We all know that the church had a monumental impact on society, especially in the earlier centuries. It helped shaped societal customs and social norms, including ideology surrounding slavery, black people, women, etc. In fact, it is well-known that the church not only aided in starting slavery but also in maintaining it. But did you know that the church was an integral part of the abolishment of slavery as well?
Yup! Lookup a group called the Quakers.
In other words, the Church encompasses both well-intentioned good people as well as evil people and sadly, because they both exist within Christianity (or any religion for that matter), it’s hard to separate the evil from the good ones.
In the Bahamas, the idea of separating the two is even more difficult because even though some of the ideologies that the church taught or propagated were negative, and quite frankly, twisted, there are so many visibly tangible contributions of the Church.
One of those greatest contributions to the Bahamas would have had to be in education because, without the persistence of certain individuals within the church, the majority of us would not have the access to education as we do today. Additionally, almost all the major private schools are run by a specific denomination. Let’s take a look.
The Early Missionaries’ need to educate
Education in the Bahamas was always pushed by the Church. In fact, the very first attempt to educate the Bahamian
masses was through a religious group called The Society for Propagation of the Gospel in 1739. They were an Anglican missionary group that was funded by the Church of England.
They opened and operated a school called the ‘Free School’ which was located in modern-day Fox hill and catered to poor white boys (and, very rarely, a black boy). However, teachers were complaining that they were not getting paid. So to combat this, the 1746 education act made it mandatory for all men, no matter the race, between the ages of 16 and 60, to pay a tax of 1 shilling and 6 pence (which is equivalent to 50 cents) in order to compensate the teachers. Nonetheless, this taxation was short-lived and sadly, the school had to be discontinued.
Eventually, there were also groups of missionaries, who considered themselves non-conformists, that started visiting the Bahamas. They saw the need to educate black children but they were faced with two challenges:
- during this time, it was forbidden to teach a slave.
- They were only able to teach freed colored men during Sunday school.
This meant that instructional time was restricted to maybe 2 hours per week. Nonetheless, this did not deter them from trying.
These sub-missionary groups were not the only contributors. Entire denominations had helped shaped Bahamian education into what is now known today. However, their contributions can be considered controversial as many of them only catered to a certain aspect of Bahamian society for decades. These denominations include Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, and Roman Catholics.
The Anglican Archdiocese
The Anglican church’s presence can be dated all the way back to 1670. One of the first schools that was established
was the Free School (led by the SPG) in 1739. They were then placed in control of the Central school, the first public school of the Bahamas, under the 1821 Education Act. Since then, the Anglican Central Education Authority was established having 4 private schools under its belt:
- St John’s College, New Providence, Bahamas: this is the second high school to accept black students and it was established in 1947. It had 7 teachers and 135 students when it first opened.
- St Anne College, New Providence, Bahamas: established in 1955 because of a need for a school in the Fox Hill area. The parish hall was turned into 3 classrooms and the number of students that attended school during its first year was 26 with 6 teachers. Eventually, because of an influx of students, classes had to be held in the Churchyard underneath sapodilla and almond trees.
- Bishop Michael Eldon School, Freeport, Grand Bahama: it was first named Freeport Highschool but undergone a slight name change to Freeport Anglican Highschool right when it opened in 1965. In 1991, the Discovery Primary School was added to the Freeport Anglican Highschool’s campus and eventually, the name was changed again to Bishop Michael Eldon School.
- St Andrews Anglican School, Georgetown, Exuma: it was first established as a preschool in 1983. The Primary department was not established until 1995 and then the middle school followed in 2002.
Many people tend to disregard the fact that there were free black loyalists who relocated to the Bahamas because it is always assumed that anyone who was black was automatically considered a slave. Well, a freed black man, Joseph Paul, was one of the black loyalists who came to the Bahamas and was credited with being the first black man to introduce Methodism in not only black communities but in the entire Bahamas in 1786.
Additionally, he helped establish a school for blacks and free people of color that could have doubled as a way to teach Methodist philosophies as well. In this school, called The Associates School, he had 5 students in total. However, because of some external trouble, Paul was unable to continue it and he had moved to the Anglican faith.
The Methodist community did not get a new minister until 1800, who happened to a white Barbadian. This caused a change in the way the Methodist church contributed towards education.
By 1834, the Methodists had created day schools in Eleuthera that were primarily for white children and liberated Africans. Occasionally, the child of a slave may have been allowed to attend one of these days’ schools upon their master’s request.
Since then, there have been two schools that are listed underneath the Methodist church:
- Queen’s College, New Providence, Bahamas: the oldest private school in the Bahamas was established in 1890 but it was largely segregated. It is interesting to note that even though Bahamian white QC parents expressed strong desires to separate their children from other races while they were in school, there were a few colored children who were allowed in the mix, including Eugene Dupuch (the owner of the tribune/guardian). In 1948, Mr. Dupuch made a shocking speech at the Royal Victoria Hall stating that the white parents needed to start looking at children with different skin complexions with ‘Christian eyes.’ From then on, it is said that a lot of those outraged white parents moved on to create a white-only school (St Andrews). Eventually, there were strategies put in place by the Methodist church to make QC more representative of the majority population which forced integration.
