A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CHURCH IN MONTSERRAT

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

It is known that the first Catholics were in Montserrat by 1632-33. It is very much disputed as to where these early Catholics worshipped. Some persons believe the ancient ruins at “Galways’” estate in the South, with its Gothic windows, may well have been the first church building. Another author such as the late Bishop James Morris of Roseau believed that the present Anglican Church, St. Anthony’s in Plymouth, was the first Catholic Church in the island. However, for Montserrat, owing to the presentation of the Catholics in those days, we do not find any records of a definite place of a Church or the name of a residing priest before 1756. With the exception of the Irish Father John Stritch, a Jesuit, who came disguised as a lumberjack in 1651 because Catholicism was proscribed at the time by the English administration; no priest seems to have been seen in Montserrat before that date.

It is true that Montserrat, the home of the Irish Catholic exiles, was rather lenient to Catholics and in the 1670’s there was a Catholic Governor of the Leeward Islands in the person of Sir William Stapleton, an Irish emigrant: nevertheless, seal official relief for the Church was only permitted in 1778, and alternately full freedom given in 1829 by virtue of the Westminster enactment of the Catholic Emancipation Act. The records of resident priests in Montserrat showed that there were three Irish Dominican priests in 1756. They were joined by an Irish Franciscan in 1771. According to the records, from 1756, the first parish priests were Father Nicholas Creep in 1760 and Father Dominic Lynch who were joined by Father Patrick Dalton in 1763. When Father Lynch got old and weak, Father Creep succeeded him. A steadier time for the Catholic Church in Montserrat began in 7with the appointment of Father Patrick O’Brien who became Parish Priest for the next twenty-one years.

A dark pall caused by the absence of a parish priest was to fall on the spirit of the parishioners for the next twenty-four (24) years. No Priest. However, the faith was kept alive during the long absence of a shepherd, by the many Catholics to whom credit must be given for their perseverance, zeal, and charitable apostleship. Due praise was rendered to them by Bishop James Morris who wrote in the Bulletin of August 1928 – “Fortunately, Montserrat was blessed at that time with the presence of many excellent Catholics who took to heart the interests of religion, kept the Catholics, together, instructed them in Christian doctrine, assisted them in sickness, poverty, and accompanied their immortal souls. To a great extent, thanks to them, the Catholic religion has not only continued to exist in Montserrat but has gained in favour and piety in spite of the prolonged absence of a resident priest. The Episcopal administration for Montserrat was to change several times in the three centuries of 1600’s – 1700s and 1800’s.

During the nineteenth century, there was to be a long succession of clergy, mostly secular priests. At the beginning of the 1900’s, the Redemptorists took the responsibility for the parish and instituted a period of consolidation that was to last seventy years.

1st Church -1852 – Destroyed by hurricane in 1899

Prior to the building of the first church, Mass was celebrated on the property of the Trescillian House (Shamrock House). The first church was built from East to West so that the tombstone of Father Patrick Smyth lay on its nave. Father McNiece, Parish Priest from 1842 to 1843 began the building. Father John Taaffe who arrived on June 15th, 1844 continued the building. On April 7th, 1847, Rev. Edward Mac Mahone was appointed parish priest and pushed the building ahead. In 1852, we find a note of Bishop Monaghan, first Bishop of Roseau, that the church of Montserrat was completed. Cost £600.00. It was most probably blessed by the Bishop on his first visit on February 9th, 1854. Father J. O’Donnelly was at the time Parish Priest from 1852 to 1854.

2nd Church – 1901 – Destroyed by hurricane in 1928

The Church was officially opened by Father Fortune assisted by Father Smith from St. Kitts and Father Hawkins from Antigua in 1901 – Parish Priest Father Arnold Morris.

3rd Church – St. Patrick’s – 1929

The construction of St. Patricks began on the second of May 1929 by Father Henry Claeys CSSR, Architect-Builder from Belgium on the same site. The blessing of the corner stone by Redemptorist Provincial Rev. Fr. Rabaey took place on June 10th, 1929. By December 24th, 1929, the building was completed, and four months later after the interior fittings and decorations were finished, the first mass was celebrated on 1st May 1930.

