“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” — Prologue to the Holy Rule of St. Benedict
Next week, nearly 70 Bahamian students will commence their studies in a new academic year at the College of Saint Benedict (CSB) and Saint John’s University (SJU) in Minnesota, along with 3,400 other students.
The nearly equally divided female and male Bahamian students at those two institutions will conduct courses either in-person or online in Minnesota or, for those who have elected to do so, from The Bahamas. Such are the new realities of university life in the time of COVID-19.
Although this pandemic pervasively preoccupies our time, energies, discussions and interpersonal relationships, we thought that this week’s instalment will focus on a less onerous topic, if only for a moment.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — what are some of the Benedictine values that have intrinsically and intimately driven and impacted the lives of Bahamian students in the distant pine-curtain barrens of rural Minnesota?
The Bahamas-Minnesota connection
Fr. Colman Barry chronicled the history of the Catholic Church in The Bahamas in his 1973 seminal work “Upon These Rocks”. Barry, a noted historian and professor, served as SJU president from 1964 to 1971 and Dean of Religious Studies at Catholic University in Washington, DC from 1973 to 1978.
SJU was founded in Collegeville in 1857, and the CSB in 1880. The long-standing relationship between SJU and The Bahamas began in 1891 when Fr. Chrysostom Schreiner, then the university’s vice president, was appointed the first permanent Catholic priest in The Bahamas.
When he arrived in The Bahamas, there were only 70 members in the congregation of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. Schreiner’s tenure here spanned from 1891 to 1925. It was credited with many advances during that time, including the purchase of “The Priory”, which became the first rectory of St. Francis Xavier Church. He also established the Annual Catholic Bazaar and built Bungalow Dunmore to house visiting clergy.
Patricia Glinton-Meicholas updated the Catholic Church’s historical record in her book “From the Void to the Wonderful: A History of the Roman Catholic Church in The Bahamas”.
According to Glinton-Meicholas, “Catholic pioneers in the early years of the 20th Century took on the roles of architects, builders, doctors, dentists, technical advisers and teachers.” That period witnessed the meteoric growth in Bahamian religious vocations – by both men and women — and the explosive escalation in the erection of churches and schools throughout the country.
The first Bahamian to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood was Monsignor Carl Albury, who started his studies at SJU but was ultimately ordained in Canada in 1932. He was the first in a long line of Bahamian priests who were ordained in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Minnesota Benedictines recognized that if the Bahamianization of the local church were to proceed in an orderly and timely fashion, the church would need to make higher education accessible to more Bahamians.
Fr. Frederick Frey arrived in The Bahamas from SJU in 1935 and founded St. Augustine’s Monastery and College, the latter established on January 1, 1945. Initially an all-boys high school, it was an incubator for young Bahamian men wishing to pursue religious or other studies at Saint John’s in Minnesota.
In the meantime, many priests from Saint John’s Abbey taught at St. Augustine’s College (SAC), while others performed parish duties throughout the country. Their contributions to the personal, spiritual, educational, athletic and familial growth and development in the Bahamian society are as incalculable as they are legendary.
SJU-educated priests significantly contributed to the development of the Bahamian priesthood, including such notables as Fathers Charles Coakley, the first native Bahamian priest of the Diocese of Nassau; Boswell Davis; Leander Thompson; Bonaventure Dean; Cletus Edgecombe; Prosper Burrows; Monsignor Preston Moss; and Remy David, all of whom were trained at Saint John’s University and Abbey in Minnesota. The bridge that connected The Bahamas to Saint John’s was a natural one that rapidly expanded during the 20th Century.
Then there were the SJU giants who once walked among us but are no longer here. Most notable are the Dupuch brothers: Sir Etienne, one of the first Bahamians to attend SJU, whose career in politics and as the former editor of The Tribune – one of the prominent daily newspapers in The Bahamas, remains indelibly iconic on the Bahamian landscape.
His brother, Eugene Dupuch, who wrote the SJU fight song that is still sung at all sporting events in which SJU competes, enjoyed a superlative legal career. His name adorns our law school: the Eugene Dupuch Law School.
Leviticus “Uncle Lou” Adderley was a wrestling and tennis champion at SJU and returned to The Bahamas, where he taught and headed SAC for many years before becoming a Catholic deacon. Andrew Curry, an SJU graduate, became the first Bahamian principal at Aquinas College. Those giants no longer walk among us, but they will never be forgotten.
