Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Catholic Schools and the Education Department of the University College of the West Indies

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Catholic Schools and the Education Department of the University College of the West Indies

Article excerpt


During the century preceding the foundation of the University College of the West Indies (UCWI), the Roman Catholic Church in the British West Indies invested significant amounts of money and energy in building up a system of Catholic primary and secondary schools. This was especially true in Trinidad, where there was a significant Catholic population; and in Grenada, St Lucia and Dominica, where there was a majority Catholic population. Catholic schools in Jamaica and British Guiana, though not as numerous as in the islands mentioned, were also both prestigious and highly successful.

Before the foundation of the UCWI, these Catholic schools sent many of their students abroad, either to North America or Europe, to study at universities. In most cases these universities, like those in Britain, were nondenominational, and the Catholic authorities had no reason to fear that specific influences at these universities would cause students to lose their faith. However, in respect of the proposed UCWI, some Catholic leaders felt that the climate at the new institution would be unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the Catholic faith. An analysis of the reasons underlying this fear would require a lengthy discourse, which space does not permit in this article. However, the discussion below will show clearly that the fear existed at the time. It will also show that a meeting between the UCWI and the Caribbean Association of Headmasters and Headmistresses in Jamaica in 1955 provided a focus for the expression of these Catholic fears.


Following concerns that the Most Rev. Finbar Ryan,1 archbishop of Port of Spain, expressed, a memorandum was prepared for submission to the UCWI expressing Catholic unease. It may be helpful here to throw some light on the background and genesis of Archbishop Ryan's ideas and those of the heads of Catholic secondary schools in Trinidad on the potential role of the UCWI in supplying future teachers for their schools.

In the fifteen years prior to the drafting of the memorandum, intense discussion of Catholic education in Trinidad had taken place, and no doubt the ideas in the memorandum were largely those that had crystallized during these years. It would not be an exaggeration to say that one of the main concerns, amounting almost to a preoccupation, of Archbishop Ryan during his twenty-six-year occupancy of the See of Port of Spain was Catholic education. This concern found public expression in 1940, when Sir Hubert Young, governor of Trinidad and Tobago, invited the newly appointed Ryan to communicate his views to him on education in Trinidad:

You will remember that we had a discussion the other day on whether the attitude of this Government was sufficiently pro-religious where education was concerned, and you were good enough to say that you would let me have for my personal information a memorandum giving your views on the subject. I would be most grateful if Your Grace would let me have this at some time in the near future as now that I have returned from Tobago, I would like to pursue the matter further.2

Sir Hubert probably got more than that for which he had bargained, since the archbishop replied three days later enclosing a memorandum of more than forty pages. In his covering letter, the archbishop claimed that his memorandum answered some questions relevant to educational matters of concern to both the government and the Catholic Church. Two of the matters that he raised in that document are relevant, albeit only obliquely, to our present discussion. These were the rights and duties of the state in the matter of education, according to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church; and the law of the Roman Catholic Church in regard to education, which the state needed to bear in mind when it undertook partly or wholly to educate Catholic children.3 These and other points that Archbishop Ryan raised in his memorandum were reiterated several times throughout his long episcopate in Port of Spain of nearly thirty years. …

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