- St Michael s Preschool, New Providence, Bahamas: was established in 1982 with the goal of educating kids between 3 & 4 in a safe learning environment.
The Baptists, along with the Methodists, are said to be two of the most contributing denominations towards
educating the black masses. The baptist faith can be traced back to 1790 with the building of Bethel Baptist Church and its founders Prince Williams and Sharper Morris (who were free black men).
This faith had become so influential, that they have built tertiary level institutions.
Schools that are listed under the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention includes:
- The Bahamas Baptist Community College (BCC), New Providence, Bahamas: This is the largest private tertiary institution and the second largest tertiary institution in the Bahamas. It was established in 1995 by Charles W. Saunders to offer certificates, Associates and Bachelor degrees in humanities, business and administrative studies, natural sciences and social sciences as well as college prep courses.
- Jordan Prince William Baptist School
- Charles W. Saunders Baptist School
The presence of the Catholic faith here in the Bahamas can be traced to 1887 when Rev. Charles George O’Keeffe was appointed as priest in the Bahamas.
Some of the Schools that are listed under the Catholic Board of Education includes:
- Sacred Heart Schools, New Providence, Bahamas: This school was established in 1889 by 2 individuals within The Sisters of Charity; Irene Gonzaga Batell, Maria Dodge. It started out as a summer sewing class which then evolved into an everyday school.
Xavier Academy/ Xavier Academy, New Providence, Bahamas: this is said to be the second oldest school and the very first Catholic school established in the Bahamas as it was established in 1890. But, according to the Catholic Board of Education’s website, there were three different Xavier’s: one was St Francis Xavier School (opened 1889 and closed 1979 to merge with St Josephs); St Francis Xavier Academy/Xavier Academy (opened 1890 but in 1955 was morphed into Xavier College); and Xavier College/Xavier Lower School (1955- present). Due to this insight, it would mean that, technically St Francis and St Joseph is the oldest school in the Bahamas (instead of Queen’s College) since it was merged with another school. I think it’s definitely something to inquire about. Another thing to note about this school is that it was also a segregated school for girls when it first opened and continued until 1967.
- St Augustine’s College (SAC), New Providence, Bahamas: It is said that this was the first secondary school that catered to the black majority. Its doors were opened in 1947 to 35 male students and 4 teachers. The classes lasted all day until 8 p.m so that students were able to study and it was the first Bahamian boarding school (but was discontinued in the 1970’s). In 1967, S.A.C (the all-boys school) merged with Xavier s School (the all-girls school) to become a co-ed high school but they still were taught in separate classrooms.
- St Thomas Moore, New Providence, Bahamas: opened in 1953 by The Sisters of Charity of New York
organization. They were sent to the Bahamas to do missionary work and they helped build several schools including Xavier s and Sacred Heart. When the school first opened, there were 3 Sisters of Charity posted at the school with 4 other teachers.
- St Cecilia, New Providence, Bahamas: opened in 1956 by Fr. Author Chapman with the help of the Sisters of Charity and Sisters of St Josephs of Canada organizations.
- Aquinas College, New Providence, Bahamas: opened in 1957 with the aid of five sisters from the Dominican Sisters organization who forwent business education at the school. They were also instrumental in creating a teacher training program for Bahamian nuns. Sadly both the business program and teacher training college had been discontinued 10 years afterward.
- St Francis de Sales School, Marsh Harbour, Abaco: established in 1964 by the Sacred Hearts Fathers, with the aid of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell and was exclusively a primary school located in New Providence. They didn’t move to Abaco until 1996 with the implementation of a high school.
- St Francis and Joseph School, New Providence, Bahamas: opened in 1979 by merging two previous schools, St Francis Xavier and St Josephs school (the fourth Catholic school that was opened in the Bahamas). Also, an interesting tidbit of information: St Francis Xavier s had implemented a high school in 1952 but that high school was discontinued to establish Aquinas College.
- Every Child Counts, Marsh Harbour, Abaco: established in 1997 out of a need to educate children with developmental delays and learning disabilities.
- Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy, Freeport Grand Bahama, Bahamas: established in 1960 with 20 students and 3 teachers. Rev. Bishop Paul Leonard Hagardy, Wallace Groves and the Grand Bahama Port Authority all aided in the construction of this school. In 2014, it then merged with Grand Bahama catholic school (created in 1966), who was the only school to offer academic and vocational certification to high school students on Grand Bahama.
- Our Lady of the Souls, New Providence, Bahamas: this school was established in 1926 by Sr. Carmita Maria and Sr. Mary Rosella in Grants town
There were 10 other schools that the Catholic had created but those schools were either closed or merged with another school after a few years. However, due to this extensive list, it can be well seen that the Catholics really vested time and money into education.
Now that you know the church’s contribution towards education, was their contribution substantial enough to ensure that the black Bahamian populace became equipped members of society? In other words, is it enough that these churches just erected schools for the segregated? Have they made any other substantial contribution to our society? I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions in the comment section below.