Our History in the Caribbean

The First Foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny in the Caribbean (taken from the Centenary Magazine of 1936):

Trinidad was not the first of  the British colonies to number the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny as their first educators.

Already in 1823, Sir C. McCarthy, Lieutenant Governor of Sierra Leone, had expressed to their Venerable Foundress then in Africa, the wish to have some of them in the colony entrusted to his care.

The zealous missionary (Anne Marie Javouhey) not only acceded to his desire, but went herself to both Sierra Leone and Gambia, opening houses in each place.  This demand of Colonel McCarthy was actuated by the excellent reputation and wonderful results obtained by the nuns at work in the nearby French territories, and it is worthy on note that it was on similar grounds, the Venerable Vicar Apostolic of Trinidad made a like request, some fourteen years later.

However the prime mover in the affair was a fervent Eudist priest, l'abbe Bertin, who, previous to his coming to Trinidad, had been chaplain to the Sisters of St. Joseph at St. Pierre, Martinique.

One of his first acts on arriving here early in 1835, was to impart his ideas to the reigning Prelate, Dr. McDonnell, as to the feasibility of bringing to Port of Spain a few of those good ladies, for the purpose of educating the girls of the colony.

The worthy Bishop not only seconded his views, but commissioned him to write in his name to the Provincial of the Order in the West Indies, then resident at Martinique, with a formal request to establish a house on Trinidadian Soil.

We give textually an extract from the letter written to the Rev. Mother Marie Therese Javouhey, sister to the Foundress, by the Abbe Bertin, in Dr. McDonnell's name.

"Full of admiration for your zeal, your devotedness, and the good you are effecting in the French colonies, His Lordship thinks you would hardly wish to restrict to them your zeal in the progress of religion, and your interest in the education of the young.

He has therefore delegated to me the task of inviting you to come to Port of Spain, and share in our Apostolic labours in this portion of our Lord's vineyard not less dear to Him than that part which you are already cultivating with such great success.

I can assure you that the soil of Trinidad offers great opportunity, and the prospect of an abundant harvest."

"I see that this affair (the foundation of the Convent) will be the starting point of a great benefit of Providence for the country." (Letter, 9th August, 1935 - Mother Marie Therese)

The contents of the above letter were duly imparted to the Venerable Foundress, who in her all-embracing zeal for God's glory and the salvation of sould willingly gave a virtual assent to the foundation, leaving to her sister and delegate in America the task of opening negotiations, bidding her pay a visit to the British island and see for herself how things were.

The Reverend Mother Javouhey came to this colony in May 1835, and was cordially welcomed by the ecclestical authorities.  The reception given her, as well as the general aspect of the country, pleased her greatly, but it was first and foremost, the immense tract of spiritual ground offered her, in other words, the vast number of children needing religious instruction, that decided her to grant the good Bishop's request without delay.

At this epoch Catholic parents in this country had no schools to which they might in conscience send their children: an appalling state of affairs reminding one of the lamentations of Jeremiah: "The children are asking for bread, and there is no one to give it to them."

Can we doubt then that the heart of Catholic Trinidad throbbed with gratitude towards the Venerable Mother Javouhey, who so promptly responded to its needs, when in January the following year 1836, Reverend Mother Marie Therese (having returned to Martinique), despatched her assistant Mother Onesime, with five other nuns, to start the new foundation, which was opened formally and with due solemnity by the Right Rev. Dr. McDonnell, Vicar Apostolic, who drew up the official record here appended:

"On January the twenty-ninth of the year eighteen hundred and thirty-six, We Daniel McDonnell, Bishop of Olympus, have received and approved under Jurisdiction, six nuns of the Congregation of St. Joseph of Cluny, that we had asked the Superior of this Congregation, established at St. Pierre, Martinique, to send us, in order to found in this colony a house of education, in which children of every class and religion may receive a solid and adequate grounding.

The Members of this Establishment are:

Mesdames Pauline Lefevre - Sr. Onesime, Superioress

Adelaide Delorme - Sr. Scholastique

Antoinette Beurier - Sr. Pelagie

Marguerite de Wint - Sr. Louis de Gonzague

Marie Josephine Remi - Sr. Theotiste

Civilise Jacqumel - Sr. Gabrielle

The said nuns having been presented to us as competent to pursue the avocation of teachers.

Drawn up at Port of Spain in the Seventh year of our Pontificate, April 5, the day of the opening of the said establishment."

The Sisters received accommodation at the home of a kind lady, Madame le Cadre Begorrat in St. James Street, our modern Frederick Street, and they remained for some months in this house, until they were able to purchase a suitable building in Kent St., our present Pembroke Street.  This building had the inestimable advantage of adjoining the Bishop's residence.

In gratitude to the memory of those early friends of our Sisters, who so hospitably received and helped them to tide over the first difficulties of installation in a strange land, and among strange people, we record here , our deep and lasting gratitude to these, the first benefactors of our Congregation in Trinidad.


The following account of the Foundation appears in Volume II of the "History of Trinidad" by Lionel Mordaunt Fraser, Pg. 342. Published 1896.

"Before closing the record of the year 1836, there is one event which marked it and deserves notice.

In March of that year a notice appeared in the papers of the colony announcing that the "Ladies of the religious order of St. Joseph", purposed shortly to open their establishment for the education of young ladies.

It was in this modest way, that the Institution now known as St Joseph's Convent, first made its appearance.

It did not then occupy its present position in Kent St. (now Pembroke St.) but was domiciled temporarily in a house in St. James St., belonging to a lady of the name of le Cadre.  The first Superioress was the Rev. Mother Marie de la Croix, and there are possibly to-day, at an interval of exactly sixty years, a few old ladies who may remember her.

From that day to this the Catholic mothers of Trinidad have been reared in that noble institution, and learned from their saintly teachers, the lesson of religion which have fortified them for their duties in the world, and prepared them also for the world to come, and it is that Convent, especially in its earlier years, that many ladies not of the Catholic faith, have also been indebted for their education."


The following notice on the opening of the boarding school is reprinted from the "Port of Spain Gazette" of the 12th February 1836:

"The Ladies of St. Joseph have the honour to inform the heads of families that their establishment will be opened on the 1st March.

Those persons who are desirous of placing their children in the establishment are invited to apply to the ladies themselves for such information as they may require.

Their prospectus will be published immediately, and will explain both the plan and the terms of tuition; and they trust, by their care and zeal, to render themselves worthy of confidence.

Mme. Le Cadre's House, St James's Street, 12th February, 1836".

Continue: Significant Events of the First Century