St Joseph’s Convent Port of Spain (SJCPOS) celebrates its 185th anniversary of establishment on April 5. Here’s a brief history submitted by the school.
On January 29, 1836, six Sisters from the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny arrived at the wharf in Port of Spain, having travelled by boat from Martinique. They initially stayed at the residence of Madame le Cadre Bégorrat on St James Street (now Frederick Street). They had been invited to come to Trinidad by Bishop McDonnell, Prelate of the Catholic Church in Trinidad, for the purpose of “founding a house of education in which all classes and religions can receive a solid and adequate grounding”.
This small group of nuns was sent by Mère Marie-Therese, then Superior of the community in Martinique and sister of Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey, the foundress of the Congregation.
Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey never actually came to Trinidad because she was actively working in French Guiana at the time.
Two months after their arrival, the six Sisters opened a boarding school for girls on April 5, 1836 on the upper part of St James Street. Before long, they moved to rented premises on Kent Street (now Pembroke Street). The school fee was 52 pounds per year and all the students were boarders, who were taught under a bilingual system of studies.
This system of teaching, both in French and English, remained until 1894, while there continued to be boarders until 1966.
By 1838, the school had grown to 50 boarders and they were outgrowing their Kent Street location. In 1840, to meet the growing needs of the school, the Sisters purchased a property which had come up for sale not far from where they were renting on Kent Street. It was next door to the residence of the Bishop and remains the location of the present school on Pembroke Street today.
In those early years, students were examined orally by outside examiners in the presence of the nuns and visitors. These exams were called concours and were an exhibition of the literary, artistic, and musical accomplishments of the students.
Here are some milestones
in the school’s history:
- 1845 – The foundation stone for the first chapel was laid. This stone is still in evidence behind the goalpost of the netball court.
- 1853 – A day school was introduced from 7.30 a.m. to 5.15 p.m. for girls under 10.
- 1859 – Sr Mary Louise Wright was appointed as Mother Superior (head of the nuns and head of the school). This was remarkable because at that time most of the nuns were French. She was the first Trinidadian to hold this position. After holding this position for four years, she went on to establish the St Joseph’s Convent in Haiti.
- 1860 – Providence, or ‘Little Convent’ as it was familiarly known, was established in the downstairs part of the Bishop’s residence as a free school.
- 1869 – By this time, there were four years or courses (equivalent of today’s ‘Forms’) and they were called Preparatory, Elementary, Secondary and Superior.
- 1887 – SJCPOS celebrated its Silver Jubilee. New buildings were erected to meet the expanding needs of the school.
- 1894 – The bilingual system of instruction was ended with classes thereafter only taught in English. This was also the first time that an Irish Cluny Sister was head of the Convent. Prior to that, all the Reverend Mothers had been French (with the notable exception of Trinidad-born Mother Mary Louise Wright who was mentioned earlier).
- 1895 – External London exams were done for the first time.
- 1904 – The Archbishop moved to his new residence around the Queen’s Park Savannah and his old residence was fully incorporated into the educational activities of the Sisters.
- 1907 – The Centenary Hall was built to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny by Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey in France in 1807. The hall was used by the school for a variety of purposes: classrooms, performance of concerts and plays, prizegiving, art exhibitions, etc.
- 1911 – SJC was affiliated with QRC for the purpose of external Cambridge exams and qualified for a government subsidy for the first time.
- 1932 – For the first time, three students at the school sat the Cambridge Higher Certificate exams (equivalent of today’s A’ levels) to compete with boys from St Mary’s College and QRC for the Colonial Scholarship. One of them was Jocelyn Urich who joined the Cluny Sisters after leaving school and took the name Sr Frances Xavier. She would go on to become Principal of SJC and then Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny.
- 1936 – A new southern wing was built to mark the 100th year of the school. This is the southernmost wing of the school as it stands today and is the only part of the existing premises which survived the fire of 1944.
- 1944 – In the middle of the night on May 23, a fire broke out which destroyed the greater part of the school and the chapel and resulted in the tragic death of four Sisters
Read part 2 of this story here