Saint Mary’s College is an all-male Catholic secondary school located at Vigie, Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. The school is the only St. Lucian secondary school to have produced not one, but two Nobel Laureattes, being, Sir William Arthur Lewis and Hon. Sir Derek Alton Walcott.
The jurist and politician Sir Vincent Floissac was also a pupil at the School, as was the former Prime Minister of St. Lucia (Sir John_Melvin Compton) and St.Lucia’s former Ambassador to the United Nations (Honorable George_William Odlum).
St. Mary’s College was formally opened on 20 April 1890, three weeks after the first lessons had been given in the building. The school opened with a mere 27 boys on roll ranging from age 6 years to 15 years in the now Parish Center on Micoud Street, Castries . The first headmaster, Mr. F.E. Bundy, received his training as a teacher at the “St. Mary’s College for Teachers,” Hammersmith, England. His only assistant at first, was Mr. O’Neil Traynor.
The first days at the college were full of difficulties for the teachers. The number of boys on roll, by the end of 1890, had risen to 35. Of that number, a few spoke fluent English, some understood it but couldn’t hold a fluent conversation. Others spoke French and the rest patois (French-based creole). It was really surprising that the masters were able to do as much as they did then with the material they had.
Until 1895, students never sat any public exams, but this soon changed with the appointment of Mr. H.J. Meagher as headmaster. In December of that year, two students, Cecil and Garnet Garnaway were entered in the Cambridge preliminary local Examination which they sat in Barbados because there was no centre in St. Lucia.
In December of the following year, a Cambridge Local Examination Centre was established at the college. At the end of 1898, the number of boys on roll was 53, the average attendance being 47. At that time the holidays were 6 weeks at Christmas, 2 weeks at midsummer and 2 weeks at Easter. The fees were from 3 to 6 guineas per annum payable in advance. There was also an arrangement by which the younger brother paid less.
Towards the close of 1899, the staff consisted of 5 Brothers. At a Public Meeting in 1903, a resolution was passed that an Advisory Committee be appointed to control the affairs of the College and that Government Grant-In-Aid be raised from € 200 to € 400. The request was granted by the Government and Committee Formed.
Brothers Canice Collins, Macartan Sheehy and Lawrence Reynolds arrived in St. Lucia on Saturday, 11 January 1947, having set out from Avonmouth, England on 28 December 1946 on a 6,000 ton banana boat. They arrived at Port-of Spain, Trinidad, on 10 January 1947 and stayed overnight with the Holy Ghost Fathers, flying on to St. Lucia the following day. On their arrival in Castries they were welcomed by the French F.M.I. Fathers. Fr. Harcourt, who was Rector of St. Mary’s College, was particularly glad to see them. They got a hearty welcome also from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny.
St. Mary’s College was the only secondary school in St. Lucia at that time. Founded in 1890 the student enrollment in 1947 was 80. The building was dilapidated; its woodwork had not been painted for years, the equipment was scanty and the classroom furniture was in poor condition. The Brothers had little over a week to settle in before the school would reopen after the Christmas vacation. Mr. Herman D. Boxill, who taught at the College for 18 years, was of considerable help in the preparation for the big day. On 22 January, Mass was celebrated before a packed audience in the ground floor of the College. Fr. Harcourt introduced the Brothers to the teachers, the students and the general congregation. Br. Canice Collins was installed as Principal.
For the first few months after they arrived in St. Lucia the Brothers lived in the presbytery in Castries, sharing accommodations with the F.M.I. Fathers. In March they moved into what became known as The Brothers’ House, 69 Micoud St. This was to be their home for four years, until March 1951.
During the first few years under the Brothers’ administration, St. Mary’s College saw many changes. Physical structures were improved and many aspects of secondary education were reorganized.
On 19 June 1948 much of the town of Castries was destroyed by fire. The work and courage displayed by the Brothers, lay staff and students were deeply appreciated by all and recognized officially. A local newspaper at the time referred to the leadership shown by the Brothers and stated that “it is a beacon of hope to the many striving to promote a spirit of initiative and cooperative action in the West Indies.”
