The School

“Preces Et Opera Omnia Vincunt”  – Prayer and Work Conquer All

The idea of establishing a Catholic High School in Spanish Town originated with the Reverend Father Matthew Ashe S.J., and Sister Mary Mercedes Doorley R.S.M., who saw the need to establish a school for children in St. Catherine who were unable to gain places in the traditional grammar schools in Spanish Town and Kingston.

The school was originally intended to be a co-educational Catholic High School and it was firmly established on the Catholic vision of the total development of the student with the focus being primarily upon student centered learning. The road to accomplishing this was not easy but through the toil and foresight of many, the school came into being.

Father Matthew Ashe S.J.  arrived in Jamaica on August 27, 1945, with no inkling that he would be later involved in starting a high school in Spanish Town. His first assignment was with the St. Anne’s Church located on Percy Street in Kingston. In September of 1947, he was later transferred to St Josephs Church in Spanish Town to replace Father Gildy S.J.”.  I Cared to Go to Jamaica, unpublished autobiography of Rev. Matthew J. Ashe, S.J. (1911-1990), Archives of the Society of Jesus of New England, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA. I Cared to Go to Jamaica, (hereafter referred to “Fr. Ashe”)

Upon his arrival to his new post in Spanish Town, Father Ashe recalled in his autobiography that Father Gildy gave him a letter encouraging him to do “something for the Spanish Town Mission”.(Fr. Ashe at 17.) There was a big reception held for him  at St Catherine Primary. No sooner after Father Ashe  arrived in Spanish Town plans were afoot in starting a Catholic High school.  

As fate would have it, around the same time, Sister Mary Mercedes, R.S.M, a Jamaican who was running the St Anthony’s Secondary School in Port Antonio was forced to close the school due to financial difficulties. She left the parish of Portland along with her two assistants—Mrs.  Erma Blackman (nee Campbell) and Mrs. Cynthia Jacobs (nee Hedman) determined to open a new secondary school in Spanish Town.

Sister Mercedes approached Father Ashe about collaborating to form a school and he immediately agreed with her to do so.  Although Father Ashe thought that, the odds were great that such a school would get off the ground he also stated that: one had to look at  the immediate future…metropolitan Spanish Town with so many townships and hamlets clustered about it far and wide possessed a great potential for a secondary school in addition  to the Anglican St. Jago’s High already well established.( Fr. Ashe at 27)

They sought Bishop Thomas Emmet’s S.J. approval to start the new school and although he was initially reluctant, he subsequently approved the plan for a second high school in Spanish Town.

In the academic year 1948, a Catholic high school named after the parish of St. Catherine opened its door with twenty three students, ten boys and thirteen girls.

St. Catherine High School began as co-educational institution on the premises that now house the St Catherine Primary School on white Church Street in Spanish Town. As the numbers increased, the need for additional space became necessary. In 1951, the school  moved to 5 Brunswick Avenue, the present site of St. Catherine Preparatory School and Basic School as well as the former Convent. By then, it had become an all girl school. 

Soon after the school started, St Catherine High faced its first of many challenges.  Sister Mercedes was forced into retirement after the school was started because of ill health and returned to the Alpha Convent in Kingston.  Sister Mary Clare, R.S.M replaced Sister Mercedes as principal of the school. According to Father Ashe, Sister Mary Clare had no experience in secondary school education, but she held the fort with strong support from Sister Mercedes’ two assistants. It was Father Ashe’s view that the school would not have survived without them.

In 1954, Sister Mary Stanislaus R.S.M (now Sister Anne Maries Warburton, R.S.M) became the principal of the school. Under her charge, the school achieved excellent academic standards. In a relatively short time the first results of students sitting the Senior Cambridge Examination showed high percentage of pupils passing their exams and a number of students received credits and distinctions.(Senior Cambridge Exam results were published in the Jamaica Gleaner during that time)

The school’s academic success did not prevent other problems. Sister Stanislaus’ Superiors of her religious Order, felt that even with the school’s academic success, the fledgling school would not survive because it could not compete with Grant-in-Aid Schools (Schools that received government subsidies) that paid teachers better salaries. The problem was compounded with the fact that raising tuition fees would become too expensive for parents.

Nevertheless, the Superiors were persuaded to keep the school open as Father Ashe along with others scurried to apply for Grant-in-Aid status.  In 1958, the school’s application for Grant-In-Aid status was approved by the then Minister of Education, the Hon. Florizel Glasspole, who later became Governor General of Jamaica. The school’s achievement of Grant-Aid status in such a short time was largely in part of the school’s high academic standards.

Between 1959 and 1962, Sister Mary Pauline R.S.M, (Sister Carol) a Jamaican, acted as principal of the school while Sister Stanislaus went on to study in the United States. Sister Stanislaus returned to the school to resume her duties as principal and continued to maintain high academic standards at the school.  In 1962, she became principal of another school in Mandeville.

 By 1959, Father Ashe was forced to leave Spanish Town as the priest of St. Joseph Church and teacher of English and Latin to pupils sitting the Senior Cambridge at St Catherine High, because of ill health. Father Ashe would later become one of the founding teachers and treasurer at Campion College in Kingston. Father Jackmaugh, a Jesuit of Lithuanian descent who previously served in Kingston and Highgate, assumed Father Ashe’s position at St. Joseph’s Church. He took an interest in the school and  through his efforts lands was purchased at 35 St. John’s Road Spanish Town to build a new school.