The people of St. Patrick’s who yearned for a church in the South jumped into the task of providing material, the stones, labour and raising funds. Miss (Mary) Mae White (probably better known to those old enough to remember as Mae Cassell) led the South parish in fund raisers for the building of the new church.  

Along with her there were some strong Catholic women, in Mary Irish, Mary (Sue) Fergus, Phoebe Riley, Catholic men and husbands to these women, the Cassells, with the support of many of the people Catholics and non-Catholics who supported Mae’s ‘penny concerts’ on Sunday evenings in which some children who are now older adults still remember practicing at home early evenings for the events.

The ‘total’ cost of this building was pegged at £4,725.34; but it is doubtful that the figure included the labour of the many including children, women and what was called ‘self-help’, not to mention that the stone-works may well have been at reduced cost. Compare that cost anyway with that to build St. Patrick’s church in Plymouth, May 1, 1930 – “The total cost of the Church was £2,500.00.”

It happened on 6th May 1935 at 3:55 p.m. While the people of Montserrat celebrated King George V’s Silver Jubilee, dancing and masquerading, the island suffered its first damaging shock from a severe earthquake. Parts of the Tower of St. Patrick’s, but five years old, tumbled down and a huge crack appeared all around just above the foundations. The people had to search for eight hours to find the Blessed Sacrament among the ruins. Only after much study and expert advice was St. Patrick’s skillfully repaired.

Montserrat’s First Native Priests

Father Edwin Cabey (SVD) Society of the Divine Word cited by Bishop Demets, who ordained him, as a “great Scholar, and tremendous worker, a true Priest…” Father Cabey was ordained in Rome on 17th March, 1966 in the midst of his family.

Father Fergus was the first Dominican Brother and Secretary to the Dominican Provincial in London. On the advice of his superiors he became a Dominican Priest. He was ordained in St. Patricks, in his native land on July 17th, 1976 by Archbishop Webster of St. Lucia amid his people of Montserrat.

The Sisters who would serve a critical role in the Church and the school would also continue the rise in Montserrat at producing top students, excelling in many areas such as sports, began arriving to Montserrat in 1923. In 1923, the Sisters, at that time called Canonesses of St. Augustine, took over the parochial school, with a roll of 258.  It appears that the name St. Augustine Roman Catholic School originated at this point.  The other sisters who arrived were from an Order called, ICM – Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The former teachers were Miss Norman, Miss Sophie Harris and Mrs Ellen Peters (who continued her services to Church would receive the ‘papal award’ later) and Miss Sarah Dowdye. On September 12, 1928, the school was destroyed by hurricane.  It was rebuilt under the leadership of Father Arnold Morris and reopened in November with a roll of 252.  Other schools had been destroyed, and the roll soon rose to 310, including 91 non-Catholic children.

In 1935, severe earthquakes shook the island – The church was severely damaged, but at the school, work “went on as well as circumstances permitted”.  The land to the west of the school was bought from the Loving family as a playground for the children, and between 1935 and 1947 three other classrooms were built in the convent yard for pre-school to Standard 1.  The government gave a subvention to the school and there became a time when the Church experienced financial difficulty in managing the school. The Parish priest was the manager of the school, but the principals (Mother Superior) ran the school with great efficiency meeting and exceeding the standards of government and especially the church.

That mantle was passed on briefly to retired Vincent (Brongo) Browne, long former principal of the Secondary School for a brief period, and on to Mrs. Eileen Edwards after the nuns had been receded from that duty.

The presence of the nuns in the late 80s dwindled, particularly away from the school. We note the names of few of the sisters who served as school principal over the years.

Sisters (called Mother Superior) who were principals, are listed here: Theodora – 1932-33; Tharsilla, Agustina, Jeanne DeLand 1950-56. Louisa Hermans – 1956-61; Carlos Adele Martens, Monfort, Anna Van de Made -1949-61; Irene, Urbanie Tylleman – 1949-64; Georgina Deville, Dieric – 1966-68; Carlos – 1971-74/6; Christiana, Marthe Van Belleghem – 1956-59/1973-77.