“At the New Year’s Honours of 1949, Br. Canice received the MBE in recognition for his efforts on the night of the Castries fire.”
During the next few years the number of students enrolled at St. Mary’s College increased rapidly. As a result, the facilities available at the College in Castries became inadequate. Expanding and reconstructing the College on the same site was under consideration, as well as possible relocation to another location.
At the same time, some military buildings dating back to the Anglo-French battles on the island which had housed soldiers of the West Indian Regiment at various times were vacant. One group of buildings was situated on a splendid site on the Vigie Peninsula a few miles from Castries. Though over 150 years old the buildings were in good structural condition and after lengthy negotiations with the authorities, including the War Office in London, an agreement was reached for their purchase. They were completely refurbished and at the end of July 1952 St. Mary’s College was transferred to Vigie. By then, student enrollment had increased to 275.
It proved fortunate that a bungalow adjacent to the main building, which had been the Commanding Officers’ residence, was also available. In March 1951, a second fire devastated much of what remained of the old Castries, including No. 69 Micoud Street. The Brothers, now a community of five, moved into the bungalow at Vigie and it has continued to be the Brothers’ residence ever since.
With the additional facilities and space available in the new location, new subjects were added to the curriculum and the student population increased to over 300.
In 1953, hostel facilities at Vigie for students from out-lying rural areas were provided. One of the ancillary buildings was adapted and furnished for this purpose. The Hostel, as it came to be called, served a very useful purpose for some 20 years. By 1973 the need was no longer acute and the building was then used to provide extra classroom space for the Sixth Form classes.
In 1955 Br. Canice was transferred to San Fernando, Trinidad on completion of his term of office as Superior and College Principal. Br. Lawrence had previously moved to San Fernando in 1952 therefore, Br. Macartan was appointed Provincial Superior of the West Indies region in succession to Br. Dunstan Curtin, who returned to England. As Br. Macartan also took up residence in San Fernando, all three members of the founding community had left St. Lucia and were living in San Fernando.
In 1957 Br. Canice went to Beaumont, Texas, USA for medical treatment. It was discovered that he would need brain surgery. Unfortunately the operation was unsuccessful and he died on 20 March at the age of 43 years. He is buried in Texas. In a telegram of condolence the Administrator of St. Lucia . J.K.R. Thorpe, CMG, wrote; “We are deeply conscious of the debt owed to him for his splendid and devoted work for this island, and he has an abiding place in our affection.”
In 1990, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of St. Mary’s College, the St. Lucia postal authorities issued a commemorative stamp featuring a portrait of Br. Canice superimposed on a drawing of the college building at Vigie.
From the mid-1950s onwards the number of Brothers coming to the West Indies increased. New foundations were established in Chaguanas, Trinidad and in St. John, Barbados. All this led to more frequent changes in the communities of the region, including the St. Lucia community.
In November 1974 an event took place which was greatly to affect the Brothers in St. Lucia, both as a community and in their future relations with St. Mary’s College.
The Government introduced a bill establishing a Board of Management for St. Mary’s College, replacing the St. Mary’s College Advisory Committee. From the terms set out in the bill it was evident that the new Board of Management would have control over College affairs but would not accept responsibility for the College. It also became evident that the ownership of the property by the Brothers was an obstacle to a properly functioning Board as proposed by Government.
After prolonged discussion at community and provincial level, in January 1975 the Brothers formally requested the Archbishop of Castries, Most Rev. Patrick Webster OSB, to take over the ownership of the buildings and property from the Presentation Brothers. (The Brothers retained ownership of their residence and three acres surrounding it.)
The new arrangements for the administration of St. Mary’s College, though the subject of various letters of protest in the local press and even of public demonstrations in Castries, came into effect in September 1975. The Presentation Brothers had agreed to remain as members of the College staff (for which the Government expressed appreciation) but for the first time since the arrival of the Brothers in 1947 there was a Principal other than a Presentation Brother. This was Fr. T J. Stack who had previously taught at the College as a Presentation Brother before being ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Castries.
