A jour­ney through time


THE HISTORY books tell us that Christo­pher Colum­bus came upon the beau­ti­ful is­land of Ja­maica on May 3, 1494. Some re­searchers claimed that he landed at Seville, near St Ann’s Bay. How­ever, it was not un­til 1509 that a small pop­u­la­tion of Span­ish set­tlers be­gan to oc­cupy Ja­maica. They used the is­land for cat­tle rear­ing. Among these Ro­man Catholic set­tlers were a few priests who ad­min­is­tered the sacra­ments.

The so­journ of these set­tlers were cut short by dis­eases, some of which were caused by mos­qui­toes. Con­se­quently, in 1534, 25 years af­ter set­tling in the sea­side town of Seville, they moved to the south side of the is­land to a set­tle­ment they called Villa de la Vega (mod­ern day Span­ish Town).

When Span­ish Town was San­ti­ago De La Vega, the Spa­niards had an abbey church in the lit­tle town’s plaza. There were too few Catholics and fewer priests to merit a cathe­dral and a bishop, so an ab­bot was sent from Ha­vana, Cuba, and with him, one sec­u­lar priest. North of the town, on the banks of the Rio Co­bre, the Do­mini­cans had built a monastery of stone and at­tached to this monastery was their chapel ded­i­cated to Our Lady of Per­pet­ual Help.

About half-mile south of that monastery, the Fran­cis­cans, who pre­dated the Do­mini­cans, built their monastery ded­i­cated to the pa­tron of Spain, St James of Com­postela, and a church ded­i­cated to the

“A peo­ple with­out the knowl­edge of their past history, origin and cul­ture is like a tree with­out roots.” – Mar­cus Mosiah Gar­vey

Angli­can Cathe­dral. The monas­ter­ies and the church have been de­stroyed, but the re­main­ing his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence is White Church Street and Red Church Street in Span­ish Town.

Two other re­li­gious chapels, known as her­mitages, aug­mented the num­ber of build­ings ded­i­cated to ‘di­vine’ ser­vice in the is­land. Both were sit­u­ated out­side the cap­i­tal, which was Span­ish Town. One is said to have been built on the site of the then School of Agri­cul­ture (JSA) at Ja­maica Twick­en­ham Park. The site of the other her­mitage is not known. The priests had to travel to the ha­cien­das (vil­lages) to cel­e­brate Mass be­cause of the lim­ited num­ber of churches. The faith­ful came to San­ti­ago De La Vega for con­fir­ma­tion.

In 1837, the Ro­man Catholic Church in Ja­maica be­came a vi­cari­ate of Rome and was en­trusted to the So­ci­ety of Je­sus (the Je­suits). Only two of the planned four Je­suits ar­rived in the is­land. One was an English­man, Fa­ther Wil­liam Cotham, and the other was a French­man, Fa­ther James Du­pey­ron. Both men tried to es­tab­lish a church in Span­ish Town, which was the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

Fa­ther Fran­cis Os­bourne S.J. , au­thor of the book History of the Catholic Church in Ja­maica, wrote that the vicar apos­tolic and Cotham set out to seek the Catholics who had no op­por­tu­nity of re­ceiv­ing the sacra­ments of penance or Holy Eucharist ex­cept on a visit to Kingston. Span­ish Town, which was 13 miles away, was their first stop. They found 130 soldiers and about 100 civil­ians. By De­cem­ber 1838, Fa­ther Cotham and Fa­ther Du­pey­ron set­tled in an old house in Span­ish Town which they rented for £24 per year.

The build­ing served as rec­tory, chapel and school. In fine weather it was com­fort­able, but in the rainy sea­son, um­brel­las had to be used in hall­ways and stair­cases. When the Catholic cit­i­zens of Span­ish Town tried to pur­chase the house, the owner in­creased the price from £450 to £800. Even­tu­ally, a school was opened with five schol­ars, who paid one shilling and five pence per week. The Fathers were dis­cour­aged by the turn of events be­cause of the slow progress of the mis­sion.


The 1860s in Ja­maica marked a time of so­cial un­rest. The sys­tem of slav­ery on which the econ­omy was built, came to an end. Thus, 22 years later, the so­cial or­der de­te­ri­o­rated be­cause no pos­i­tive so­cial re­forms were in­tro­duced. The so­ci­ety was left adrift. The cham­pion of the ex-slaves, Ge­orge Wil­liam Gor­don, faced off with the gover­nor at the time, Gover­nor Ed­ward John Eyre.

In 1870, the need for a new church in Span­ish Town was ev­i­dent. The Catholics of the then cap­i­tal city be­gan a build­ing fund. The vicar apos­tolic, the Very Rev James Du­pey­ron S.J., is­sued a gen­eral ap­peal for con­tri­bu­tions. He do­nated £120, a sum be­queathed to him, and £80 that he re­ceived from the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Prop­a­ga­tion of the Faith. Fa­ther Ber­to­lio raised an­other £600 and the new church was com­pleted in 1872 at a cost of £800.

