STGC A Brief History 1850 – 2012 by Robbie Vernon

Robbie Vernon
Robbie Vernon

St. George´s College was founded in 1850 by twenty-one Spanish Jesuits who had been exiled from New Granada (now Colombia), as part of a religious persecution. At their head was Fr. Emmanuel Gil, S.J., a distinguished scholar and former Court preacher to the King of Spain. It was amidst a storm of protest in the press against the Jesuits for proposing opening Jamaica’s first Catholic secondary institution for classical and scientific education, that St. George’s College actually opened its doors on September 2, 1850. This was in a rented house at 26 North Street on the southeast corner of North and Orange Streets.

The new College opened with thirty-eight day students and thirty boarders. The first subjects taught included Latin, Greek, French, English, Rhetoric, History, Mathematics, Logic, Metaphysics, Ethics, Drawing and Calligraphy.

At that time 1850, Jamaica had a population of 400,000, described than as broken down into 305,000 Negroes, 80,000 mixed and 15,000 Whites. The Catholic population was 5,000 and with a handful of priests. The Anglican Church was the predominant Christian presence with over 115 clergymen.

Almost simultaneous with the opening of its doors in 1850 was the outbreak of the dread Asiatic cholera. Kingston was hard hit with deaths of over 150 per day. Fr. Gill set aside five priests and two coadjutor brothers to care for the stricken and they made themselves available any hour of the day or night, and went from house to house, consoling the dying, hearing confessions, giving last rites. When the epidemic abated, Kingston counted 3,675 dead; one tenth of its population.

The heroic charity of the priests won over the hearts of the population and helped greatly to counteract the negative press that accompanied the school’s opening. At the end of the first academic year on August 14 1851, the entire student body marched into an auditorium filled with proud parents and distinguished guests. The occasion was a public examination in subjects studied during the year. One outstanding student Mario Valenzuela, who received a distinction in Ethics, returned to his native Columbia and left an indelible mark in the annals of the Society of Jesus in that country. Mario entered the Jesuits in 1858, traveled throughout Central America returning to Bogota, Columbia in 1883. He opened colleges in Pasto, Medellin and Bogota itself and due largely to his work; the Society of Jesus regained the government’s blessings and was able to work again freely in Columbia.

After only two years, the Spanish Jesuits, led by founder Father Gill, S.J., departed Jamaica to teach in Guatemala, turning St. George’s over to the English Jesuits. They left primarily because of the difficulties in language, with English being a second language to them. The school moved to 5 Upper King Street and changed its name to the Presbytery Secondary School. There it remained until January 1866, when, for unclear reasons, it was closed.

A few months later, thanks to Fr. James Jones, S.J., the school was reopened with twenty-five students and moved back to its original site at 26 North Street, again under the name of St. George’s College. Only three years later, succumbing to the opposition of the Jesuit Superior, the school was closed, a second time, at Christmas of 1871. On this occasion the strong petitions of ninety-two influential Kingstonians convinced the Jesuits to reopen St. George’s in March 1873, but on a smaller scale, with only two Jesuit teachers. The school prospered until September 1877, when it was closed a third time, but this closure, however, lasted only a few days. The return of Father James Jones, S.J., and the leadership of Fr. Thomas Porter, S.J., assured a continued life.

In 1894 the English Jesuits were requested by Rome to leave the Jamaica mission and take up their work with other English Jesuits in Africa. The Jamaica mission was then entrusted to the American province of Maryland- New York and on April 7, 1894, the first American Jesuits arrived: Fathers John J Collins, Patrick F.X. Mulry and Andrew Rapp. These priests were well versed in high school and university administration and took charge of the entire mission territory of Jamaica including St. George’s College.

The Americans initiated a new look into the schools administration with an impressive list of highly qualified faculty headed by Bishop Charles Gordon, SJ, Vicar Apostolic as President and including Fr.Patrick Kelly, SJ (late of St. Peter’s College, New Jersey USA) as Prefect of Studies; Fr. John J Collins (late of Fordham College, New York USA), in charge of Commercial law and Christian Doctrine and Louis Payne (BA, First class Honours, London, University.UK).

In February 1905 the Jesuits brought a large property called Pawsey’s Pen (what is now Winchester Park) and converted the Pawsey residence into a classroom building with classes started before the end of March. That original building stood until 1979, when it was demolished to make way for the new Issa Auditorium. Classes were suspended briefly after the earthquake in 1907 while the campus, partially destroyed and then repaired, was used as a hospital for victims of Kingston’s worst earthquake ever.

