St. Patrick's Cathedral
& The Ursuline Convent
The history of my family and that of many other families seems to be intertwined in one way or another with religion. My family history includes Presbyterian ancestors in Madeira fleeing to Trinidad and Jewish ancestors in Portugal fleeing to Amsterdam because of religious persecution. In Barbados, my mother's parents, Esmée and Garnet St. Hill, who were baptised in the Anglican Church, converted to Catholicism sometime circa 1928. From then on, all baptisms, marriages and funerals of my immediate family took place and are recorded in Catholic churches.
St. Patrick's Cathedral was central to family life for several generations. My Trinidadian father was Presbyterian, but since my mother was Catholic, in order for the marriage to take place at St. Patrick's in 1943, he was required to make a vow to raise his children in the Catholic faith. I was educated at the Ursuline Convent, as were my mother, aunts, siblings and several cousins.
CATHOLICS IN BARBADOS
by John Prideaux
Transcribed from an article appearing in The Sunday Advocate, Barbados - 14 July, 1950
The Roman Catholic community in this Island is in a minority, and the arrival of “Our Lady of Fatima” has brought it into the limelight. Barbados, due to its being English from the first settlers, and not having been occupied by the French or Spanish, is the most Protestant of the West Indian Islands. It is, therefore, not surprising to learn that the Roman Catholics were the last of the four leading denominations in this Island to have a Church.
The first Churches were erected by the Anglicans, the religion of the State, then came the Moravians in 1767, and built their first Church in 1794. The Wesleyans were the next on the scene and when Thomas Cook, the founder of the Methodist Missions in the West Indian Islands arrived at Barbados in 1788, he found a nucleus of Wesleyanism in existence, formed by some of the soldiers who had formerly served in Ireland. Their first Church was destroyed by a mob of young men of the upper classes in 1823.
Religious persecution came to an end whilst the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister; Lord John Russell succeeded in carrying a Bill, which enabled dissenters to hold municipal or Government offices. At last, through the fear of civil war in Ireland, similar relief was given to Catholics by the Catholic Emancipation Bill of 1829. It was not, however, until ten years after the passing of the act by Parliament that the first records of the Roman Catholic Church in Barbados are found. On the 24th of February 1839, the gentlemen of Roman Catholic belief held a meeting and a resolution was passed to petition the Roman Catholic Bishop at Trinidad for a resident priest, and they engaged themselves to subscribe, and immediately subscribed £400 for his annual salary.
In reply to this petition the Right Rev. Doctor MacDonnell appointed the Rev. Wm. Rogers to the mission. On his arrival here he was welcomed by the congregation, he proposed to build a church as soon as possible. This idea was unanimous with the congregation who opened a subscription list and Father Rogers went through the Islands to raise subscriptions from other Catholic communities, which were stronger than the one at Barbados, for it is found that in 1871, twenty-two years after the completion of the Church the Catholics in this Island only numbered 513.
On the 1st of September, 1893, a meeting of the congregation was held and a Committee was appointed to consider the purchase of a spot of land, just over an acre in extent, belonging to Mary Walcott, and situated in Jemmott’s Lane. This situation was considered as admirable and the land was purchased for £1,500, of which £1,000 was paid down. The most active member of the congregation appears to be Mr. Edward B. Haly, of whom his Lordship Bishop MacDonnell spoke most highly in his letter to the Committee on his decision to send a Priest. Other names found on this Committee are Mr. P. Didlon (whose son afterwards became Comptroller of Customs), Mr. Drinan and Mr. Thos. Stevens.
The plan of the Church was made by Major Hart of the 81st Regiment, then stationed at Barbados. This Church was to have been dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor. The cornerstone was laid on December 24th 1840, but due to the lack of funds, Father Rogers would not continue with the construction. The next record is in November 1847, when Rev. M. O’Donnelly entered into a contract for the construction of St. Patrick’s Church. More money had been contributed in the meanwhile, and the names of officers and men of the soldiers stationed here appear in the list of donations. Progress appears to have been very slow, and it was not until 1849 that this Church was completed. An address was presented to the Rev. Father M. O’Donnelly on the 1st of August 1849, congratulating him on the completion of the Church. Father O’Donnelly did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labours, and he was buried in the Church itself on the Epistle side of the Altar.
On the 20th of March, 1850, the sacred congregation of De Propaganda Fide put the Church at Barbados under the Vicar Apostolic of Demerara, the Right Rev. Bishop Haynes, who paid his first visit to the Island on the 14th of July, 1851. He again visited the Island on the 12th of May, 1854. After the death of Father Nightingale, who had succeeded Father O’Donnelly, there was no resident priest, and the Bishop promised to do all in his power to induce one of the Religious Orders to take over the Mission. In 1854, it is recorded that Father Henry Segrave of the Society of Jesus, was in charge of this Church, and since then the Mission as been served by the Jesuit Father of the English province.
Father Strickland, who was in charge of this Church in the eighties of the last century, had the great desire to get a Convent. He maintained that there was much work to be done by nuns in Barbados. He managed to raise funds enough to build the Convent in the Churchyard, and succeed in getting Rev. Mother Ursula to be the founder. She came with another sister, and opened a school. Later she was called by His Lordship, Bishop Butler, to found another Convent at British Guiana.
In 1894, Bishop Butler requested Rev. Mother Stanislaus of the British Guiana Convent to take over from the Sisters of Mercy in Barbados. She started the Convent again and under her zeal and administration the numbers grew. Her successor Rev. Mother Angela Daly, an educationalist with thirty years experience, built up a reputation for the Ursuline Convent in the West Indies.
Fate again struck on the night of 13th June 1897, when St. Patrick’s Church was destroyed by fire. Services were then held in the Schoolroom at the Garrison, which was loaned for the occasion; the Church was soon rebuilt, due to the energy of Father Hogan. The Legislature made a grant of £200 in aid of this, and subscriptions and donations were given not only by Catholics, but by Protestants and Jews alike.
The Convent was outgrowing the size of the buildings in the Churchyard and when the residence of the late J.H. Stokes Esq. came on the market, it was purchased and the Convent removed there. Thus the lovely residence known to many as “LINDEN” became the home of the Ursuline Convent of Barbados. This lovely building soon proved to be too small, and the residence “Somerville” was purchased and added to it. Today this lovely Convent is the home of many school children not only from the other West Indian Islands but from places situated on the continent of South America, and is recognized as one of the leading educational institutions in this area.
The above video documentary was researched, written and presented by Professor Henry Fraser, and shown on
CBC-TV, Barbados April 9th 2013
Sketches by Professor Henry Fraser