Loyola and 'emancipendence'

Michael BURKE

Thursday, July 31, 2014

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TODAY is the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. He died on July 31, 1556, some 458 years ago. Tomorrow is Emancipation Day, and the beginning of the 'emancipendence' observance that begins with Independence Day on August 6. As a Roman Catholic, I have heard all the negatives about the Jesuits -- some of which is not even true. Today, I am mainly interested in stating the role of the Jesuits in the development of Jamaica after Emancipation and before political independence. I need to state up front that I did not attend any Jesuit institution. Yes, I went to a Roman Catholic preparatory school, but my two other schools were not owned or operated by the Roman Catholic Church. I also attended Priory and Jamaica College. My main apostolate in the Roman Catholic Church is with the Roman Catholic students who do not attend Roman Catholic schools. I teach them to defend what we believe in.

The earlier Jesuits in Jamaica spent much of their time doing chaplaincy instead of spreading the Roman Catholic version of Christianity. Chaplaincy is the giving of religious service to people of your own denomination. In 1837 there were Haitians in Jamaica who were refugees of the revolution there. There were also Germans, Portuguese and Irish citizens in Jamaica who were Roman Catholic. The main conversions during the period were by the people themselves. One notable exception was the conversion of Father Leslie Russell to the Roman Catholic Church when a priest decidedly gave him instructions in the faith. Today, a case is being made for the canonisation of Father Leslie Russell -- the first Jamaican case. Incidentally, Father Leslie Russell attended the Baptist-owned Calabar High School.

Did Ignatius of Loyola ever hear of Jamaica? Were the Spanish in that era as meticulous about history as the Jews in Israel have been in all eras since their existence? I do not know.

In 1989, a visiting Israeli asked me about the Morant Bay Rebellion. I was surprised that he knew that significant part of Jamaican history and I asked how he knew about it. He told me that George William Gordon's father was a Jew and he therefore learnt about Gordon in Jewish world history while in high school.

It is quite a mystery that so many people have passed through Jamaica's high schools and do not know the importance of the Morant Bay rebellion. Apart from the wanton cruelty of the governor in slaying 900 persons in St Thomas, many of whom were innocent, many changes came about as a result of the Morant Bay Rebellion. It started the road to self-government just as Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association sowed seeds for the coming of the universal right to vote, self-government, and political independence.

Did Ignatius of Loyola hear about Jamaica because the Italian Christopher Columbus went to the Spanish monarchy for financial help for his voyages and used Spanish ships for his travels? That I might never know. What is known is that in 1837 -- all of 181 years after Loyola died -- the Pope made Jamaica a vicariate and entrusted it to the Jesuits. This meant that during the period all of the bishops were Jesuits.

The road to Emancipation and political independence ('emancipendence') was indeed a long one. When the English conquered Jamaica in 1655 the Roman Catholic Church was banned and would remain so until 1791. In the following year, a priest came to Jamaica, and there would be only one priest for a long time. The Jesuits were not a part of the Emancipation campaign because they had not yet arrived.

The Roman Catholic Church did not exist in Jamaica for most of the slavery period when the English took control of the island, and were not visible in Jamaica for the first 136 years of English rule in Jamaica. But the Roman Catholic Church was never totally extinct in Jamaica, because there were one or two pockets of Roman Catholics in hiding.

One such pocket was in Castle Mines, St Mary. Today their descendants are in Preston Hill. A group of slaves from a Spanish African colony was en route to Cuba when pirates intercepted the boat and brought them to Jamaica. They refused to join any other church but the Roman Catholic Church and actually sought out a priest after the church was restored in 1791.

Jamaica's status as a vicariate entrusted to the Jesuits ended in 1956 when Jamaica became the Diocese of Kingston. The Jesuits went into pastoral work, education, and co-operatives (especially credit unions).

As a result of the Jesuit bishops when Jamaica was entrusted to that order, St Joseph's Hospital was built. Also, it was a Jesuit bishop who brought the Marist Sisters here, who eradicated leprosy in Jamaica. The story of the leprosy eradication needs to be retold.

Sir Arthur Richards, who was not a popular governor, was previously assigned to Fiji. He had seen the work of the Marist Sisters there, who had worked among lepers.

Truth be told, however, the fight to do something about the lepers did not start with Richards. There was a member of the Legislative Council named Eustace McNeill, who represented St Catherine, and he raised the matter often in the Legislative Council. For this he got a thorough physical beating from the lepers who were strong enough to do so and ended up in hospital. Eustace McNeill is the grandfather of current tourism minister Wykeham McNeill.

It was Sir Arthur Richards who wrote the Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Emmett to ask him to get some Marist Sisters in Jamaica. But the Legislative Council was livid at the idea of another Roman Catholic group coming to Jamaica and they made it known in the Legislative Council. Sir Arthur Richards outlined at length the work of the Marists Sisters and they eventually came. The year was 1940 and the Marists Sisters eradicated leprosy (known today as Hansen's disease) by 1973.





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