The St. Joseph's Convent, Port of Spain story, 1836- 2020; a tradition of excellence
In early 1835 a Eudist priest, l'abbé Bertin, arrived in Trinidad from Martinique. At that time, Catholic parents had no denominational schools to which they might send their children. He had been chaplain to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny at St. Pierre and had been very impressed by their work there. With his recommendation, the Vicar Apostolic, Dr. McDonnell wrote to the Provincial of the order in with a formal invitation to establish a house here. Reverend Mother Anne Marie Javouhey herself came in May 1835, and was welcomed by the ecclesiastic authorities. She quickly recognised the vast number of children needing religious instruction and decided to grant the request without delay.
And so, on 29th January, 1836, 5 sisters arrived; Pauline Lefevre - Sr. Onesime, Superioress, Adelaide Delorme - Sr. Scholastique, Antoinette Beurier - Sr. Pelagie, Marguerite de Wint - Sr. Louis de Gonzague, Marie Josephine Remi - Sr. Theotiste and Civilise Jacqumel - Sr. Gabrielle. ¹ Madame le Cadre Begorrat accommodated them in a home on St. James Street, now Frederick Street, until they were able to purchase a suitable building on Kent, now Pembroke Street, fortuitously adjoining the Bishop's residence. Soon a notice appeared in the Port of Spain Gazette announcing the new school.
Initially, due to the French origins of the Sisters who established the school, the curriculum was taught in French. However, in 1895 the process of anglicising the academic program was begun by the Convent Superior, Reverend Mother Milburge to meet the needs of the British colony. At the same time the school's first students were entered into the London examinations. Their success would lead to qualification in 1911 for affiliation with Queen's Royal College, which meant that not only were students allowed to take the Cambridge examinations but the school was also entitled to state aid. The support of the Catholic community was also fundamental to the school’s continued development.
By the 1920's students were exposed to a wide range of disciplines, including Art, Literature and Domestic Science, in addition to the more traditional subjects of the English grammar school. The achievements of the students were well documented, culminating in the award of the island's first Girls’ Scholarship in 1948. By the time the Convent and Chapel were destroyed by fire in 1944, the school had been fully integrated into Trinidadian society. It was so well appreciated that not only was $50,000 in government funding provided towards the restoration effort, but contributions poured in from all over the West Indies and Ireland.
The school continued to be a leader in educational advancement for young women. The 1970's would see the conversion of the Domestic Science rooms to Science Laboratories, while the 1980's would have the enlargement of the school library, addition of audio-visual rooms and, in a computer literacy program with a well-equipped computer room. During the 1990's, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, 5 state of the art multimedia rooms were established, as well as a sophisticated Physics Laboratory, and through a partnership between the school and corporate sponsors, the rejuvenation of the Library Media Centre. From 2007, the implementation of the national Secondary Education Modernisation Program resulted in rapid and extensive developments in the school as a whole.
The school entered the twenty-first century on an academic high note, with outstanding results in both the CSEC and Cambridge A' Level examinations. This success continued with the changeover to the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination in 2007. Since that time, St. Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain’s students have dominated the State scholarships awarded at the this level, and in 2008 Jordana Deane won the President’s Medal when she became the first female student to receive the Dennis Irving Award for most outstanding student overall in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination. Chantal Cave also won the President’s medal the following year. In addition, students regularly participate and excel in several sporting disciplines, especially swimming and volleyball, and many cultural activities at the school, national and international levels.