St. Augustine’s College (SAC), the school that was founded in response to a need in The Bahamas for an environment in which Bahamian youth could have access to traditional Benedictine cultural heritage of 14 centuries, celebrates 75 years this month.
SAC was founded in January 1945 by the Reverend Frederic U. Frey, the then prior of the Benedictine Order in The Bahamas. Frey was the school’s first headmaster, serving from its opening until 1963 with 35 students in Forms 1, II and III and with a staff complement of four at the school which began in the Priory Grounds, West Street.
The school, according to its founder, was to be a community institution to be used for the good of the people of The Bahamas. He said they intentionally avoided making it parochial in the sense of limiting it to Catholics, or using it as a training college for candidates to the clergy.
SAC is now located in Fox Hill. The present site was deeded to the Benedictines for a monastery and college by the late Bishop Bernard. The famous “hermit of Cat Island” – Monsignor Jerome Hawes – designed the monastery and original college complex.
Classes met in the new St. Augustine’s College for the first time on January 13, 1947 – 73 years ago today.
Martin Lundy, 72, an alumnus of SAC who attended the institution between 1960 and 1966, recalled the early days at the institution as being like a never-ending adventure.
“Every day was an adventure unto itself,” he recalled. “We started our day at 8 a.m. which meant we had to be there at 7 a.m. because the first bell went off at 7:50 a.m. – and there were no cars and no jitneys, so you had to either walk or ride your bicycle and you had to be there on time. Getting there in itself was an adventure every day. Rain didn’t stop that 7:50 a.m. bell.”
Lundy, who grew up in the Mason’s Addition community, said he rode his bicycle to school every day for the unique academic experience that SAC would be.
“SAC was unique in that it had more school hours than everybody. Government schools went in at 9 a.m. and came out at 3 p.m. – we went in at 8 a.m. and came out at 8 p.m. – so it was a 12-hour day for us. The classes were a little longer, and the fact is that the vast majority of our teachers were priests and they all had doctorate degrees in areas such as theology or philosophy.”
SAC history notes the scholastic day lasted until 8 p.m. in order to provide a suitable place of study for students.
During Lundy’s time at the school, he matriculated under Frey, as well as the second headmaster in Father Burton Bloms who initiated The Bahamas’ first boarding school in 1965 (discontinued in 1974).
The SAC alumnus said the evidence of the excellence afforded Bahamians at SAC is evident in the students it turned out.
“It’s obvious,” said Lundy. “There was dedication and commitment to the individual. Every single person had to perform. Also, class sizes were small and teachers had time to focus.”
Lundy recalls the year he commenced studies at the institution, starting out with a cohort of 42, but at graduation, the complement had whittled down to 12.
“Some of them didn’t heed the advice of the principal which was to shape up or ship out; they didn’t shape up…they were shipped out.”
Lundy’s three children also went to SAC, because of his belief in the education system.
In its 75th year, the St. Augustine’s College Alumni Association (SACAA) will host a number of celebratory activities over the course of the year, which will culminate with the annual Lighthouse Awards and Gala. Through the awards, the alumni association recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of SAC alumni and non-alumni for accomplishments in their chosen fields.
In the school’s history, Frey served as headmaster for 18 years, from 1945 until 1963. Under his leadership, in 1953, St. Mary’s Hall was completed to house the auditorium, classrooms, library, cafeteria and science laboratories. From 1954 to 1966, the Headmaster’s Annual Inter School Track and Field Meets were held on SAC’s playing ground, at the time the only suitable place on New Providence for such a program; with the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre in 1967, the venue was changed to that arena. In 1962, under the direction of the late Robert Hanlon, biology master, the first natural history museum in The Bahamas was started. The College financed collecting expeditions to Andros, Acklins, Long Island, Great Inagua, Bimini, Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Harbour Island, Exuma and Ragged Islands. The last building which Frey started in 1963, but which did not live to see completed, was the athletic building.
Under Bloms’ tenure, the engineering of the building of the new school complex below the hill initiated and the first boarding school took place. He laid the groundwork for the merger of SAC with Xavier’s College, a union that was achieved in 1967, aided by financial contributions by the late Reverend Paul Leonard Hagerty, then Bishop of Nassau. Prior to this, SAC was an all-boys school run along traditional English grammar school lines; Xavier’s College, formerly an all-girls school directed by the Sisters of Charity, was founded in 1965, an outgrowth of an academy that started in 1889.
In 1967, SAC became a co-instructional high school with boys and girls sharing the same teaching faculty, but in separate classes.
That year, Reverend Bonaventure Dean, an alumnus, was appointed the third headmaster, which heralded in a new era in the school’s history. Under Dean, SAC became fully co-educational and there was a reorganization of the administration.
Enrollment has also experienced growth from 35 students in 1945 to more than 1,000 by September 1968. In 1971, the College reverted to a six-year program with an annual enrollment of 900 students.
Leviticus Adderley, also an alumnus of the institution, assumed the position of headmaster in January 1973. He was the fifth headmaster, following the fourth headmaster, Father Theophile Brown, who for a brief 13 months – September 1971 to December 1972 – held the position.
Sonja Knowles, a 1970 graduate of the school, is the institution’s sixth principal, a position she holds today.
Administrative titles were changed from headmaster to principal and from deputy headmaster/headmistress to assistant principal in keeping with the government’s change of titles in the Ministry of Education schools.
During the 1980s, there was expansion to the complex with a shower changing room for girls, a home economics block and a fine-arts building for music and art classes; the library facility was expanded to include an audio-visual room. A new administration building was completed in February 1983 to replace the one destroyed by fire. The 140s block which housed the staff room, a biology lab and a regular classroom was destroyed by fire in February 2000. The refurbished building was re-dedicated in November 2001. The building is now called the Benedictine Building in honor of the many Benedictine monks that have served the college from its inception.
In keeping pace with educational trends, the first computer lab was opened in September 1990 with 30 computers; it was completely refurbished in 1996. Two computer labs were dedicated on the upper campus in October 1998 – the Brother Barry Gearman Lab (Room 44) was named after the Benedictine monk who worked in the college and monastery from 1981 until his death in March 1995; and the second lab was named after Deacon Leviticus Adderley. The school now has three computer labs for classes; all students have computer as a part of their general studies for all six years at the school.
SAC is operated as an independent school with an independent board. Prior to this, the College was owned and operated by the Benedictines of The Bahamas, hence its Benedictine heritage and uniqueness within the education system in The Bahamas. The College is a Roman Catholic School whose aim is to promote intellectual, physical and spiritual growth of students who will contribute to the welfare of church and society. Its objective is to maintain the Catholic and Benedictine identity of the College as established by its founders.