O'hare Building STGC

The present Jesuit Residence (now called the Jesuit Centre) was built in 1910, and the Jesuits moved from the old site at North and Orange Streets. Enrollment in the College at that time was barely one hundred boys, but more classroom space was needed. In 1913 the construction of a new building was authorized by the headmaster whose name it bears, Fr. William O’Hare, S.J. Its architect was Mr. Braman Judah, whose two sons, Sydney and Charles, later became Jesuit priests. The O’Hare Building has become the landmark of St. Georges College.

On the death of former headmaster Bishop O’Hare in 1926, Jamaica saw one of its largest funerals ever; thousands from all over the island came in to Kingston to view the body lying in State in the cathedral. Many of his former students at St. George’s College, now successful business and professional men, passed by his bier in the cathedral. One of these Percival Gibson of the class of 1910, and the future Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica and founder of Kingston College wrote a glowing tribute to his former headmaster in the St George’s College school magazine “Blue & White”. The whole three miles from the cathedral to the Catholic cemetery was lined with people. There were more than 300 cars and carriages in the funeral procession. It was estimated that over fifteen thousand people attended the cortege. This former headmaster played a significant role in administering the affairs of The School and Church as Headmaster and after as Father Superior and during the process endeared himself to many even outside of his own faith community.

In 1923 St. George’s College became the largest Secondary school in the island with 258 on the roll.

Msgr. Gladstone Wilson

This period also saw the emergence of a bright star from the school, Gladstone Wilson, who would later rise to prominence in the church hierarchy and the Curia in Rome. He attended St. Georges College from 1918-1922 and at the time of his death in 1974 was considered to be the seventh most learned person in the world. Monsignor Gladstone Orlando Stanislaus Wilson PhD.,M.A., BA Hons., B.D., DD., D.C.L., B.C.L., F.R.S.A, Dip.Soc Sc. ( Diploma in Social Sciences) travelled extensively in Europe, and the Americas and spoke several languages fluently, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Between 1939 and 1960 there was a large influx of Jesuits, mostly high school teachers, who manned St. George’s College. During this time the school was not affected by the many teacher shortages that occurred.

Discipline has always been a strong element of St. George’s College, and the College’s Merit/Demerit system was inaugurated by Fr. William Hannas, S.J. in 1940. This system was instituted to maintain a firm discipline but also to encourage a spirit of competition. To this end, Fr. Hannas, S.J. emphasized the English-based ‘House’ system already existing at the College. The student body at that time was divided into three ‘houses’: Bellarmine, Campion and Xavier. Two more houses were soon added: Loyola in September 1941 and Regis in the late 1950’s. These five houses have become rivals for leadership in studies, sports and discipline.

In 1945, after ninety-five years of existence, the College welcomed its first Jamaican headmaster, Fr. Denis Cruchley, S.J., who was an Old Boy of the College. He assumed the leadership of the College and remained in office for the next five years.

Emmet Park

The campus has continued to build up. In 1950 as part of the College’s Centenary Anniversary, the Old Boys Association made a commitment to construct a pavilion at Emmet Park. This was completed and handed over to the College on July 1, 1951. Five years later in 1955, the lawn tennis courts were built. In March of 1956, the roadway to link Emmet Park with the rest of the campus was constructed. St. George’s College has continued to grow. The Abe Issa Auditorium and the Fr. William Hannas Buildings which houses the Canteen and Father Cruchley, S.J. Computer Laboratory was completed in 1986, and Emmet Park was restored in 1991. The U.S. A.I.D-funded Butler Building expansion and the Student Development Centre were completed in 1993, the Samuel Carter, S.J. Library was completed in 1998, and the Fr. Leo F Quinlan S.J. Administrative Building in 1999. The termite infested O’Hare Building on the verge of being condemned was gutted and renovated in time for school opening in September 2009, due largely to the efforts of old boy Carl Chang. The latest addition the Archbishop Lawrence Burke S.J. Centre was completed in 2012.

Winchester Park

The size of the student population has continued to grow over the years. In 1905 when the College moved to Winchester Park, the student population was approximately 100 students. This leapt to 258 in1923, rising slowly to 235 in 1942; by 1952, 452 students and in 1962 enrollment had risen to excess of 800. In 2010 there are almost 1400 students. Correspondingly, the size of the faculty has also grown steadily. In 1905 there were eleven teachers (six Jesuits and five lay men), but by 1942 it had risen slightly to thirteen faculty (twelve Jesuits and one layman). In 1952 there were twenty-six teachers (eighteen Jesuits and eight laymen), and in 2010 there are 78 teachers; (1 Jesuit representation as Chaplain). Most administrators had been foreign Jesuits.