Mrs. Eileen Edwards took on the Principalship of the St. Augustine School. Immediately after Eileen, Mrs. Vernetta Williams acted before Sr. Maureen Cecilia Maduawia took over as principal in 2004. Two other sisters arrived with Sr. Cecilia. They were Sr. Maria Baptista Ezeh and Sr. G. Kelechi Ohiagu, all of the Order of Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Since 2010 the other principals have been Anne Marie Dewar and presently Claudia Skerritt. As more parents seek to enroll their children at the R C school the population continues to be dominantly non-Catholics. The school continues today to be open for any child, regardless of religion, race, or class, and those unable to pay fees were assisted with scholarships from donors overseas. 

Our Lady of Montserrat Church

It soon became apparent as ‘the South’ St. Patrick’s boasted a higher percentage of the Catholics, the others spreading all over the island in small numbers. There was talk of a church in the south although there was already a chapel in the south where the occasional Sunday or a weekday Mass was held. This chapel was located at Morris, across the road from the home where Father Fergus grew up; located on the way far South of St. Patrick’s leading to O’Garros.

It is noteworthy that growing up in a devout Catholic home and community, it was not unusual to go to Plymouth for morning Mass. The family and by extension, the community was “very instrumental in the construction and existence of Our Lady’s Church of Montserrat…it was not uncommon to leave home on foot at 4:00 a.m. to attend Novenas in Plymouth, walk back home to then return to Plymouth again for school at 9:00 a.m.

Our Lady’s Church of Montserrat -in the background Chance’s Peak, Soufriere Hills, Fergus mountains

There was no church and these members of the Roach family on the one side related to the Cassells, whose daughter was Mary White, were all very instrumental in the construction of Our Lady of Montserrat church in 1953 and its later extension.

Change and Development

There were events contributing to a growing change in the development of the Church in Montserrat. Information from Bishop Demet’s book “The Catholic Church in Montserrat, West Indies – 1756 -1980” will serve as good fillers. It records in 1969 two years prior to the creation of a new Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre, in August 29 – September 2, Montserrat became the first island in the then Diocese of Roseau to start the “Cursillo in Christianity” movement. That first Cursillo Retreat was held at the Coconut Hill Hotel, freely put at our disposal by the Osborne family. All other expenses paid by the American Cursillistas, Bob Morris and Companies. (The Osborne family throughout the history of the Catholic church in Montserrat has been one of the major supporters and continues to be. Anyone old enough to recall Fr. Grace (who supervised the building of our Lady’s Church) rode a motorcycle which was ordered by M S Osborne).

Fund Raising

For many years the major fund raiser, dating back past the 50s perhaps, breaking only after the volcanic activity, was the extremely popular annual fete. It was a parish affair in which the whole island attended.

Ladies cooking Goat Water

Bishop Demets firmly a constant and basically retired in Montserrat, was a great support to the parish priests appointed from Fr. Derida followed by Fr. Grace to whom he (Bishop Demets) had given the responsibility of taking on the construction of Our Lady’s Church. Several priests came and went.

After Fr. Grace, came Fr. Albert Lamotte 1955-59. He championed the first Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Plymouth. It soon became a regular when the shut-ins, sick and elderly were brought to mass on occasions, continuing from then; The Creation of the Workers League, (by the Holy Name Society (of men).

In 1956 December, the extension of Our Lady’s Church got a new blessing. In 1957 was the formation of the Legion of Mary, and formation of Young Christian Workers (YCW) boys and girls. St. Joseph Hall was built and blessed (The name of the Hall selected by YCW.)

In 1958 the first shop managed by Mrs. Irene Ponde was named St. Gerard’s shop of religious articles.

1959 – new priest Father August Hendrick and the two YCW groups combined into one. Meantime Our Lady’s church got a used organ, and a small house donated to Bishop Demets (who got many gifts passed on to the church) was turned into a small presbytery in the south.

Following the creation of the St. Patrick’s Co-operative Credit Union in 1957 a small ‘Agricultural’ Co-op was created in St. Patrick’s in 1959. The SPCCU would relinquish its direct connection and responsibility of the Church but maintained its name continuing today to be a firm financial co-op structure in Montserrat and the Caribbean.

Foresight planning for future expansion, lands bought in Bethel as had been in other parts of the Island, as the Roman Catholic  faith spread out, recalling there was a cemetery in the Farrell’s area already owned by the Church. That foresight was to show its benefits after the volcanic crisis forced severe changes in the existence of everything in Montserrat, when lands, surely in some areas became a premium.

