On July 2, 1847, less than 50 years after the country had been ceded to the British and barely nine years after the abolition of slavery in the colony, six Ursuline Sisters from Sligo, Ireland, set foot on the soil of British Guiana to establish an Ursuline presence there. They had been invited by the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop John Thomas Hynes OP.
According to an article from the Ursuline Community of Guyana-Caribbean Province via Catholic Standard, exactly four years later, on July 2, 1851, Bishop Hynes brought two little girls from the Palms, a home for the elderly, and asked the Sisters to take care of them.
“They were soon joined by other homeless girls and thus began St Ann’s Orphanage which has continued unbroken for 170 years.”
In the early 1940s, there were 102 girls being cared for by one Sister, with assistance from another sister, a matron, a seamstress, a cook, and a washerwoman who did the laundry of the whole orphanage as well as the bishop’s clothes – manually and without detergent.
Today, partly because of Covid-19, there are only 23 girls being cared for by one Sister, an assistant administrator, a matron and six caregivers, “but these girls are far more difficult to manage than previous generations due to serious changes in society, media influence, peer pressure, and other personal problems,” the article said.
Financially, the Sisters have been able to survive by the grace of God with the help of generous benefactors from among their Sisters in different parts of the world—one Sister had her parish adopt the Home (St Ann’s Parish in Ossining, NY), other Catholic charities and countless local persons of all ages, races, religions, and social classes.
To mark the occasion of their 170th anniversary, the Home was treated to a major facelift: damaged parts were repaired, furniture renovated, new curtains hung, everywhere thoroughly cleaned and fresh coats of paint to brighten the stairways.
“On the morning of the day itself, our favourite priest came to bless our refashioned grotto and the whole Home. During the day, staff and children enjoyed a special lunch and other treats. The highlight of our celebration was our Mass in the afternoon of July 3, celebrated by our Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB in a beautifully-decorated chapel.”
At this Mass, besides the children, the staff and Sisters, were limited numbers of other religious congregations, members of the Home’s Board of Advisers and “some outstanding benefactors”.
The article mentioned that the processions at the beginning and end of the Mass were led by six girls of the Home in a joyous dance specially prepared for the occasion.
The Ursuline Community shared that they were able to help dozens of persons who come to them for help because of the hardships they are experiencing on account of Covid-19, through the generous gifts they are receiving of foodstuff and other useful supplies.