St Mary’s College – A bastion of education
By Newsday Reporter Friday, December 6 2013
Today, marks the end of the year-long sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary celebrations of the presence of Holy Ghost Fathers and the establishment of St Mary’s College, that famous landmark of education in Trinidad and Tobago.
This Catholic secondary school, located between Frederick and Pembroke Streets has been a bastion of education since 1863, sought after by thousands of students in whose classrooms they were able to gain the finest secondary education available in this country.
Over the years St Mary’s has produced men of prominence in many fields, including politics, business, law, medicine, sports and the arts. They include two heads of State, the first Governor-General, Sir Solomon Hochoy, and Sir Ellis Clarke, the country’s first President. Also two Chief Justices, the Rt Hon Justice Michael de la Bastide, and present Chief Justice Ivor Archie, sat on its benches. It also produced two Archbishops in Anthony Pantin, and present Archbishop Joseph Harris. Another one of the St Mary’s notable alumni is Bishop Malcom Galt, Bishop Emritus of Bridgetown, Barbados.
St Mary’s has among its distinguished alumni Trinidad and Tobago’s hero Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani whose statue stands in the middle of Independence Square and Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain. Also the nationally known trade unionist Quintin O’Connor.
Other notables include Senator Timothy Hamel-Smith, current President of the Senate, Keith Sobion, former Trinidad and Tobago Attorney General; Justice Roger Hamel-Smith, former Justice of Appeal.
The start of such an educational college which has produced many of the country’s leaders is of great interest on this occasion.
In 1859, the Queen’s College School was founded on Abercromby Street in Port-of-Spain by the Trinidad and Tobago Government to provide secondary education for boys. Five teachers were provided. One year later, in 1860, shortly after his arrival in Trinidad, the new Roman Catholic Archbishop, Ferdinand English, condemned the school for the “protestant” nature of its education.
Then, during a very disturbing time, a Roman Catholic, named Louis de Verteuil, then Mayor of Port-of-Spain, and leader of the Catholic party, proposed a solution to the education problem to Archbishop Ferdinand English.
Archbishop English commissioned Louis de Verteuil to go to Rome, where de Verteuil made an approach to the Jesuits and tried to persuade them to establish a college in Trinidad.
The initial attempt by de Verteuil failed, but at the suggestion of one Monsignor Talbot, the Private Chamberlain of the Holy Ghost Fathers, whom Louis had appointed, Archbishop English got in touch with the newly established Congregation of the Holy Ghost and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and de Verteuil’s idea blossomed. In June, 1862, Archbishop English wrote their Superior General, named Rev Father Schwindenhammer. At the top of the document Archbishop English wrote asking for assistance to set up a new college in Trinidad.
As it turned out, that request was one of the last notable things Archbishop English did, because three months later he died.
Notwithstanding, the Holy Ghost Fathers – two of them, Fathers Guilloux and Sundhauser, still came to Trinidad. They landed on the morning of July 7, 1862.
One year later – August, 1863 – St Mary’s College had opened its classrooms to the first 14 students, eight of whom were boarders, and six were day students.
The boarders were required to pay $192 per year, while the day students paid $6 per month. The school’s Sunday or dress uniform was black, but during the week the uniform was grey pants and a shirt with a straw hat completing the outfit.
As the days and months went by, the school was advertised on the front pages of the one daily newspaper of the time – the Port-of-Spain Gazette.
The subjects taught in the College at that time included English, French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, History, as well as ancient and modern Geography, Science, Mathematics, and Music. English and French were the school’s official languages at the time.
During 1864, Archbishop Louis Joachim Gonin came to Trinidad, and remained as Archbishop until his death in 1887. All during that 34-year period St Mary’s College was under considerable pressure, financially and otherwise, for although the Archbishop was said to be a very holy man, it was also said he was very demanding and hard to get along with.
On three occasions – in 1874, 1877, and 1880 – three-year intervals, the Holy Ghost authorities took decisions to abandon their work in Trinidad. Their decisions to pack up and leave were mainly because of a shortage of personnel, and also largely because of personal difficulties between the superiors and the Archbishop.
The insistence of the Roman Catholics in Trinidad and of the Propaganda of the Faith in Rome, effectively prevented the priests from leaving.
Like the biblical mustard seed, St Mary’s College has grown in stature, clinging to its motto “Virtus et Scientia” (Virtue and Knowledge) over the years, producing many of the best brains and personalities in different spheres, such as sciences, the humanities, law, politics and sports.
St Mary’s College which began with 14 boys has an enrollment today of over 1,200 students. It is an all-boys school except for the sixth forms, lower and upper, which may admit a few select girls at the beginning of each academic year. It is a seven-year secondary school that prepares students for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC); Ordinary O’level examinations, now known as “CSEC” at Fifth Form, and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) level examinations. It is one of the most sought after boys’ schools in Trinidad and Tobago and has consistently won the prestigious national scholarships offered by the government.
It currently offers education that has kept pace with all modern advances in education in a vast number of fields in the sciences, humanities, business studies, and economics. The school also produced the regional top performer in the Environmental Sciences category in 2011.
Current and former students can proudly assert that St Mary’s College is one of the best schools in Trinidad and Tobago. They thank the Holy Ghost Fathers for their vision, and their hard work.
Today the year long programme of events marking the 150th anniversary comes to an end with a Mass at the college chapel at 9.30 am this morning. After the Mass a time capsule containing a copy of today’s Newsday will be buried in the grounds of the school.
(See page 10)