All these new developments and happenings were soaked in and developed. Fr Joseph Thys took over in 1961 giving way to Fr. Joseph Stryckers in 1964. The run of Redemptorist Fathers then gave way to Irish Priests of the Divine Word Missionaries in 1972.

Enter Fr. Sheamus Langan, who had been brought into the new 1971 Diocese by Bishop Joseph Bowers who started with other Divine Word Missionaries.

Fr. Edward Herberger who also later served the Parish of St. Patrick Montserrat, would write on the history of the Divine Word Missionaries, said: “From 1972 through 1982, the Divine Word Missionaries serving in the Caribbean Islands were listed in the Catalogus under the U.S. Southern Province (USS).

Fr. Larry Finnegan had already been also attached to the Diocese, as well as Fathers Donal Broderick, and Frank Power. Fr. Broderick took over from Fr. Langan in 1974, moving back and forth with support from Fr. Jim McCrudden, and Fr. Bulla incardinated in 1979, but who had been visiting the island and assisting during his vacation for several years before continuing well into the 2000s.

Also assisting the parish over those years to more so the present, is Fr. John Giordano, son of the owners whose home in Olveston, Montserrat that Fr. Bulla occupied during his stay in Montserrat all those years. Fr. John in February celebrated his 50th year coming to Montserrat and serving from then, returning just before COVID-19 set in to disturb all travel in and out of Montserrat.

St. Martin de Porres Church in Salem

It soon became obvious beginning in the 70s, after the developments of subdivisions and the influx of mainly north-Americans buying and building homes in western Montserrat from Richmond Hill to Woodlands, there was need for expansion to facilitate Catholic homeowners and visitors north of Plymouth.

It began with Mass being held on Sundays in a building which served as a small Community Centre next to Olveston House and where Library facilities were available.

Since 1976 the talk began about building a church in Salem, but the Catholic Church in Montserrat would have to find the funds. These were forthcoming with a large donation from a homeowner in Old Towne, Joe and Peggy Adams and by 1982, St. Martin de Porres was a reality.

 St. Martin de Porres

name by decree “Plures in Mari” of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples (Congregatio pro gentium evangelizatione) under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. As its name implies, the church was dedicated to St. Martin de Porres, a Peruvian friar of the Dominican order.

Realizing that a country must be strong morally as well as economically and socially, the government has greatly helped the various churches to feel “AT HOME” in Montserrat, and to develop without fear or hindrance. The Catholic Faith is fully accepted, and many non-Catholics, knowing that their ancestors belonged to the Catholic Faith, have definitely nothing of that antagonistic feeling against the Church. Long before the second Vatican Council, there was already noticeable yearning for Unity among our people.

When good Pope John XXXIII told us to open the windows, to widen our views, and to open the doors to facilitate communication, the windows and doors were at once thrown open wide. Although the request for co-responsibility came at the eleventh hour, it received an overwhelming response in Montserrat. The people fully realized that they did not belong to the Church but ARE the Church.

At the present moment, a Parish Council of mature and dedicated persons stands ever so close to the Parish Priest, counselling and advising in all matters concerning the parish.

A most efficient and dedicated St, Vincent de Paul Society established by Fr, Broderick, organizes and finances to a great extent the care and assistance required for our many needy people (September 1977).

Various Christian Youth Organization (C.Y.O.) groups and an excellent youth choir have gathered a number of young boys and girls of whom any parish priest would be proud (1978).

Music Ministry

Credit is given to the following persons who over the years have enhanced the music ministry in the Catholic Churches in Montserrat:

Alma Ryan – First Remembered Choir Mistress; Mr. Beech – Organist

Lynn and Kenneth Cassell; Marie Meade – Organist

Vincent (Brongo) Browne – Choir; Ann Reynolds – Choir

Claudette Dublin – Choir Mistress; Bobby Semper – Organist

Hilarine Norman – Organist/Senior Choir; Jacinta and Kenneth Cassell – Choir

Josie – Organist/Choir Leader; Jennifer Reddock – Organist

Sr. Lieve – Choir Mistress

Bennette Roach – Senior Choir

Clyde (Organiser) Weekes and Cecil Cassell – Bass Guitarist

Sheree Jemmotte-Rodney and Vera Roach-Ryan – Organist

Vera Brandt; Donnamae Lee and Keith Edgecombe – Lead Guitarist

There is today the Genysis Steelpan who occasionally joins in celebrations – all leading to the integral nature of music in the worship.