In like manner, the 20th Century witnessed the enormous growth of women, most notably the nuns of St. Martin’s Monastery on Nassau Street. They provided teachers and administrators in the parochial school system as well as vocations for young women in search of a spiritually cloistered, lifetime commitment to the church and country. Most of those nuns were educated at CSB before returning to The Bahamas.
Other women who were educated at CSB included such notables as Jackie Bethel, one of the first Bahamian women to attend CSB, who later became headmistress of Xavier’s College; Telzena Coakley, a former member of St. Martin’s Monastery and director of the College of St. Benedict College Distant Learning Program which, for years, conducted CSB/SJU two-year college courses at SAC for working students seeking a college degree; Dr. Linda Davis, first provost of the University of The Bahamas; Rev. Marie A. Roach-Hepburn, assistant curate, Christ The King Parish (Grand Bahama); Dr. Barbara A. Rodgers-Newbold, head of the University of The West Indies, Open Campus in The Bahamas; and Sisters Mary Benedict Pratt, Annie Thompson and Agatha Hunt, the first Bahamian principal of Mary, Star of the Sea Academy in Freeport.
There are other Bahamian CSB-educated women whose contributions were equally profound.
There are living legends who attended SJU like Pierre Dupuch, whose contribution to Bahamian politics and career in publishing have been stellar, and Basil Christie, who chaired the Special Olympics organization for 25 years, accentuating the incredibly impressive athletic talents of developmentally challenged Bahamians. Basil has also established the largest, longest-running life-saving blood drive in The Bahamas.
We take pride in the contributions of Neville Adderley, a former Supreme Court Justice and presently high court judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, as well as outstanding public servants like the late Arthur Barnett, father of our former chief justice and current president of our Court of Appeal; Terrance Bastian, auditor general of The Bahamas; Luther Smith and Creswell Sturrup, who served in the highest public offices in the Bahamian bureaucracy; and Dr. Rodney Smith, president of the University of The Bahamas, all SJU graduates.
In the area of sports, we recognize the outstanding contributions by SJU graduates Sidney “Butts” Outten, Sharon Storr, Martin Lundy and Alpheus Finlayson.
We also acknowledge the continuing contribution of Prince Wallace, a Bahamian who attended SAC and SJU. He remained in Minnesota, along with his spouse Sandra, to raise an exceptionally close family and built several successful businesses there. Prince and Sandy have remained a constant bridge for Bahamian SJU and CSB students by consistently supporting them over the past 50 years in ways too numerous to mention.
The current generation
Today there are individuals who continue to build on the foundation laid by their progenitors.
Outstanding SJU graduates include Deacon Jeffrey Hollingsworth, Boy Scout leader Robert Bartlett and business leader and entrepreneur extraordinaire Raymond H. Culmer.
Among the younger generation are Denard Cleare, president of the SJU Alumni Association in The Bahamas; Brian Jones, board member of the University of The Bahamas; and Lamon Stubbs, executive director of the Gentlemen’s Club of Delta Lambda Boulé, to mention a few.
Equally, outstanding professional young women like Deneisha Dean, Megan Curry, Shenique Smith and Terry Bastian superlatively contribute to the CSB Alumnae Association in The Bahamas.
Many other Bahamians in diverse fields have actively continued to build the bridge for Bahamian CSB/SJU students.
We are incredibly proud of Bahamians who have offered enormously exemplary student leadership roles at the two institutions: Ramond Mitchell, David Johnson III, Kistacia Thompson and Owyn Ferguson, are past presidents of the Student Senate at CSB and SJU.
The Catholic Church, in general, and St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, in particular, have positively impacted Bahamian national development.
Their influence was achieved through their commitment to the development of individuals who are guided by the moral and spiritual teachings and conduct of their pastoral leaders, inspired by the Rule of Saint Benedict.
There are no other institutions anywhere that can claim to have provided profound contributions to personal, spiritual, educational and national development that SJU and CSB have.
This was done for decades by those institutions by uplifting Bahamians, who have then contributed to a better life and impactful national development.
Next week, in our final installation, we will specifically address how CSB and SJU have practically applied Benedictine values to uplift more than 1,600 Bahamians who have attended those hallowed halls of higher learning.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.