|In Nomine Patri|
Philip C. Galanis
Published: Jul 02, 2012
“The influence of the Catholic Church is woven into the very tapestry of our national life, often in ways we do not readily see.”
– Sir Arthur Foulkes
As I sat in St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral during my father’s funeral two weeks ago, surrounded by family and friends, I was compelled to reflect on the extraordinary and progressive contributions that the Catholic Church has made in The Bahamas over the years. Therefore this week, we would like to Consider This... what are some of the contributions that the Catholic Church has made to our national development over the last century?
The historical record contains some of the characteristically un-Christian atrocities that have been attributed to some in the Catholic Church over the centuries, such as the Crusades and the Inquisition of long ago, at times even committed “in nomine patri” – that is, “in the name of the Father.” More recently, notwithstanding the revelations about the deviant behavior of some of the Church’s clerics, undoubtedly the positive contributions of the universal church throughout the ages have far outweighed such intermittent atrocities.
By any objective measure, the Bahamian Catholic Church has personified progressivism, which has been borne out in its pastoral mission and spans more than 500 years. As the late Archbishop Lawrence Burke, S.J. explained, this mission “…began when a small group of practical Catholics led by Christopher Columbus knelt to give thanks to God on a Bahamian beach.” However, the modern Bahamian Catholic Church has been exemplified through the charitable contributions of the men and women of the Benedictine Order, as well as the Sisters of Charity. The first comprehensive history of the Catholic Church in The Bahamas was chronicled in Fr. Colman Barry’s 1973 seminal work “Upon These Rocks”.
More recently, the church’s historical record was updated by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas in her book “From the Void to the Wonderful: A History of the Roman Catholic Church in The Bahamas.”
In her book, Glinton-Meicholas, who is extensively quoted in this installation, traced the development of the early church from its 19th century connection to Jamaica, the Diocese of Charleston and the Archdiocese of New York, noting that “the latter development marked the beginning of stability and true growth in the Bahamian church.”
As early as 1889, the Sisters of Charity, “the first permanent missionaries, established St. Francis Xavier, the first parish school, as a free school for poor children.” A year later, they established St. Francis Xavier Academy, which later became Xavier’s College, “a select school for girls.” For more than a century, the Sisters of Charity pioneered early education and established parish schools which evidenced their commitment to the long-term educational development of the Bahamian community.
In 1891, 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 Church. He established the Annual Catholic Bazaar, and built Bungalow Dunmore to house visiting clergy.
Twentieth century harvest
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, one of whom stands out is Fr. Jerome.
The first Bahamian to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood was Monsignor Carl Albury who started his studies at Saint John’s University but was ultimately ordained in Canada in 1932. He was the first in a long line of Bahamians priests, many of whom were ordained in the 1950s and 1960s.
Those Bahamian priests included 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 and Monsignor Preston Moss, all of whom were trained at Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota. The connection to Saint John’s was a natural one.
It was recognized that “if the Bahamianization of the local church was 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 was central to the construction of St. Augustine’s Monastery and College, the latter established on January 1, 1945. Initially
an all-boys school, it was an incubator for young Bahamian men wishing to pursue religious or other studies at Saint John’s University in Minnesota.
In the meantime, many priests from Saint John’s Abbey taught at St. Augustine’s College and others performed parish duties throughout the country. Their contributions to personal, spiritual, educational, athletic and familial growth and development in the Bahamian society are incalculable.
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, too, provided teachers and administrators in the parochial school system as well as vocations to young women in search of a spiritually-cloistered, life-time commitment to the church. Their contributions, too, are equally immeasurable.
The Bahamas has been well-served not only by the Sisters of Charity, the Benedictines, and the Sisters of St. Martin’s, but also from diocesan priests and nuns from the United States and Canada, including the Passionists, Jesuits, Carmelites, Servites, the Scarboros, the Grey Sisters and other religious communities.
The church’s message was not limited to its spiritual directive. It was as equally committed to its social outreach to heal the sick as it was to its disciple-making mandate.
There were several outstanding medical doctors directly connected to the church, notably Dr. Marie Bachem at St. Francis and Dr. Julie Wersching at the Agnes Hardecker Clinic adjacent to Our Lady’s in the inner city. The Church sponsored many other social outreach programs, too numerous to mention and too impactful to quantitatively measure.
The 21st century and beyond
The 20th century Bahamian Catholic Church has laid a firm foundation for its continued growth into the 21st century and beyond. There have been and continue to be outstanding priests, nuns, deacons and lay persons who represent the “second harvest” who will continue the work of their forebears. Although the challenges of the modern church are very different from those of their antecedents, the commitment of today’s church leaders is as resolute. The Bahamian Catholic Church is led by a son of the soil who clearly understands the role that the church must play in a modern Bahamas, demonstrated recently by Archbishop Patrick Pinder’s commitment to zero tolerance for abuse by those whom he leads.
There can be no argument that the Catholic Church has positively impacted national development, not through its direct interference in the body politic or by dictating the development of public policy, but through its commitment to the development of persons who are guided by the moral and spiritual teachings and conduct of its pastoral leaders.
As His Excellency, Sir Arthur Foulkes observed at the Catholic Men’s Symposium two years ago, “Catholicism’s gift of an empowering education to poor and racially marginalized Bahamians was transformative and, I dare say, revolutionary.”
The Catholic Church in The Bahamas enjoys a tremendously rich legacy of social outreach to the poor and the downtrodden and a deeply abiding commitment to educational development. Its beacon of hope for those who are spiritually adrift will continue to shine steadfastly through the darkness.
All of these good works, in nomine patri.
Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.