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.
TIME OF SOCIAL UNREST
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.