Could you direct me to someone who might be able to help with a little information?

    Sincerely,
    Chris Kunze

  • Dear Chris -

    You may want to try reaching out to the Midwest Jesuit Archives at archives@jesuits-mis.org to see if they might be able to help you find out more about your uncle, Fr. Rieman, SJ and his work in Ceylon.

    All the Best,
    NJN Editor