A new hymn book titled ‘Sing and Love our God’, put together by the senior members of a thriving Liturgy Committee with Sister Livie (Lever) consists of new and old hymns.

That hymn book would be revised and reprinted in 2013 which noted, it was first published in the mid 1980’s.

Training and Development

The Parish hosted three years of Catechetical Training under Bishop Reece’s direction with delegates coming from throughout the Diocese. Also, several persons who serve on the Liturgy Committee through the years have attended Liturgy training courses mostly held in the Windward Islands.

pic Eby left front Bishop back row – at Vue Pointe delegates late 80s

Charismatic Renewal

One of the most striking recent events in the history of the Catholic Church in Montserrat is the “Charismatic Renewal” or the Renewal in the Holy Spirit — which is conducted by our lay people under the guidance of the parish priest and in which many members of other denominations heartily participate.Later in the 80s this would be taken forward or advanced with the presence of Sister Gerarda.

A new era of priests

The arrival of new and younger parish priests brought new and younger ideas. Miss Delphine Madill from Dublin and Miss Elsie Ritchie from Dominica were invited to establish ‘ ‘The Legion of Mary”. The Holy Name Society started a ‘”Workers’ League”, where games were provided and discussions held with and for the workers every Wednesday night; a Credit Union was organized in town which happily spread out to other denominations; a Pig Co-operative, open to all, was launched in the South; a group of young energetic people ‘ ‘Young Christian Workers”, (YCW), would become Catholic Youth Organisation and (CYO) and again later, Catholic Youth Community (CYC), became the right hand of the parish priest.

The good “New Days” had begun the 70s to the 80s

The Holy Name Society (HNS), adapting the by-laws to the new guidelines, began to care for its own sick and old members; kept a watchful eye on the films that were shown; introduced educational and recreational programmes; and accepted yearly to sponsor a Christmas tree for the children of our school.

Our young Christian workers launched out into the deep and became the entertainers of the parish, not only by a floor show or a concert, but mainly by well- prepared weekly discussions to which the public was often invited.

The St. Vincent de Paul began to strive and stride during that period. Today, it is one of the few that is still highly active in the Church.

Hurricanes and Volcano

It was on September 17, 1989 when Hugo decimated Montserrat seriously damaging but touching every home and building in one way another, including church properties. St. Augustine School and St. Joseph’s hall, and the presbytery, suffered the most damage. That gave way to an outstanding building, which would be destroyed and buried in the volcanic activity from which Montserrat is yet to fully recover.

Just prior to that in August, St. Patrick’s parish had hosted an Antilles Episcopal Conference of Bishops in Montserrat during the time when Fr. Joe Bates, another Divine Word Missionary was parish priest after Fr. Donal Broderick had left in 1984. Fr. Bates left Montserrat in 1989, died on January 28, 1995, buried on the veranda of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Tortola.

Montserrat hosted three Catechetical Training workshops which like the Conference of Bishops were conducted at the Vue Pointe Michael Symons Conference centre.

Fr. Bates was replaced by Fr. Ed Herberger and Fr. Gerard Critch, serving from 1989 – 1993, the latter returning to Antigua early in 1992. Bates would return after the hurricane to put his past knowledge into operation, assisting with the clean-up and the forward planning for the recovery after the disaster. Bates was instrumental in obtaining the technical input of architects from the Philippines.

At this point in the history of our Church in Montserrat, the next several years as all pastoral work and worship continued with Fr. Ed, Bates, briefly then and Fr. Critch, much was done to end up with a new school and hall, and all repairs to replace and move on-up from the damages of hurricane Hugo.

 

Fun fact: The western section of the old school known as St Joseph’s Hall, was where movies were shown i.e. cinema in the 60s and early 70s before the Shamrock Cinema and after Rialto theatre. The old school was more or less destroyed by hurricane Hugo spurring the need for new structure.