 In March 1960, the St. Catherine High school was moved to its present address which at the time was described as a “spacious and well kept campus” at 35 St John’s Road. ( Fr Ashe at 47).  The subjects offered at the school included cookery, literature, Latin,Spanish, Chemistry, Biology, Physics and various business subjects.

In 1962, Sister Mary Paschal Figueroa, R.S.M., was transferred from Alpha Academy in Kingston to become the successor to Sister Stanislaus. Sister Paschal, a Jamaican of Panamanian roots, acted previously as Headmistress of Alpha Academy School in Kingston and was the principal of Mount St. Joseph High School in Mandeville.  Father Ashe described Sister Paschal as “warm-hearted[…] [but] a strict disciplinarian”. (Fr. Ashe at 30). Upon her arrival, Sister Paschal faced the task of repaying debts the school owed for buildings that were constructed prior to her arrival. Sister Paschal quickly got to work raising money through fund-raising and benefit dinners.

 Under Sister Paschal’s leadership, the school continued to maintain high educational standards despite the rapidly increasing student enrollment.  Father Ashe recalled, “students began to converge on St. Catherine High School not only from the immediate environs of Spanish Town but additionally from ever-widening radius of hinterlands” (Fr. Ashe at 30).  Part of this new growth was the admission of boys to the school in 1972. Permission was obtained from the Archbishop John J. McEleney, S.J. and Sister Paschal’s Superior to convert St. Catherine High School into co-educational school.   According to Father Ashe, the Ministry of Education wanted to have another co-educational high school in Spanish Town in addition to St. Jago High School. Father Ashe recalled that Sister Paschal handled the rapid new developments masterfully and was ably assisted by Kenneth Neale, who was put in charge of the boys.

In 1975, Paschal Hall (named after Sister Paschal) was officially dedicated with much pomp and circumstance.  The ceremony was held outdoors on the school’s quadrangle (now the senior school). In attendance was His Grace Samuel Carter, S.J., His Excellency the Governor General Sir Florizel Glasspole, Hon. Eric Bell, Minister of Education, Rev. Eduard Howard S.J. of St Joseph Church, Rev. Frances Jackmaugh S.J., Father Matthew Ashe, Sister Marie (former principal), Canon B.C Jones, rector of St. James Cathedral, Osmund Bell, principal St Jago High school, students, parents and well wishers.   At the dedication ceremony, Father Ashe thanked Sister Mary Stanislaus and Father Jackmaugh for staying the course and holding the school together for the first couple years because it was uncertain the school would survive those trying times.

At later graduations, Father Ashe marveled at the school’s increasing enrollment and Sister Paschal‘s ability to manage the school. But he also recalled that Sister Paschal would state privately to him that she felt that the school’s population had become too large as students were arriving at school and class late because they had to travel too far for school.

Nevertheless, under Sister Paschal, the school introduced industrial arts for the boys and she penned the school’s song “Dear St. Catherine High We Love You” and also 6th form was first introduced preparing students for the GCE Advance Level exams. 

Because of Sister Paschal’s abilities, she was later summoned to St. Joseph Hospital in Kingston to rescue it from financial troubles. Sister Mary Paschal would go on to become the last nun Administrator for St. Joseph Hospital in Kingston. In 2005, the Government of Jamaica honored Sister Paschal with the Order of Distinction (OD) for her work in the fields of education and healthcare.

In 1979, Ms. Madge Anderson, a vice principal at the school, described as the “right person… at the right time to take over the onerous responsibilities” because of her “years of able leadership”, succeeded Sister Paschal as principal of the school. Ms. Anderson also assumed the presidency of the Jamaica Catholic Education Association. Personal Notes of  Rev. Matthew J. Ashe, S.J. (1911-1990), Archives of the Society of Jesus of New England, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA.

 

Principals of  St. Catherine High School:

  • 1948-1951:   Sr. Mary Mercedes
  • 1952-1955:   Sr. Mary Clare
  • 1955-1958:   Sr. Stanislaus (Anne-Marie)
  • 1959-1962:   Sr. Carol (Pauline)
  • 1961-1962:   Sr. Stanislaus (Anne-Marie) During Sr. Carol’s study leave.
  • 1962-1979:   Sr. Mary Paschal
  • 1979-1988:   Ms Madge Anderson
  • 1988-1993:   Mrs. Christabel Fuller
  • 1993-1999:   Mrs. Colleen Brown
  • 1999- 2008:   Mrs. Joan B. Tyser-Mills
  • 2008-2009 :   Ms. Claudia Neale (Acting) (Alumni)
  • 2009-Present:   Mr. Marlon A. Campbell

Citations

I Cared to Go to Jamaica, unpublished autobiography of Rev. Matthew J. Ashe, S.J. (1911-1990), Archives of the Society of Jesus of New England, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA. I Cared to Go to Jamaica

Personal Notes of  Rev. Matthew J. Ashe, S.J. (1911-1990), Archives of the Society of Jesus of New England, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA. I Cared to Go to Jamaica