The Chinese played a sizeable role in the History of St. George’s College. It was Fr. Leo Butler S.J, while pastor at St. Anne’s church, who is credited with the first conversion in 1918 of a student from the St. Anne’s elementary school. For him this was the beginning of an era, introducing him to an apostolate among the Chinese that would continue for forty years. When he became headmaster of St. George’s College (1929-1940), as the only Catholic high school and with him at the helm, it became a magnet for the burgeoning Catholic converts, and remained their school of choice after his departure. By the 1960’s 25% of the student population was Chinese, which is remarkable when that grouping represented just about 1% of the general population. These children, mostly from shop keeper parents seized the educational opportunity presented to them and many went on to attain university degrees and became doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, scientists and seminarians and priests. Some gained recognition locally and abroad; Rhode’s scholar Maurice Tenn, Barrister, Distinguished UWI Professor Anthony Chen, part of the United Nations Intergovernmental panel on climate change that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, Dr. G Raymond Chang philanthropist & Chancellor of Ryerson University in Toronto, and Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong, recipient of numerous hospital based teaching , university departmental teaching awards and faculty wide teaching awards at the University of Toronto, Canada. Many of these alumni have remained some of the schools most loyal supporters.

St. George’s College decided to become a Grant-in-Aid school in 1956, and it was now a part of the Government’s educational system, allowing for the Jamaican Government (Ministry of Education) to pay the salaries of the teaching faculty and administration. With this new status, however, the Jesuits had to give up some of the control of the school. In 1956, the Ministry of Education established a common entrance examination, ending the College’s own entrance examination and selection of its students. The GSAT was initiated in 1990, further regularizing the entrance of students using Governmental examinations. The school student body is now more representative of the general Jamaica population and draws heavily from the area in which it is located. In 2006 the school started accepting girls into the Pre-University (Sixth Form) programme.

This story of St. George’s College; a school founded by transient Spanish – speaking Jesuits in 1850, continued by English and American Jesuits, perhaps more than 500 men in all, at severe personal and financial sacrifice, forges ahead in very challenging times.

It is a sketchy story of her birth, growing pains and maturity. A more accurate record may be read in the lives and labours of the students she trained and guided with patient love.

Today at over 160 years, despite severe funding restrictions with bold leadership and the fierce loyalty of its alumni and their network associations in Jamaica , Florida and Canada , the School continues to excel in molding academically qualified, well-rounded, confident men and women of discipline and conscience.

The school’s motto reflects the vision and spirit of the over 160-year-old institution.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam | For the Greater Glory of God.

STGC Headmasters/Principals

Fr.Emmanuel Gil, S.J.(1850-1852) | Fr.Alexis Simon, S.J.(1852-1865) | NO RECORDS (1866-1867 | Fr.James Jones, S.J. (1868-1871) | Fr.Richard Barton, S.J.(1871-1872) | Fr.Francis Jaeckel, S.J.(1873-1879) | Fr.Thomas Porter, S.J. (1879-1880) | Fr.John Ryan, S.J .(1880-1884) | Fr.William Burns, S.J.(1885-1889) | Fr.Henry Parker, S.J. (1889-1895) | Fr.Patrick Kelly, S.J.(1895-1896) | Fr.William Gregory, S.J.(1896-1902) | Fr.Augustus Duarte, S.J.(1902-1906) | Fr.Joseph Dinnard, S.J. (1906-1908) | Fr.William O’Hare, S.J.(1908-1910) | Fr.Partick Collins, S.J. (1910-1911) | Fr.William O’Hare, S.J. (1911-1915) | Fr.Francis Delaney, S.J. (1915-1920) | Fr.Ferdinand Wheeler, S.J. (1920-1923) | Fr.George McDonald, S.J. (1923-1929) | Fr.Leo Butler, S.J.(1929-1940) | Fr.Walter Ballou, S.J.(1940-1945) | Fr.Denis Cruchley S.J.(1945-1950) | Fr.Charles A.McMullan, S.J.(1950-1960) | Fr.Edward Donohue, S.J.(1960-1962) | Fr.Leo Quinlan, S.J.(1962-1970 | Fr.Maurice Feres, S.J.(1970-1980) | Fr.Lawrence Burke, S.J.(1980-1981) | Mr.Van Hitchener (1981-1982) | Fr.James Hosie, S.J. (1982-1987) | Fr.Kenneth Hughes, S.J. (1987-1992) | Mr. Hector Stephenson (1992-1997) | Mr. Van Hitchener (1998 -2000) | Mr. Lloyd Fearon (2000-2004) | Dr. Fred Kennedy (2004-2006) | Mrs. Margaret Campbell (2006-)