Photos: Post Hugo and post 1996-7 early stages of burial by volcanic ash, debri, ash and rocks Church, School and St. Jos Hall

During the next two years an ambitious new school took shape on the same site, thanks to an outpouring of voluntary contributions both at home and overseas. Guiding the project was parish priest Father Ed Herberger, with the technical input of architects from the Philippines, engineers from Trinidad and many others.

The impressive new three-storey building was opened in September 1991.  It was well equipped thanks to the ingenuity of Father Ed.  As they settled into their new surroundings the teachers and children thrived in the pleasant, new classrooms, and things looked set for a bright future.  But the days of this school, built with so much dedication and effort, were numbered, for on 18th July 1995 the Soufriere Hills Volcano came to life.

1994, in comes the ever loving and popular Fr. Larry Finnegan who previously visited Montserrat, took over till 2000.

The most devastating event of nature disrupting all pastoral work came by way of a volcano on the island of Montserrat. Father Larry gives us a feeling of being there, as he recorded to his superiors, not knowing the future would hold:

Dear (……….)

Please forgive me for using a form letter but as the report of the volcano and the hurricanes are the same for all, I do not have the time or energy to keep repeating it. So, let me do my best to fill you in on the whole situation which developed over the past two months or so.

Beginning on July 18, 1995, events have taken place that will more or likely change the shape of much of the future of our tiny 39½ square miles island of Montserrat. I had written to most of you saying that it is like heaven here and it still is, but it can have its moments of anxiety and tensions. It was just after dusk that fateful day, when some people reported hearing rumblings coming from the Soufriere Hills. One of our supposedly dormant volcanos had come to life!

A new vent opened and grew wider with each eruption of ash or steam. (Scientists and) Experts rushed to our island and our little nation was put on volcano alert. We were to be ready to evacuate to the northern part of the island, which was considered safe, as soon as the signal was given. A small bag, personal documents and food and water for two days must be ready at all times.

Some evacuations were called for the areas close to the new vent. The rest of us were to go about our daily routine, conscious of the smell and some ash. The experts felt that they could give the government at least 12 hours’ notice of any major eruption. However, on August 21 at about 8:45 a.m. a heavy ash fall descended on the capital city of Plymouth without much warning. It darkened out the sun as if it was night for about ten minutes.

People were scared, frightened, even a little panic for some. Places of work were deserted as people rushed home to care for family, etc. After that heavy ash fall the scientists informed the government that they could not guarantee even a limited period of lead time.

So that evening of August 21, the evacuation of Plymouth and all the South and East was ordered. We all headed north to be housed there in schools, churches, halls and tents. The next morning, we were allowed back to Plymouth and the South. I was in bed that afternoon having my siesta, making up for the night sleep which was lost when I got a phone call saying that the general evacuation was on again as the scientists were picking up danger signals from the volcano. So the hospital, the old age home, the prison and all of us were on the move again to the north.

One of our three churches, St. Martin de Porres in Salem, is in the safe area, so this became a shelter and my own home for the next 16 days. We had 57 people living in the small church with about 12 more sleeping in cars or mini-buses on the grounds linked to us for food and toilets. The north, which is the least developed part of the island became the home for all of us left on the island. Over the days, close to four thousand people left the island (our population is only 10,500) to seek refuge with family and friends on neighboring islands or to England and U.S. islands in the Caribbean. The American Medical School with its staff and student body of 700 also left the island.

In the early days, the volcano opened three new vents in all, with a constant emission of ash, gas and steam, and earthquakes were felt from . . .

In the Christmas Newsletter from the Caribbean District of 1995,

Father Finnegan continues his thought:

We slept or napped in our clothes on cots provided by the government, lined up for the toilet, ate whatever could be had, wondered and waited. Was this to be the end of Montserrat? We even heard reports from foreign lands that Montserrat had already blown up.

To add to our woes, on September 4, Hurricane Luis headed

for Montserrat. Curfew was lifted, and people went back to board up homes and shops. Luis came with 145 mph winds. We prayed, mopped up water, and moved from side to side in the church depending on the direction of the wind.

For two whole days it blew and rained, exceptionally long for a hurricane, but our neighboring islands of Antigua, Sint Martin and Anguilla took a battering, resulting in vast damage to property with some lives lost.

This was like the Resurrection for our island. We had been next to finished, much of our population gone, but now people were coming back as fast as they could. All of a sudden Montserrat looked good again. We just have to learn to live with an active volcano.

