The 1994 Chapter, Jamaica, West Indies
by Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D.
The Regional Vicar of Jamaica, West Indies, Paul Zilonka, C.P., walked to the microphone and addressed the 1994 Open Chapter. His information was important; several times discussion time was extended. Arguably, the boundaries for the future commitment of St. Paul of the Cross Province to Jamaica were being established.
While Passionists need such discussion, an important element was missing. None of the chapter participants knew the history of the foundation in Jamaica, West Indies. Yes, there is an oral tradition. Yes, individuals who had served there were present to clarify. However, after forty years of Passionist presence no critical history has been written. The discussion at the Chapter had no historical context. We Passionists must face the fact that we have been lax in developing a method to engage in historical examination of ministry in the twentieth century. Our strength has been historical investigation in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Enter the historian. What do the documents tell us about the beginnings of the Passionists in Jamaica, West Indies. Archivist John Poole, C.P., gathered documents in May 1973 that chronicle the early years.
By 1953 most Passionists had been expelled from China. There was a strong desire to stay in Asia. At the same time it was deemed prudent to seek a new mission nearer the United States so distance would not be a burden. Lower Mexico and several Central American countries were considered. Panama was given serious thought.
The possibility of the Passionists entering Jamaica came about through personal contact. The agents were Mission Secretary Caspar Caulfield, C.P., and Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica, British West Indies, John J. McEleney, S.J. The place was Rome, Italy. On 5 May 1954 Caulfield made a “courtesy visit” to family friend, McEleney, who was on his quinquennial visit. McEleney, through Caulfield, offered the Passionists to come to Jamaica.
Caulfield, in a 11 May letter to Provincial Ernest Welch, gave the details. McEleney desired four Passionists. One would work in Kingston; the rest outside the city. McEleney hoped that the Passionist presence would free the Jesuits to start a university; he also hoped they might relate to Hakka Chinese. Caulfield knew that “older missionaries… could be reassigned to the new mission…[without] learning a new language.” There was, Caulfield told McEleney, an “outside chance” for acceptance.
Passionist leadership, wrote Poole, was attracted by the proximity of Jamaica and the need not to learn another language. Communication continued. On 12 June 1954 McEleney visited the Curia at St. Michael’s, Union City, NJ. Discussion lasted three hours. The Passionists were invited to see the territory. On 21 August 1954 Provincial Welch informed Bishop McEleney that first consultor Canisius Hazlett was assigned to investigate in September.
Hazlett traveled by ship to Port-au Prince, Haiti, and by plane to Kingston, Jamaica. Arriving 15 September he was greeted by Bishop McEleney, Jesuit religious superior Denis Tobin, and Henry Martin, S.J., a cousin of Father Hazlett. Hazlett, writes Poole, stayed with Tobin and proceeded to see “nearly all of the missions and most of the mission stations.” A “tentative unsigned contract” agreeable to both parties was endorsed pending approvement of the Passionist Curia and “legitimate authority.” The Passionists were to be given responsibility for the civil parishes of Manchester and St. Elizabeth; also they were given the ecclesiastical parishes of St. Elizabeth and St. Peter Claver in Kingston. Hazlett completed a report filed in the Provincial Archives entitled “British West Indies.”
Hazlett returned on 6 October to Union City and advised that the Passionists accept the mission for the good of souls and because of the advantage of speaking English. Adaptation to tropical climate was not deemed “overly difflcult.” Canon lawyers examined the contract. McEleney made another visit to Union City. Next Propaganda Fide received the contract; they sent it back “with corrections and commentaries.” Revisions were made. Finally on 1 February 1955 the Passionist Superior General Malcolm Lavelle cabled his authorization. 1 March 1955 Propaganda Fide finally approved the Passionist decision to go to Jamaica. In addition Jesuit General John Baptist Janssesns approved the Passionists, and secular priest Fr. Vidal at St. Peter Claver agreed “that he,” according to Poole, “had no objection to his being transferred.”
As these legalities continued, Poole mentions that Provincial Welch asked members of the province to volunteer. Passionists Cormac Shanahan, William Whelan, Callistus Connolly and Anthony Feeherry were picked from the volunteers. Hazlett was to join them “to help in establishing the missions and also to stay for some time to make a long range building and advancement program.” On 7 January 1955 Bishop McEleney was notified the Passionists were coming; he in turn notified the Jamaican government that the Passionists be accepted as “permanent residents.”
On 17 March 1955 a departure ceremony was held for the Passionists at St. Michael’s, Union City. They travelled by train on 25 March to Miami. On 26 March they boarded the SS Evangeline for Jamaica; they docked in Kingston on 1 April 1955 where the Jesuits, especially Fr. James Barry, S.J., welcomed them. By 3 April, Palm Sunday, Fathers Connolly and Shanahan offered public masses in Kingston and Fathers Whelan and Feeherry were driven to Mandeville; they were welcomed by Fr. Benedict Reilly, S.J. On 5-6 April, Reilly took the former on a tour of the mission territory. Fr. Hazlett remained in Kingston until he went to Mandeville on 7 April. Without the “help of Mr. Jackie Lewis, an admirable layman” in Mandeville, Holy Week would not have been a success.
Both Fathers Connolly and Shanahan lived at St. Elizabeth. Shanahan commuted daily to nearby St. Peter Claver. Fr. Whelan was pastor at Mandeville with Fathers Hazlett and Feeherry in residence. Later, on 25 September 1955 Fr. John Baptist Maye, C.P., arrived.
Poole, also gave an limited view of the Jamaican culture and the situation of evangelization faced by the Passionists. The two Kingston parishes, Poole noted, were “run almost like parishes in the States. The interior mission,” he continued, “is quite different.” Mandeville had an academy of 250 students, “mostly from South America;” it was conducted by Sister Clare, a Mercy Sister, who was assisted by three lay teachers. The Mandeville church had been owned by the Seventh Day Adventists; it had been purchased by Fr. Ford, S.J., through a third party. It was unknown how many Catholics were in the Mandeville area. Baptized Catholics, commented Poole, “make themselves known to the priest only when they want something.” Christiana had “some very good and exemplary Catholics.” About sixty Catholics, “mainly lower class and poor” resided in Porus. The church building in Balaclava was “cheaply constructed” but had “three native sisters” and a lay teacher teaching about one hundred little students. An academy had twenty-three boarders and seventy-eight non-residents. Mass was said in Balaclava every fourth Sunday. A “small nucleus” of Cross Keys Catholics attended Mass once a month. Pratville had a Mass “once a month but on a weekday. Very few people come.” Santa Cruz “has a yew Catholics and Mass is said in a private home once in a while.” Black River was served by Fr. Kemple, S.J., from Seaford Town. He said mass there once a month.
This is the established historical narrative. Oral history and social history of Passionist, Jesuit, and Jamaican sources can add necessary depth. We Passionists need to continue such an historical inquiry. Unless a historical perspective is available, the Gospel will be self-serving and have a limited notion of risk. Historical perspective is necessary to ask the correct questions so that the Congregation can serve the people, the world, and the Church.
June 1, 1994, Riverdale, NY