Despite COVID-19 and the adoption of remote learning to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Catholic schools still found a way to mark the anniversary of 131 years of education in The Bahamas and celebrate their second annual Founders’ Day.
Catholic school students throughout The Bahamas celebrated the Catholic Board of Education’s second annual Founders’ Day virtually by viewing a commemorative video on Wednesday, November 4.
On November 4, 1889, St. Francis Xavier School, the first Catholic school in The Bahamas, opened its doors on West Street.
Fifteen students showed up on that first day at the preschool.
Before the end of the first week, enrollment had doubled. By the end of the month, they needed a larger facility.
The commemorative video that celebrates that day, viewed by students, is a production of the CBE Founders’ Day committee, narrated by Marcel T. Sherman, Aquinas College vice principal, and gives a brief history of Catholic schools in The Bahamas. The video was uploaded to social media sites.
In 1889, Archbishop Michael Corrigan approached Mother Ambrosia Sweeney of the Convent of Mount St. Vincent on the Hudson, New York to send a group of nuns to Nassau to begin a social and educational mission in The Bahamas.
The primary objective of the new institution was to provide quality education to disadvantaged Bahamian youth.
On October 28, 1889, Sweeney, along with seven other nuns and three other women, arrived in Nassau. The group immediately began seeking ways to serve the needs of the Bahamian people, and since five of the nuns were educators, they felt educating Bahamians would be the best approach to take, according to CBE history.
The nuns that traveled to Nassau included Dolores Van Rensselaer (the Superior), Mercedez Donvan, Maria Corsini Gallagher, Teresa Alacoque Nagle and Casilda Saunders.
On November 4, 1889, the nuns opened St. Francis Xavier School, a free institution.
The founders’ vision was to equip the Bahamian populace with the skills, attitudes and behaviors that would help to further develop the people and shape their destiny.
Claudette Rolle, CBE director of education, said it was with pleasure that CBE officials remember and show appreciation to those people who were the genesis of the Catholic school system.
“Our virtual arrangement underscores how important it is for us to look back at the contributions of our founders, and in turn, do our best to emulate their caring attitudes and willingness to serve,” said Rolle. “God has been good to us and we give him thanks for those who came before us, and for those who continue to work, serve and be a part of our rich legacy.”
In the video, Sherman says, “From the beginning, the focus was on building not only academic success, but also good character, Christian values and exemplary citizenship.”
He also notes that eventually joining in the work begun by the Sisters of Charity were groups of men and women from many religious orders and congregations of the United States and farther afield. When the religious groups retired, he said, lay teachers joined the schools and over time assumed complete responsibility for leadership and classroom instruction.
Today, the Catholic School system is the largest private school system in The Bahamas, serving approximately 3,000 students and boasting an alumni community of tens of thousands.
At present, there are a total of nine Catholic schools on New Providence, Grand Bahama and Abaco.
The family of Catholic schools in The Bahamas include Aquinas College; St. Cecilia’s School; St. Francis & Joseph School; St. Thomas More School; Xavier’s Lower School; Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy (Grand Bahama); St. Francis de Sales School (Abaco); Every Child Counts (Abaco); and St. Augustine’s College.
All Catholic schools operate under the leadership of the first Bahamian archbishop, Patrick C. Pinder.
From 1889 to date, there have been a total of 25 Catholic academic institutions.
In the commemorative video, Sherman says the modern school system remains resolute in its commitment to producing well-rounded individuals who are prepared for 21st Century success, despite the fact that learning is today taking place in a “new normal” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020-2021 academic year for Catholic students, as is the case with all students throughout The Bahamas, looks very different than previous years, with remote learning versus in-person learning, the educational method adopted when schools nationwide closed on March 13 due to the first case of the novel coronavirus being confirmed in The Bahamas on March 15.
Although remote learning has its limitations, Catholic schools, according to CBE officials, are still led by their mandate to educate the whole child. As such, where possible, they say activities such as monthly mass, physical education classes and special assemblies are replicated online.
“Today, we celebrate 131 years of Catholic education in The Bahamas. Since the establishment of the first school on West Street – 131 years ago – the system has experienced significant growth and advancements,” says Sherman in the video. “However, the mission of those five Sisters of Charity still lives within all Bahamian Catholic schools today, and it is with this mission that we continue to light the way.”
Last year marked the inaugural Catholic Board of Education Founders’ Day. The celebration, which is in its second year, is expected to become an annual tradition and was established as a tribute to the founders of Catholic schools in The Bahamas and to acknowledge the rich tradition of local Catholic schools steeped in faith, academic excellence and service to others.
CBE officials said it is also a day to celebrate students of Catholic schools who learn, serve and graduate with a bright and hopeful future. They said Catholic schools throughout The Bahamas remain committed to providing a high quality of education and ensuring affordable fees to ensure Catholic education is accessible to as many people as possible.
The first day a Catholic school opened its doors in The Bahamas was 78 years ahead of Majority Rule and equality in educational opportunities.
The family of Catholic Schools
• Sts. Francis & Joseph School, established in 1889.
• Xavier’s Lower School, established in 1890.
• St. Augustine’s College, established in 1945.
• St. Cecilia’s School, established in 1956.
• St. Thomas More School, established in 1956.
• Aquinas College, established in 1957.
• St. Francis de Sales School, established in 1964.
• Every Child Counts, established in 1998.
• Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy, established in 2014.
Catholic Schools in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, 1889 to present
• St. Francis Xavier School, West Street, New Providence, 1889 to 1979.
• St. Francis Xavier Academy/Xavier Academy, West Hill Street, New Providence, 1890 to 1955.
• Sacred Heart School / Bishop Leonard Jr. High.
• St. Vincent Academy, Harbour Island, 1922 to 1944.
• Our Lady of the Holy Souls, New Providence, 1926.
• Saints Peter and Paul, New Providence, 1928 to 1932.
• St. Joseph School, Boyd Road, New Providence 1932 to 1979.
• St. Anselm School, Fox Hill, New Providence, 1933 to 1973.
• St. Benedict School, Harbour Island, 1944 to 1979.
• Holy Name School, Bailey Town, Bimini 1943 to 2010.
• St. Bede School, Sutton Street, New Providence, 1945.
• St. Augustine’s College, Bernard Road, New Providence, 1947.
• St. Thomas More School, Maderia Street, New Providence, 1953.
• Xavier College/Xavier Lower School, West Bay Street, New Providence, 1955.
• St. Cecilia School, Coconut Grove, New Providence, 1956.
• Holy Redeemer School, Cat Island, 1956 to 1968.
• Aquinas College, Madeira Street, New Providence, 1957.
• St. Vincent de Paul School, Hunter, Grand Bahama, 1957 to 2010.
• Mary, Star of the Sea School, Freeport, Grand Bahama, 1960 to 2014.
• St. Anne School, Rock Sound, Eleuthera, 1960 to 2010.
• St. Francis de Sales School, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, 1964.
• Grand Bahama Catholic High School, Freeport, Grand Bahama, 1966 to 2014.
• Saints Francis & Joseph School, Boyd Road, New Providence, 1979.
• Every Child Counts, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, 1997.
• Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy, 2014.