We were cleaning up, when on September 14, a warning went

out about Hurricane Marilyn. I opened our small hall. That evening as the hurricane began, about 30 people turned up to take shelter. Another night was spent mopping up water forced under doors by 120 mph winds. Again, our island was spared severe damage, while St. Thomas and St. Croix were laid flat.

It is hard to capture all the ups and downs, the experiences of close living, the fear, anxiety, hopes, of the whole experience of the past months. Certainly things, possessions, have no real worth as you grab a small bag and leave everything; house, clothes, jobs, church, school, not knowing if you will ever see them again. Just to be alive is so sweet. We feel God is there as King, as Lord, holding us in the palm of his hand.

Our island is devastated economically with the loss of the American Medical University and other small businesses.

Tourists cancelled out and savings were spent in airfare to get

the old, the sick and the children off the island. Yet our spirits

are high again and we are getting our lives together again.

The Volcanic Crisis had really just begun as nothing got better while the Church set about catering to social and spiritual needs of its people. A single Mass would be held at the Osborne’s Vue Pointe Hotel, eventually moving to the school premises at Woodlands.

As the years trudged on Fr. Larry’s calm but firm with ears and eyes as strong as his Godly heart, carried on managing church and school and all things and everyone although the various organisations could or did not function, he did not lack the support even with exodus that continued becoming permanent from 1996-1997 and beyond.

1995 and on to 2020

The fact that by 2000 Fr. Larry would depart Montserrat, no doubt a very tired priest, he left with the satisfaction that the Church had survived and was rebuilt to some satisfaction and preparation, to move forward with whatever else was there to come. This being so although Montserrat’s population by then would have dwindled to a mere 2,500 people, the Catholic population would have suffered greatly, especially when it is considered that the Church’s numbers were made up mostly by people in and around Plymouth and Southward.

Fr. Laurence Finnegan died on May 31, 2015 and a Memorial Mass was celebrated in his honour on Wednesday, June 10.

As might be expected all of the thriving organisations went into abeyance.  Sadly, except for the St. Vincent De Paul Society, and later the CYC with stops and starts; numbers alone to some extent did not allow any other societies to be revived.

It wasn’t that long with the volcano having done what would always be remembered as its worst, it was soon time for the parish to begin to raise much needed support funds. A revival of the annual fete took place in 1998 on the grounds of the McChesney Estates in Olveston. Other fetes were to take place, the following year at the Vue Pointe Hotel, and at least one other at the St. Augustine school grounds; alll to help the depleted funds needed to continue the services of school and church. The St. Patrick’s Day dinners were to continue to present, the most recent when the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic reduced it to a take  away.

R C Church, Montserrat, particularly for the past 20 years benefited from visits of priests from within and outside the Diocese, who came to relieve priests, who sometimes take a two-week or more vacation. Those visiting priests were also regular for Lenten and Advent retreats.

In recent years we recall, among others before them, including Bishops, e.g.  Bishop Kenneth in 2012 who preached the Lenten retreat, priests such as Fr. Frank Power, is a regular having served in the Diocese from the 70s. Fr. Peter Kinuthia Mwaura, current pastor at Tyrells in Antigua; Frs. Glanville Joseph and Elton John Letang, both CSSR priests. Fr. Ernie Berthlette came twice to serve in Fr. Mark’s absence. Another priest who has visited the parish often enough is Fr. Ante Jeroncic with the specialty of service particularly to the Spanish community. Father Gerhardt Mellert, a German member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) before, he came to Montserrat performed specifically that mission in Antigua. Others who served the Diocese in that area have been Father Luis Lapus and Father Robert Ratajczak in Antigua.

A list of priests who served after Fr. Larry are as follows: 2000-2002: Francis Kom, S.V.D; 2002-2006: Fr. Gerhardt (Gerry) Mellert, SVD; 2006-2015: Fr. George Agger, S.V.D; 2015-2019: Fr. Mark Schramm, SVD; and from Nov 2019 -: Fr. Fidelis Armin, SVD.

Fr. Kom came to the Parish from 2000-2002, followed by Fr. Gerhardt Mellert took over for the next four years, dying suddenly one Saturday afternoon. He is buried beside the St. Martin de Porres church, his grave stone being visible in current pictures of the church.