In the pe­riod 1908-1919, the church in Span­ish Town played a piv­otal role in forg­ing its mis­sions. It as­sisted with the es­tab­lish­ment of a mis­sion sta­tion in Claren­don. Fa­ther Fred­er­ick Grewn, who resided in Span­ish Town, trav­elled 23 miles away to cel­e­brate Mass on one Sun­day of each month at a pri­vate home in the parish. In ad­di­tion to the es­tab­lish­ment of this mis­sion, the church in Span­ish Town was also in­stru­men­tal in es­tab­lish­ing a home for lep­ers. This home was run by the Marist Sis­ters, who had worked with lep­ers in the Fiji is­lands. Other mis­sions evolved over the years.

In his book, History of the Catholic Church in Ja­maica BWI, pub­lished in 1929, Fa­ther Fran­cis De­laney S.J. states that the Sacra­ments were ad­min­is­tered in Span­ish Town by 1866. By 1868, St Joseph Parish was un­der the stew­ard­ship

of Fa­ther Mark Ber­to­lio S.J. Ac­cord­ing to re­search done for the 125th an­niver­sary of the parish, the

writer states that “there is a plaque on the church wall com­mem­o­rat­ing this beloved pas­tor who died in 1876 af­ter serv­ing the church for

seven years”. St Joseph is cred­ited as be­ing the base of many mis­sions. Present-day churches, such as, Good Shep­herd, Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Atone­ment, St Fran­cis Xavier, Sa­cred Heart and St He­lens all owe their ge­n­e­sis to St Joseph.

Al­though the fore­go­ing years were chal­leng­ing for those who paved the way, nev­er­the­less, with tenac­ity of spirit and pur­pose, they have left the church with a solid legacy that can be em­u­lated. We, the in­her­i­tors of this legacy, have grasped the vi­sion and have con­tin­ued the mis­sion.

To­day, 178 years since Fathers Cotham and Du­pey­ron be­gan their ed­u­ca­tion jour­ney, schools af­fil­i­ated to St Joseph have grown ex­po­nen­tially to keep pace with an ev­er­in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion. Their achieve­ments over the years have been phe­nom­e­nal.


This year, St Joseph is cel­e­brat­ing 150 years of re­mark­able achieve­ments. These are ac­com­plish­ments that are grounded in our mis­sion state­ment, which is: ‘We, the Parish­ioners of St Joseph re­spond to God’s Covenant with us by pro­claim­ing His Word, build­ing His com­mu­nity, cel­e­brat­ing His liturgy and serv­ing His peo­ple, through Evan­ge­li­sa­tion’.

Ed­u­ca­tion con­tin­ues to be the hall­mark of the Catholic Church and St Joseph has played a piv­otal role in the ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment of the chil­dren of its mem­bers and the wider so­ci­ety. In 1838, Fathers Cotham and Du­pey­ron founded a school in Span­ish Town with five stu­dents. In 1948, noted Je­suit priest Fa­ther Matthew Ashe con­tin­ued the work started by the fore­go­ing Fathers. His suc­ces­sors, the Re­li­gious Sis­ters of Mercy and the Fran­cis­cans (Brown and Blue Sis­ters) fol­lowed in their foot­steps. The fol­low­ing schools are tes­ta­ments to their hard work. St Cather­ine Pri­mary St Cather­ine Ba­sic and In­fant Schools St Cather­ine’s Prepara­tory St John’s Pri­mary St Cather­ine High McAu­ley Pri­mary As a church, we have pro­duced sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als who have de­voted their time, tal­ent and trea­sure to build­ing and en­hanc­ing God’s King­dom here on earth. The fol­low­ing are tes­ta­ments to this vi­sion:

Fa­ther Les­lie Rus­sell S.J. (de­ceased ) – first home grown priest.

The Most Rev­erend Ken­neth Richards – first home-grown bishop to be or­dained Arch­bishop of Kingston in 2016.

Fa­ther Richard Brown – home-grown priest who is the cur­rent pas­tor at St Joseph.

Fa­ther Roger Gra­ham – home-grown priest who is the cur­rent pas­tor at St John The Bap­tist and Our Lady of the An­gels churches.

Rev­erend David Yee Sing – first home-grown dea­con.

Rev­erend Win­ston Mars – home­grown dea­con, cur­rently serv­ing at The Churches of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Good Shep­herd.

Rev­erend Standford Lyew – home­grown dea­con, serv­ing St Joseph and Our Lady of Hope churches. Rev­erend Joseph Fung – dea­con. Other Re­li­gious who are home-grown prod­ucts of St Joseph are as fol­lows: Sis­ter Jacquelyn-Folkes – Blue Sis­ter. Sis­ter Gertrude Fletcher (de­ceased ) – Blue Sis­ter. Sis­ter Clotilde – Mercy Sis­ter. Sis­ter Si­mone Maris – Daugh­ters of Di­vine Love.

St Joseph is truly built on a solid mis­sion and vi­sion crafted by those who went on be­fore. The work con­tin­ues by a clergy and laity who are cog­nizant of the need to reach out to the less for­tu­nate and those who are in need of God’s re­deem­ing Hand. May God bless St Joseph as it strives to be the ‘bea­con’ in an ev­er­chang­ing world.

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