Educating Future Generations in Jamaica

By Father Bernard Latus, SVD

Children waiting for breakfast at Port Henderson School in Jamaica.Educating Future Generations in Jamaica

Challenges of the oldest school in Portmore

In Jamaica, the Catholic Church developed quite rapidly in the first half of the 20th century through Catholic schools. These schools were established in parishes by nuns and some men's orders. To this day, the most prestigious schools are those founded by the Jesuits, Franciscans and the Sisters of Charity. Nevertheless, as elsewhere, the lack of vocations, state schools and other Christian denominations have resulted in many Catholic Church schools since the 1970s becoming state-assisted schools with a state curriculum.

For many years, we fed children who came to school from poor ghettos and enclaves near the school, but this initiative was taken over by the government and the Ministry of Education several years ago. During the pandemic, we tried to provide children with electronic tablets for learning and classrooms with routers so that hybrid teaching could be conducted for those who could not attend classes every day.

Kindergarten kids in Jamaica with Father Bernard Latus from Society of the Divine Word Chicago ProvinceOur Lady of the Assumption School in Morant Bay

Despite the challenges, there is a new, fully Catholic primary school. It is one of the greatest successes of recent years when it comes to Catholic education in Jamaica. Since my first arrival in Jamaica in 1994, the Catholics in St. Thomas Parish, a huge administrative region in the east of the island, had not had a single Catholic school even though all other areas have two or more. Therefore, the Catholics immediately expected the Divine Word Missionaries, like the Jesuits or other religious orders, establish a Catholic school here.

Over the years, there were few opportunities to do so. We had neither land nor Catholic teachers for such a school. Still, we wanted to start somewhere. We began sending Catholic youth to the Franciscan Catholic Teaching College in Kingston, run by the Franciscan Sisters.

Our young Catholics graduated from teacher training, but many left the region. Many of them found employment in well-known and renowned Catholic schools in Kingston. Some did further studies abroad and got good jobs in the United States and Canada.

Father Bernard Latus and team working at a school in Jamaica.The administrative parish of St. Thomas was still without a Catholic school. Then, about 10 years ago, an opportunity arose when a long-established private school collapsed and the grounds and one school building of this school with four classrooms were for sale.

The Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Morant Bay made a quick purchase and the parish priest, Father Frank Power SVD of Ireland, invited the Servants of the Holy Spirit Sisters (SSpS) to help organize and run this school.

The prognosis for the new Catholic school was very poor as other Catholic schools were closed for lack of funds for teachers. Even among the Catholic hierarchy in Jamaica, there were no positive expectations.

Father Bernard Latus and students at Portmore Primary School in JamaicaDespite the pessimism, the school dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption opened in September 2012 with only seven students. Sister Theresa Tawiah from Ghana and other SSpS sisters ran the school in the early years. The school grew. There were more and more students, and new school buildings were built with the help of the sisters and the local Food for the Poor Foundation.

Today, there are about 120 students, and there could be more, but there is a lack of classroom space. Today, the school has 11 teachers and is led by Sister Yulianna Meno SSpS from Indonesia.

Every year, our many projects benefit from the generosity of the benefactors of the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province, for which we are profoundly grateful. We pray that our work will continue to shape the future of generations to come.


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