Change of Bishops from 2006

The change of Bishops did not affect the running of the parish but Bishop Reece’s long service as head of the Diocese ended in 2006. He remained Bishop of the Diocese, but by now at the time of his moving on to become Archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica, as Fr. Ed wrote, “he was leaving the Diocese not in the same state of difficulties as when he took over in 1981.”

It can be said that one of his last major challenges before leaving was his authorisation and planning of the new St. Patrick’s Church at Lookout. For several years after Mass continued at the St. Martin de Porres a small temporary building was used for mass in the new housing area of Lookout. Meantime as funds were gradually were raised for the erection of the new church to establishing the parish of St Patrick’s Church was completed and dedicated three years after in June 2009. Bishop Reece would return to participate in its blessing and dedication.

In the meantime, for several years since 2006 there had not been a substantive Bishop in the Diocese. It was Bishop Malzaire the substantive Bishop of Roseau, in the Commonwealth of Dominica who carried out the duties in an acting capacity after Bishop Reece until he announced the election of and extended welcome to Bishop-elect Kenneth David Oswin Richards to the episcopate on behalf of all the bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, (serving as Coadjutor Archbishop of Kingston in Jamaica) from November 19, 2011. 

Then, after a joyous welcome upon his arrival to the Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre in St. Kitts, his solemn ordination as bishop took place in Antigua on February 8, 2012, going on to serve the diocese until April 29, 2016.Bishop Kenneth served until June 20, 2016. Pope Francis appointed Vicar General (2011– 2013) and Auxiliary Bishop of Port of Spain (2013–2016), Bishop Robert Llanos Apostolic Administrator, to the Diocese of St John’s-Basseterre on June 20, 2016.

Bishop Llanos served in that capacity until his eventual installation as Bishop of St. John’s-Basseterre which took place on his 61st birthday, February 3, 2019 at the Holy Family Cathedral, St John’s, Antigua.

Fr. George Agger became the parish priest after Fr Gerry’s death, the same year as Bishop Reece’s departure. He soon quickly fell in line, settling in easier perhaps because he too was now another Irish priest.

His biggest task to work with the new church building committee, but at a time when Montserrat was attempting to begin in a more serious way its rebuilding effort. The time was also on hand when the Church was also seeking towards rebuilding some of what it was like, maintaining its status in the diocese, with the construction of the new St. Patrick’s church.

He fitted in quickly showing he was a tennis player and was the first clergy to join the Rotary Club in Montserrat, making him very hands on in the Community. Except for numbers, the Parish was feeling itself once again and events and organisations.

Returned to some semblance of normalcy.

The church was built and in operation in 2009 and the one thing to complete its upward movement infrastructurally was that to this day not being able to get government’s approval for a cemetery to be created on the church premises where it is located in Lookout.

In early 2015, the floor at St. Martin de Porres was declared unsafe and that was a costly affair. During that time there was a young priest, Fr. Paul Collier, who served with and for a few months deputised for Fr. George departed later that year, re-assigned on pre-retirement as assistant parish priest in St. Kitts while Fr. Mark Schram took over in Montserrat.

Fr. Schram was installed on Sunday, August 16 by Diocese Bishop Kenneth Richards who at the same time officiated at the re-dedication of the St. Martin’s church in Salem, that was renovated with a new floor installed, constructed over the past several months

While the repairs/replacement took place, morning Mass was held at the convent/house, located across from the school, that had housed the three sisters in 2004-10.

After nine years Fr. George bid farewell, but has returned many times already. Fr. Mark Schram took over in 2015, after four years giving way in November last year (2019) to Fr. Fidelis Armin.

During the past 20 years the Parish continued and improved as years progressed moving from the restrictive conditions, fulfilling the needs of and for a church; firstly to replace St. Patrick’s church as described above, and meeting more fully the needs of the majority of persons who had settled in the far north of the Island.

In that photo above, immediately recognizable as having served in Montserrat, along with Bishop Reece of course, Fr. Larry, next to him, and in the front (front row) l-r Frs. Bulla, Frank Power, and Joe Bates

Fr. George and Bishop Kenneth Richards rt on his first visit to Montserrat when he spent an entire week with the Parish

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