The patronal feast of the College is still Presentation Day, 21 November, and admiration of the work done by the Brothers for the College and for education generally has been expressed publicly on numerous occasions. During the College Speech Day on 21 November 1976, His Excellency the Governor, Sir Allen Lewis QC, a leading member of the Anglican community in St. Lucia, a past student of St. Mary’s and brother of Nobel Prize winner Sir Arthur Lewis, said: “The advent of the Presentation Brothers in 1947 marked a turning point in the management and growth of St. Mary’s College. Their breadth of vision, their concern for the welfare of the community, their administrative ability, scholarship and devotion to duty and to the welfare of their students have brought great benefits to St. Lucia. I should like to take this opportunity to express publicly the appreciation and gratitude of the people of St. Lucia for the work the Brothers have done and continue to do among us.”
St. Lucia became an independent nation, having been ruled by Britain since 1814. The Prime Minister with a cabinet of 10 ministers forms the Government. The 17 member House of Assembly and the 11 member Senate pass the nation’s laws. The members of the House are elected by the people and government leaders appoint the Senate members.
In 1979, Sir William Arthur_Lewis(1915–1991) an economist and alumnus of St. Mary’s College, was awarded the Nobel Prize. He and Theodore William Schultz of the United States shared the prize for their work on the economic problems of developing nations. Lewis’s economic theories emphasise the relationship between traditional agriculture and modern industries in the developing countries.He was a past pupil of St. Mary’s College having been a student there in the 1930s. He was the first West Indian to be awarded the Nobel prize.
Twenty years later another past pupil, Derek Walcott, would be similarly honoured.
In 1977 the St. Lucia community was reduced to two Brothers, Br. Cyril O’Sullivan who taught at the College and Br. Macartan. Br. Macartan had been awarded the MBE at the Queen’s Birthday Honours of June 1974 in recognition of his work and that of the Brothers for education in St. Lucia. Though now retired from teaching he continued to assist at the Ministry of Education with the organizing of the Cambridge Overseas Examinations.
Br. Macartan’s health began to fail and in September 1979 it was obvious he was seriously ill. He went to Barbados for medical treatment and he died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on 22 September. His remains were brought back to St. Lucia and after Requiem Mass celebrated by Bishop Guilly his funeral to the Riverside Cemetery was an indication of the very high esteem in which he was held by the people of Castries and St. Lucia.
For quite a number of year’s after Br. Macartan’s death Br. Cyril was the only Brother in St. Lucia. Br. Martin Walsh from Canada was a regular visitor during the winter months. During the early ’80s the community increased to two and then three and by 1989 there were four and in 1990 five.
In 1991 the Community experienced another great loss. On 22 July of that year Br. Ligouri O’Mahony died during his sleep at the comparatively young age of 64. He had spent 37 years in the West Indies and was the last Presentation Brother to be Principal of St. Mary’s College. Br. Ligouri is buried in St. Lucia.
In 1992 Sir Derek_Alton Walcott, who had been one of the senior form pupils at St. Mary’s when the Brothers arrived, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Derek became a member of the teaching staff when he graduated at St. Mary’s. A poet and playwright, his work explores such themes as the Caribbean experience from slavery to independence and the nature of the Caribbean’s post-colonial identity, influenced by many cultures and traditions.
Twenty years earlier another past pupil, Sir Arthur Lewis had also been a Nobel Prize winner.
Modern College Life
Today St.Mary’s College is recognised as one of St.Lucia’s top secondary schools, performing well in all aspects of school life on the island. As of 2009 the school placed a close second to St. Joseph’s Convent in the Caribbean Examination Council Exams. Over the past few years the institution has produced the top national performers for the Caribbean Examinations Council CSEC examinations. In 2008 Trent St. Rose was the top performer, setting the trend for fellow Samarians Jarnickae Wilson (2011), Dajr Alfred (2012) and Ravindra Mangar (2013).
The school also boasts a strong extra-curricular program. St. Mary’s College has produced top ranking projects in the National Science Fair, having won top prizes in recent years. The school won the inaugural Sagicor Visionaries Challenge in 2013. Also, the school has an active Young Leaders program having placed consistently in the top three for the past couple of years. Additionally, St. Mary’s boats a thriving choir as well as steel pan group, both partaking in school events and ceremonies.