Sr Maria Garland SJC was born December 28, 1925 in Ireland and arrived in Trinidad in the late 1940s after making her profession as a Sister of St Joseph of Cluny on March 11, 1948. Her first posting was at St Joseph’s Primary School where she spent 12 years and then was transferred to Sacred Heart Girls’ as principal of the school for five years.
The St Gabriel’s Years: Sr Maria became the Principal of St Gabriel’s Girls’ RC, San Fernando, in September 1965 where she remained until her retirement in December 1985. It was a 20-year stint that left a profound impact on the thousands of green-uniformed girls who passed through the school, and a lasting legacy on the culture of the school.
Under her tenure as principal, Sr Maria demanded the highest standards of discipline, decorum and education, and her girls could probably remember her clapping across the courtyard during a lunch or mid-morning break when she saw something untoward, and the immediate cessation of all activity and sudden silence that would descend.
Running in particular was prohibited, especially when leaving the classroom for any of the breaks and along the corridors. Certain clapping games were also banned although a rebellious few would still conceal themselves away from the eyes of teachers and Sr Maria to play. Despite her sternness, she also manifested a caring relationship for those in her charge and knew the majority by name.
The Catholic faith underpinned daily activity in the life of the school with daily morning assemblies, prayers before and after the day’s breaks, an after-lunch decade of the Rosary led by students over the mic, and a prayer before departing the compound.
Every Tuesday, pupils were encouraged to give up their snack money for the poor and the money was used to purchase books, clothing, and foodstuff for needy students.
She trained the pupils for the yearly National Music Awards, which the school won on several occasions up to the time of her retirement—1968, 1972, 1974, 1978 and in 1984.
In ensuring the correct tone and pitch, Sr Maria would approach each singing child, placing her ear as close to the mouth of the child as possible. She would correct where necessary and then move on to the next child until the entire choir was up to spec.
St Gabriel’s at the time also won all essay writing and Social Studies competitions in the Victoria Education Division. The education of the girls was complete and holistic under Sr Maria’s guidance.
Sr Maria took pride in the care of her girls and had a no-nonsense approach to the academic standards of school, demanding the best from staff, students and parents.
Failure to sign a Common Entrance form by a parent once led to Sr Maria’s going into a betting pool to find the parent who meekly signed the form after being on the receiving end of a stern lecture.
Her foresight in education earned her the respect, trust and support of parents concerning their child’s education. The ancillary staff was also very loyal to her, and each pupil knew that this arm of the school had to be treated with respect also.
As a superior and community member, she was also thoughtful, kind and very generous to all her sisters. In spite of her heavy workload as principal of a large school, she unreservedly gave of her time, talent and treasure to the community.
Sr Maria returned to Ireland and completed a programme in Family Life hoping to return to San Fernando to work with families but on her return, she was sent to the SJC community at Lourdes House, Maraval where she did parish ministry.
From Lourdes House she went to Toco/Cumana. There she managed the primary schools, and did parish ministry. In Cumana, Sr Maria invited the Maraval Rotary Club to the village where they assisted the women there and in Rampanalgas with craft and domestic skills. She was also a back-seat driver but defiantly managed to get her driver’s license in Trinidad and Tobago, and in Cumana, did Trojan work in evangelising the coast.
After Cumana, Sr Maria returned to Ireland in 1996 but came back to these shores in March 1998 to celebrate her Golden Anniversary of Religious Profession. She passed away in Ireland August 27, 2018.
A Requiem Mass will be held on Saturday, September 29 at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help RC Church, San Fernando at 10 a.m