The Trinidad Province

Source:  Called to Serve Marie Thérèse Retout O.P.

The Dominican Sisters of the French Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena came to Trinidad on March 26, 1868 at the request of the Most Reverend Louis Joachim Gonin, O.P, Archbishop of Port of Spain on behalf of the Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon.  The task for which they were needed was to care for the victims of Hansen’s disease who lived at the Leprosarium in Cocorite.  After one year of preparation, five Sisters travelled to Trinidad.  It was a momentous occasion for the Congregation since they were venturing into the unknown.  In response to criticism that he was sacrificing the sisters by bringing them to work at the leprosarium, the Governor is reported to have said:  “I have always thought that to cure such ills, of soul as well as body, something more is needed than paid-for devotion;  to my mind it seemed that it required Christian charity, the charity which sees above all in the sick and the poor the living members of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  It was the plan of the Governor that the sister take one month to rest and become acclimatised before commencing their duties.  However, they rested for only two weeks for it was said by Sr. Marie Dominique that “As much as we came to bring relief to these poor people it is to them that we must go without any more delay, the good Lord will protect us”.  The sisters began their duties at the leprosarium on Good Friday 1868. In response to an appeal for more persons to work at the leprosarium, four more sisters volunteered to travel to Trinidad.  In 1869 sisters began to work at the Ariapita Asylum as well.  Upon further request, Mother Saint Dominic sent six more sisters in June 1869 to work at Cocorite.  In 1926 the sisters moved to the island of Chacachacare where a new “Hansenian Settlement” had been established.  Their ministry to the patients who lived there continued until October 1950.

In the ensuing years, the Dominican Sisters of St.Catherine of Siena continued to serve the people of Trinidad and Tobago in a number of ways.  They began to work at St. Dominic’s Children’s Home in Belmont in 1876, began to help run the Catholic Printery located on the premises of Holy Name Convent in the 1890s as well as a training centre for girls, opened a private school in 1902, St. Dominic’s Secondary Private School in 1958, Veritas House of Prayer in Point Fortin in 1982 and the University of the West Indies Catholic Chaplaincy in 1973 and Holy Name Convent Secondary School, Point Fortin in 2000.

It is important to point out that the appeal for Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena to serve in Trinidad and Tobago came less than ten years after the small community was officially declared a religious congregation.  Therefore, it was still a young congregation.  The willingness of Mother St. Dominic of the Cross to accept the challenge to establish a foundation in what would have been a relatively unfamiliar country at that time, was testimony to the missionary spirit and fearless zeal that animated the Congregation in its early days.  A number of the Sisters who came to work at the Trinidad mission and devoted their lives to the people of God in this country died here.  Many had never ever returned home.