In 1882, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny came to the south and established a Convent and a school in the town of San Fernando.

In 1891, a new school was built and in the 1920s, the Secondary School came of age and presented its first candidates for the Overseas Cambridge Examination with outstanding success.

This was due to the zeal and dynamism of Sr. Elizabeth Smyth who pioneered secondary education in the San Fernando Convent.

In 1934, the foundation stone was laid for a new building, which was finished, in the following year. The Convent school continued to flourish and during the forties further classroom accommodation was provided through the acquisition of the Army and Red Cross huts. Domestic Science was added to the curriculum to train the girls in cooking and Home Management.

As numbers began to grow The Montano building across the road, was purchased to meet the ever-increasing demand for school places. The residence provided classrooms, staff room, library, Art and Commercial rooms, and grounds for netball and tennis, Guide meetings and sporting activities. The residence was named ‘St. Philomena’s’ after Mother Philomena Butler, former Superior and Principal.

The School, in 1950, presented its first three pupils for the Higher School Certificate Examinations and in 1955, with 520 pupils on roll, and 14 in the HSE class, one of the girls – Kimlyn Ching (the late Dr. Laurence) – won the Queen Elizabeth Coronation scholarship.

In 1957, Sr. Francis Xavier Urich was appointed Principal and added Drama, Music and Singing to those activities such as Sport and Guiding, which developed, and cultivated character and responsibility. The standard of teaching and student application was improved.

Sr. Paul D’Ornellas was the next Principal in 1965 and built the Science laboratories on the Montano property to meet the demand for Science in the curriculum. Sr. Paul’s energetic leadership ensured the success of the school in the Cambridge examinations and notable results testified to the quality of the teaching staff and the serious application of the pupils.

In 1973, Sr. Theresa Corbie became the Principal and erected the three-storey building on the south side of the quadrangle, giving more space to classrooms. On Sr. Theresa’s retirement in July 1985, Sr. Phyllis Wharfe succeeded her as Principal.

Sr. Phyllis can be credited for improving the school academically and boosting the performance of both staff and students through a variety of new programs and initiatives.

She quickly made her presence felt by recognizing there was a great deal of change to be implemented. This was a time when middle management structures were put into place, and procedures were being established that defined how things should be done in here.

Sister Phyllis has conducted a comprehensive building programme. She was responsible for the North wing, which houses the fourth and fifth forms, and in 2000, we saw the completion of another three-storey building housing the long awaited Auditorium. She was constantly refurbishing and changing use of existing spaces.

Sr. Phyllis’ vision and drive then brought to reality a number of new facilities for Science, Food Technology, Art, Library, fully equipped IT labs, several multi-media facilities and the prayer room. Her care and concern for staff is evident by her investment in the expansion of the staff room as well as the provision of a staff lounge and lunch area. Under her tenure, she initiated and supported procurement of technological tools, equipment, and space.

Sister Phyllis has admitted that her most challenging role has been in education where she sees herself as facilitating the development of people, not just teaching subjects but helping young people to look critically at society and to dream what society can become with their input. Sister always challenged the students to become women of worth. It was her mantra. She would often say to them, “To whom much is given much is expected.” She recognized their innate talents and that they have a valuable contribution to make to society. Sister always cautioned them never to settle for mediocrity. I know that she is extremely happy when ‘at risk’ students benefit from the care and concern of staff and peer, and grow in self-esteem and confidence. This is wonderfully rewarding and to quote her, “It confirms that everything we do inside of here is worthwhile.”

Sister Phyllis retired in September 2004 and Mrs. Dinna Rajpaul-Bainey assumed the duties of Acting Principal. Sister Phyllis has bequeathed to St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando a rich legacy. Mrs. Bainey remains committed to treasure it, to guard it well and build on the solid tradition of excellence, that she and the Sisters before her has laid down

The leadership of St. Joseph’s Convent continues to effect the total development of each student by means of an intellectual formation according to the capacity of each, coupled with a clear doctrinal instruction in our Religious classes. Our purpose is to mould women who will not simply fit into society but contribute to our society through constructive leadership keeping in mind the watchwords of integrity, excellence and service.

Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny in the Caribbean

Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey