“…and upon this rock I will build my church…” – Matthew 16:18
This past week, I had the privilege of visiting my alma mater, Saint John’s University.
As always, it was a wonderful experience.
This coming week, the presidents of Saint John’s University (SJU), and its sister institution, the College of Saint Benedict (CSB), will visit The Bahamas as they have done for years.
This annual visit, however, will mark two historic moments in the CSB/SJU annals of annual presidents’ visits: it will be the first for Dr. Eugene McAlister, the interim president of SJU, and it will be the last for Dr. Mary Hinton, the outgoing president of CSB.
Therefore, on the eve of this historic Bahamian visit, I was inspired to invite the readers of this column to consider this — what has been the legacy of these two Minnesota “bridges” of higher learning that were built upon our Bahamian rocks?
The historical record
A comprehensive history of the Catholic Church in The Bahamas was chronicled in Fr. Colman Barry’s 1973 seminal work “Upon These Rocks”.
Fr. Barry, a noted historian and professor, served as president of SJU from 1964 to 1971. He was also dean of religious studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., from 1973 to 1978.
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”.
The Saint John’s portion of the bridge to the future for Bahamians began construction in 1891, when Fr. Chrysostom Schreiner, then the vice president of Saint John’s University in Minnesota, 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. Fr. Chrysostom was resourceful, industrious and enterprising, and his tenure in The Bahamas spanned from 1891 to 1925.
He was credited with many advances, including the first out island missions and the purchase of “The Priory”, which became the first rectory of St. Francis Xavier Church. He established the Annual Catholic Bazaar and built Bungalow Dunmore to house visiting clergy.
The bridge expands – St. Augustine’s Monastery & College
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, many of whom were ordained in the 1950s and 1960s.
It was 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 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, 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.
Those Minnesotan SJU-educated priests greatly 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.
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 primarily 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 the College of Saint Benedict 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; Ms. Telzena Coakley, 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 St. Augustine’s College for working students seeking a college degree; Dr. Linda Davis, first provost of the University of The Bahamas; Reverend 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 Sister Mary Benedict Pratt, Sister Annie Thompson and Sister Agatha Hunt, the first Bahamian principal of Mary, Star of the Sea Academy in Freeport.
There are many other Bahamian women educated at CSB whose contributions were equally profound and infinitely immeasurable.
When giants walked among us
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 attended 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 in 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 one of the most superlative legal careers. His name adorns our law school: the Eugene Dupuch Law School.
Then some enjoyed unparalleled religious vocations.
Monsignor Preston Moss, who recently departed us, was one of the most qualified, humble, socially-minded and respected SJU graduates, devoting more than 50 years to his priestly calling, more than any other Bahamian.
The late John Dean, who adopted the name Fr. Bonaventure, was the first Bahamian prior and headmaster of St. Augustine’s Monastery and College, respectively.
Leviticus “Uncle Lou” Adderley was a wrestling and tennis champion at SJU and returned to The Bahamas, where he taught and headed St. Augustine’s College 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.
Then there are living legends who attended SJU like Pierre Dupuch, whose contribution to Bahamian politics and vocation in publishing have been stellar, and Basil Christie, who chaired the Special Olympics organization for 25 years, accentuating the incredibly awesome athletic talents of developmentally challenged Bahamians. Christie has also established the largest, longest-running life-saving blood drive in The Bahamas.
We take pride in the contributions of the Hon. 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 present 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 Sharon Storr, Martin Lundy and Alpheus Finlayson.
We also recognize the continuing contribution of Prince Wallace, a Bahamian who attended St. Augustine’s College and SJU, who chose to remain in Minnesota, along with his spouse Sandra, to raise an exceptionally close family and build 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 fifty years in ways too numerous to mention.
The current generation
There are today individuals who continue to build on the foundation laid by our progenitors.
Outstanding SJU graduates include Deacon Jeffrey Hollingsworth, Scout leader Robert Bartlett and business leader 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 this bridge to the future for Bahamian CSB/SJU students.
We are extremely proud of Bahamians who have offered enormous student leadership roles in the two institutions, such as Ramond Mitchell and David Johnson III, past presidents of the Student Senate, and current CSB and SJU Senate presidents Kistacia Thompson and Owyn Ferguson, respectively.
Since its founding in Collegeville in 1857, Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, founded in 1880 as Saint Joseph’s Academy and renamed two years later, have been intimately and intrinsically involved in Bahamian society.
Approximately 1,500 Bahamian students — 800 Bahamian “Bennies” and 700 Bahamian “Johnnies” — have matriculated at those institutions.
Currently, there are 68 Bahamian students at both campuses, a record, and nearly evenly distributed.
The Catholic Church, in general, and St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict have positively impacted Bahamian national development.
This influence was not through any direct interference in the body politic or by dictating the development of public policy.
This influence was through its commitment to the development of persons 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 made profound contributions to personal, spiritual, educational, and national development that SJU and CSB have.
This was done for decades by St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict uplifting Bahamians, who then built a better life and a solid country upon these rocks.
• 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.