The Corpus Christi Carmelite Sisters will celebrate their centenary of arrival in Trinidad in November. This is Part Two of the history of the Order, a continuation from Part One which appeared in the June 9 issue.
On the debit side were some of the most unpleasant forms of life they had ever met, the huge cockroaches and spiders which came from nowhere and seemed actually, to the alarmed sisters, to be advancing to attack them.
Also there was the great heat, a contrast to England’s gentle warmth. They became acclimated, however, and they learned not to run from the Gulliver-sized insects but to subdue them with a broom.
They could not have asked for more kindness and fellowship than that with which they met. A few days after they were settled in their convent, a gift came from the Archbishop: an oil stove with an oven –“in case you might like to make cakes,” ran his note.
And on the same day a little old Creole woman came with a gift for the Sisters – a piece of sugared coconut for each. She invited them to visit her and pointed out her tiny cabin on the hill, with a palm tree in front of it and at the back a cotton tree full of snowy balls.
Fr Vincent McNabb OP said the Corpus Christi Sisters were a restless lot, always wanting to improve something. This trait showed itself in the Trinidad missionaries who set to work to make life happier for the old people entrusted to their care.
The history of Pound Day
The food provided for the old people was plentiful but, as Sr Josephine put it, unimaginative. The sisters wanted to be able to give them something more interesting occasionally.
The Sisters decided to have what is known as Pound Day, in England. They asked people to bring them on that day a pound of food of some kind.
The Archbishop was the first to respond with a fine square of sugared cake. The Sisters placed a large sheet in the visitor’s room to hold the offerings, and all day long pounds of various kinds came.
Little white children, delicate as so often as those who live in the tropics, brought pounds of rice, coffee and sugar. Little coloured children, with not much to give, brought coconut.
One very old man, a stevedore, came with four penny loaves as his contribution. A tiny coloured boy brought, in a small screwed up bit of paper, a farthing’s worth of salt. One of the first things the sisters learned at Port of Spain was that if you asked you received.
In the evening, when they put away the offerings, they were amazed at the generosity and realised that the boast of Trinidad was no idle one: no one would ever starve there, for someone would find the hungry one and bring help, whether to a sick old man or a little child who needed a home and love.
Excerpts taken from With God and Two Ducats (1958) by Katherine Burton, and A Great Adventure (1944), Corpus Christi Carmelites.