Sat | Jul 24, 2021

Catholic social justice (final)

Published:Friday | June 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

This Sunday, Jamaican Roman Catholics from Negril to Morant Point will gather at the National Arena to celebrate their 'Journey: 500 years for the Catholic Church, 50 Years for Jamaica'. Over the last few weeks, I have been sharing with you some of the high points of this journey, emphasising the contribution the Catholic Church has made to Jamaica.

For Catholics, work for social justice and liberation from oppression is not an optional extra, something nice to do if you have a little spare time. The redemption and salvation which Jesus offers are not just from sin, but also from its effects - including poverty and injustice - and we believe that we must do more than just pray for God's will to be done on earth.

It is because of this theological and doctrinal position that the Roman Catholic Church has such a strong record in matters of social justice, of which we are very proud. So far, I have written about the formation of the credit union movement; the aborted effort to put control of sugar production in the hands of the descendants of former slaves through the organisation of sugar workers' cooperatives at Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge; and Jamaica's first housing scheme at Holy Name Homestead. In closing the series this week, I only have space for highlights.

In 1943, Jamaican Jesuit Fr Sydney John Judah formed a trust to bring development to Revival, Westmoreland, where there was great poverty. Trustees included Theodore Rowland Williams, custos of Westmoreland, and future Governor General Clifford Campbell (then MLC, Westmoreland). Land (200 acres) was bought and an agricultural plan drawn up for the cultivation of sugar cane and ground provisions and for raising livestock.

The first Catholic elementary school began in Seaford Town (1835), and the first high school in Kingston (1836) by Jamaica-born Catholic priest Fr Arthur Duquesnay. The first Jesuits came in 1837 and founded many elementary schools, including Spanish Town (1843), and Avocat, Portland, in 1854 (of which I am currently board chairman). The Jesuits are better known for their two high schools - St George's College (1850) and Campion College (1964) - but they also founded St Mary's College (1955) in St Catherine. To give perspective, when St George's College began, the only other high school in Kingston was Wolmer's (1736).

Using education to elevate women

The Franciscan sisters founded three high schools for girls: Immaculate Conception (1858, Kingston), Mount Alvernia (1925, Montego Bay), and Marymount (1935, Highgate). The Sisters of Mercy founded Alpha Academy (1888, Kingston) and St Catherine High (1948, Spanish Town). The Servite Sisters founded their Convent school for girls (1952, Brown's Town). The Jamaican Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (fondly known as the Blue Sisters) founded Holy Childhood High (1937, Kingston). The Mandeville Diocese began St Vincent Strambi (1994, Bull Savanna). Catholic high schools which did not survive include St Anthony's (Port Antonio), Mount Carmel (Annotto Bay) and St Theresa's (Black River). By heavily investing in their high-school education, the Catholic Church has elevated the status of Jamaican women and rural residents.

St Joseph's Teachers' College (1897), St Michael's Theological Centre (1952) and the Catholic College of Mandeville (1992) are at the tertiary level.

The church has invested in the good health of Jamaicans, through St Joseph's Hospital (1916) and also through numerous clinics across the island, including in Bull Bay, Braeton, Olympic Gardens and Montego Bay.

The Missionary Brothers of the Poor, founded in Jamaica (1981) by Fr Richard Ho Lung from Richmond, St Mary, has more than 500 members who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and who operate homes for the sick, aged and infirm not only across Jamaica but also in Haiti, Kenya, Uganda, India, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The Mustard Seed Communities founded in Jamaica (1978) by Fr Gregory Ramkissoon operates homes for pregnant teenagers, persons with AIDS, and handicapped children, in several places in Jamaica, but also in Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

The well-known organisation Citizens' Action for Free and Fair Elections was born from the efforts of the Human Development and Social Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of Kingston. Food For the Poor was founded by persons with strong Catholic connections, and strong committed Catholics helped to found Jamaicans for Justice.

As the first 500 years of the Catholic Church in Jamaica draws to a close, I hope you will agree our 50-year-old nation is better because we were here. Even so, we could have done much better for our people. Let us move into the second 500 years with hope and optimism and a new zeal.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to