The Feast Day of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on November 21 reminds us of the Presentation Brothers, a fraternity of educators. They established Catholic secondary schools in the Eastern Caribbean and in Trinidad. Each school was named in its own national and community identity.
In Trinidad, the first was Presentation College, San Fernando, established in an urban setting. In the late fifties, Presentation College, Chaguanas was built by the Catholic Church on an estate bordered with coconut trees. From inception, it served the communities in the rural villages surrounding the Chaguanas area.
Actively supported by Archbishop Finbar Ryan OP, the founder was Canon Max Murphy, an African American priest. He served the parish for decades.
The new college replaced a secondary school where classes had been held in open-air huts with thatched roofs, as recalled by Dr Anthony Ferdinand. The new college was the gateway to tertiary education, especially in Science and Medicine. Since then, many leader-doctors passed through that gateway, including university professors.
Families from rural economic backgrounds witnessed outcomes they never envisioned for their sons. The graduates were instrumental in national development in the sixties. In the energy sector, in medicine and education.
The college produced generations of national contributors in sports, education, social services, and management. The leadership of Brother Matthew Feheney, the second Principal, was widely credited with the amazing rise of the college within a decade of its opening.
He and his band of dedicated brothers were joined by resolute teachers from Port of Spain, San Fernando, and Grenada. They clearly trusted in the school’s motto, Dominus nos dirige (Lord guide us). They created its culture of service and excellence. Many students returned to their alma mater as teachers.
Successful schools are grounded in communities. What was Catholic education in a school population predominantly not Catholic from inception? The challenges were daunting but the teachers presented themselves for service in faith and trust.
Scholastic excellence, began in the sixties. That continued for decades under other principals, including Bernard Pierre and Rev Simon Rostant. He was a student when Bro Matthew was Principal.
He and others, recall that Catholic students in the upper-level forms were exposed over four years to theology-based Catholic Social Doctrine (now known as Catholic Social Teaching).
The morning ‘first period’ classes for Catholics covered key practical concepts in the socio-economic setting of the sixties. There was a wide range including a living wage, the rights of workers, the concept of a fair profit and sharing, the sanctity and value of the family structure, and marriage.
For boys in their teens, it could not have been an intellectual exercise. One of the textbooks used by Bro Matthew was entitled Christ the King. The students accepted this as part of the curriculum, alongside math, science, and languages.
Many of the students: Rev Rostant, Dr Ferdinand, Gerard Pemberton among others, recall writing exams set by the Catholic Social Guild in London. What can we learn from Bro Matthew’s experiences 50 years ago that would help Catholic teachers today? How best can secondary school students learn through a structured process of integral human development?
– Past student, Class of 1966