Introduction of the Catholic Church - 1498
The Catholic Church was introduced to Trinidad with the coming of Columbus in 1498 and the subsequent Spanish settlement and establishment of the Parish and Church of St. Joseph by Antonio de Berrio in 1592. The Church was further assured of its continuity after the island was lost to the British as Article Eleven of the Capitulation of 1797 guaranteed the inhabitants, most of whom were Catholic, freedom to practice their religion. Trinidad was then under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Guyana based at San Tome de Angostura (Venezuela) which was erected in 1790. The island was previously part of the Diocese of Puerto Rico, founded in 1532.
When the British assumed ownership of Trinidad at the Peace of Amiens in 1802, there was need for new administrative arrangements concerning the Church. It was only in 1819 that a Vicariate Apostolic was established giving James Buckley jurisdiction over the church in Trinidad as well as the other British and Danish colonies in the West Indies. Buckley had responsibility for a vast vicariate.
The Vicars Apostolic Buckley (1820-1828) James Mc Donnell (1829-1844) and Richard Patrick Smith (1844-1850) faced many daunting problems. Not only was there always a chronic shortage of priests, the church in Trinidad was faced with a bitter schism (1825-1841) led by a coloured priest, Francis de Ridder. He was born in British Guiana (Guyana) and he was determined to advance the cause of his own coloured people. The church also had to get its house in order with the Abolition of Slavery in 1834, as the other Christian churches were also seeking to win converts from among the newly freed Africans. The Vicariate had to face yet another crisis in 1844 when the Anglican Church – the religion of the minority in Trinidad was established. The Catholic Church was relegated officially and legally to a position of secondary importance.
A new era dawned for the church on 30th April, 1850 when Pope Pius IX transformed the Vicariate into the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain with jurisdiction over St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and Tobago and with Roseau, Dominica as its suffragan see. In 1850, the Catholic population of Trinidad stood at 44,000 out of a total of 70,000 persons. There were sixteen parishes served by twenty resident priests, with thirteen primary schools along with St. Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain (1836) and St. George’s College (1838). The Church’s new status was of added significance as it was made months before the hierarchy was restored in England on 24th September 1850. Indeed the Church of Port-of-Spain lays claim to be one of the oldest in the English-speaking world.
Written by Dr. Bernard Tappin