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Memories of Presentation Colleges in Trinidad

CN 2017 file photo: President Anthony Carmona (right) launches the ‘Forest of Fame’ tree-planting project with Principal Dexter Mitchell (left) at Presentation College last Monday.

By Brother JM Feheney

I first arrived in Presentation College, Chaguanas (PCC), in 1959, more than sixty years ago. The great Vidya Naipaul had just published his famous novel, The Suffrage of Elvira, the previous year.

The London publisher, Andre Deutsch, had taken a chance on it and it became the first of several cooperative publishing ventures with Naipaul. While it is generally agreed that Naipaul’s Elvira was a humorous satire on politics in Trinidad at the time, this is not to deny that there were several facets of the book that could be helpful and informative to a newcomer to Chaguanas in the pre-independent Trinidad and Tobago of 1959.

So, I read and reread The Suffrage of Elvira. And I learned quite a bit of about the historical, social, and political background of the families of many of the pupils who were later my students and whom I learned to know and appreciate. If there was one word that characterised the young student of PCC at that time, it was the word potential.

It was evident all over the place. I encountered it every day and the life-long adventure of developing this God-given potential has given me lasting pleasure and has forged links of friendship with some wonderful people whom I first met as students some 60 years ago.

I have always felt that the educational institution now known as PCC, Trinidad, has been inspirational both in concept and in practice. Starting as Pamphylian High School, a private secondary school in 1941 under the management of Rev Max Murphy, Parish Priest of Chaguanas, it evolved into the College of Saints Philip and James, which was recognised as an Assisted Secondary School in 1949, and then into Presentation College, Chaguanas, in a new green field site in 1962.

When I arrived there in 1959, not only did the majority of the boys belong to the Hindu faith, but most of the religious denominations in Trinidad and Tobago were represented among the student population.

Moreover, the students were valued for what they were as people rather than for the religion to which they belonged. And, indeed, the same could be said about the teachers, of whom I have fond and hallowed memories.

The attitude of the Presentation Brothers, supported by that of the Catholic hierarchy at the time, was that PCC was erected and existed primarily for

Catholic boys but, depending on accommodation, boys of any or all religions were also welcome.

To us, education of its very nature was a spiritual activity, and I was never as happy as when I was engaged in it. All knowledge is potentially good knowledge. All knowledge tells us something about God and His wonderful creation, nature. So, I was equally happy with chemistry, botany, and theology.

The playing fields are one of the great glories of PCC. I have wonderful memories of watching the swallows gathering there for bi-annual migration and resting on the goal posts and the wire fences, in between gorging on the copious supply of insects which the damp savannah grass supplied.

Then there were the flocks of white egret birds which also gathered to feed on the insect life provided by the rich carpet of grass. But above all, there was no better place from where to watch a good game of cricket than the first-floor veranda of the Presentation Brothers house.

It was from here that Brother Cyril O’Sullivan, sometimes joined by Wes Hall, scrutinised the young cricketers of Trinidad, whom they were coaching in the 1960s.

Some of the young players they observed were Larry Gomes, Dudnath Ramkissoon and Rangy Nanan, at the same time making notes about how the competence and skills of these youths could be improved in preparation for international matches.

Before I leave T&T college cricket, I must mention what may have been PCC’s most famous cricket outing ever. This was April 21, 1970 when college teams from PCC and St Mary’s (CIC) met at the Queen’s Park Oval to determine the Colleges’ Cricket Senior Championship.

CIC won the toss and put up a respectable score in the first innings, but then PCC began batting and Dudnath Ramkissoon began to display his range of batting skills.

But while Dudnath was in full flight, the game was suddenly and (at the time) unaccountably halted. Later, we learned from the BBC Overseas broadcast that, overnight a small but determined section of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment had mutinied in Chaguaramas.

A State of Emergency was proclaimed by the Government and an SOS was sent out to bring all children home immediately. So, all cricket equipment was hurriedly packed-up and we got on the road to Chaguanas.

The religious congregations deserve both credit and recognition for setting up a well-distributed series of wonderful secondary schools over the course of the past century.

Some wise and perceptive government ministers have noted this and welcomed the ideal opportunity which the T&T Government then had to add to the already existing second-level schools, thereby ensuring that every section of the country was educationally well provisioned.

The concept of community is a valuable one which must be nurtured. All schools make their contribution to the larger community, and we must always remember that God also is with, or in, if you wish, the larger community, no less than small splinters of it.

I have attempted to emphasise this in my book, Catholic Education in Trinidad and Tobago. The Twentieth Century (Cork: Iverus, 2010), which, unfortunately, is now out of print.

To some extent, success in education is a bit like success in prayer. Jesus does say, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you…”! (Mt 7:7)

But it is not enough to say this once. We must keep at it, even make a practice of repeating it. Similarly, in education, while desire to learn is the first step, maintaining and renewing this desire daily is also essential.

Moreover, this particular saying of Jesus is also borne out in the example of a good teacher and a good school. In all teaching, ultimate success comes from perseverance. So do not forget: ‘Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you…’ (provided that you make this sentiment a lasting habit, rather than a last-minute futile thought).

The Presentation Family is a concept from which the Presentation Brothers increasingly draw inspiration in these times. The concept suggests that, in addition to a physical entity or tightly knit group of individuals, who, like me, are vowed members of a religious order or congregation, there are also a whole lot of other people who either work with the core organisation or somehow come under its influence.

This extended group of people obviously include relatives, teachers, students, helpers, and benefactors of the core vowed group. That is why in our religious community in Cork, we continually pray for members of the ‘Presentation Family’.

It is an attempt on our part to acknowledge the presence of communities of real people, like those at PCC and Presentation College, San Fernando (PCS Trinidad).

We acknowledge not merely their presence and contribution, but also the kindness and generosity of this disparate group of people to our religious congregation.

We remind ourselves that they are our real brothers and sisters. Moreover, it’s also an acknowledgement of not only the values we share but also the joys and sorrows we both shared in the past.

That is why places like PCC and PCS are second homes to me. The kindness of many of my friends there tug at the heartstrings and draws an occasional tear.