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70 years of the Holy Faith Sisters

The Holy Faith Sisters community

By Denise Scott

It seems no accident that our beautiful island, the most southerly of the Caribbean, located between the two large continents of North and South America was named after the blessed Trinity. It was here that the Congregation of the Holy Faith Sisters  chose as their first outpost 70 years ago to reveal and to also better understand the nature and glory of God.

Seventy years ago in December 1947 at the invitation of the then Archbishop of Port of Spain, Count Finbar Ryan, eight pioneering sisters – Colmcille, Magdalena  Laurentina , Winifred, Madeleine, Carmelita, Norbert and Kilian led by their Superior General, Mother Mary Monica Mc  Sherry – answered a  call to serve the young women of  Trinidad and Tobago. Leaving behind their homeland and all they knew and owned, these sisters later journeyed from Ireland, across the Atlantic to their new home at St Theresa’s, Woodbrook.

A few years later, they welcomed Trinidadian women to their congregation and other convent homes spread throughout the island in Couva, Siparia, Sangre Grande, Penal, Matelot and Valencia.

Seeing the great need for a secondary school in the Couva district, Archbishop Count Finbar Ryan suggested that the Holy Faith Sisters correct the situation. They bought the Exchange House for $20,000 for the purpose of establishing a school and a convent.  At the time, there was a great deal of bush and swamp land surrounding the building, and the house was in dire need of repair.

In 1951 the Holy Faith Sisters were very proud to welcome their first 50 students.  The majority of students were children of persons working in the Caroni Estate.  The Catholic girls who attended were usually recommended by the priests and others who could afford to pay $16 a term. Through the availability of college exhibitions many intelligent but poorer girls also enjoyed the educational instruction of the Holy Faith Sisters.

A small student body and only four sisters responsible for the school led to a family atmosphere and students and teachers attended Masses, sang together in Latin and soon the unity between school, family and Church became interrelated.  It was then that Sr Magdalena wrote the school song.

After using the convent building for two years, the Magdalena Mac Bride Building was constructed in 1953. It was also the time when the first two lay teachers were introduced to Holy Faith Convent. At the end of the 1950s, a new government came into power, and in 1962 Trinidad and Tobago saw free education. This obviously led to an increase in the student population to 300 students.  The Caroni Estate generously gave more land to the Sisters in order to ensure the extension of the Mac Bride Building to accommodate the growing number of students.

The 1970s saw something new and marvellous, as in 1974 a former student, Pamela Punch returned to become the first lay Principal of Holy Faith Convent. Under her tenure the curriculum broadened: she opened many clubs, and extra-curricular activities such as girl guides, drama and 4H club bloomed in this time.

In the 1980s, a new wing was built and named after the patron saint of the Holy Faith Sisters, St Brigid. Each decade at Holy Faith Convent, Couva has seen enormous growth in the areas of curriculum, extra-curricular, national scholarships and more.

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Holy Faith Sisters in Trinidad and Tobago, we celebrate hope, charity and faithfulness. We celebrate women who for 70 years have been committed to the task at hand to love and serve the people of La Trinity.

This year the Holy Faith Sisters will celebrate their platinum jubilee with Marketspace 2017 where all the Holy Faith primary and secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago will come out to celebrate a day of fun and togetherness on Saturday, October 7 at Holy Faith Convent, Couva. Bishop Clyde Harvey of St George’s-in-Grenada will celebrate Mass at 9 a.m. You are invited to come and share this day with them.

Pamela Punch, the first lay Principal at Holy Faith Convent, Couva.
The Holy Faith Sisters community
Flashback: Pupils of St Monica’s Preparatory performing a skit depicting the life and work of the Congregation’s foundress Margaret Aylward at Marketspace 2015. Photo: Elmo Griffith.