St Joseph's Convent (SJC) Port of Spain Past Pupils' Association (PPA) held its ninth biennial Hall of Excellence Induction Ceremony on Tuesday evening at the school in Port of Spain, where four outstanding alumnae and a Sister of St Joseph of Cluny were celebrated.
They are Sr Mary Jean Ayow – educator and sister of St Joseph of Cluny, Dr Maria Bartholomew – consultant gastroenterologist, Hazel Brown
– women's and consumer rights activist, Dr Paula Henry – doctor and founder of the HAIT&T Foundation and Dr Michele Monteil – clinical immunologist, researcher and medical educator
Giving the feature address was the Most Rev Charles Jason Gordon, Archbishop of Port of Spain speaking on Catholic Education, A Vision of Excellence,
The archbishop said: “We are at a crossroads in Catholic education and we have some very difficult decisions to make on the way forward.”
He spoke of Catholic education in its earliest days, when the Roman Empire fell, and the libraries of Europe were depleted, and passing traditions on to the future became more difficult.
He said the monasteries emerged before the Roman Empire fell, and there was a movement from the city to the dessert, because there was a rejection of the modern – what was happening in the city. The monasteries became places where learning, thinking and excellence emerged in agriculture, education and other spheres.
However, Gordon said somewhere Catholic education got lost along the way, and excellence in academia has overshadowed excellence in catholicity in the schools.
He said: “If we measure excellence by results and by scholarships, I think our secondary schools are doing very well.
"But if the excellence is measured by another measure – the measure that is actually what I am proposing is sole Catholic education, which is preparing a child for their vocation – then there is something that is radically missing, when we look at the aging population of our priests and our nuns, and not seeing younger people choosing a vocation in religious life, having come through Catholic education for seven years.
“Somehow we’ve missed excellence in the catholicity of our education. Somehow we’ve become excellent in academics, in sports and in many arenas, but the catholicity which is the very soul of the product, that is the one up for grabs.”
He said 20 years from now, if the Catholic church cannot recover its excellence in catholicity,
there won't be much to offer the generations that are emerging that will need depth, God and a sense of anchoring. As well, those future generations would need a sense of understanding human relationships and a sense of understanding why the Catholic church has a preferential option for the poor, and why welcoming migrants and refugees into a country is necessary, and why the church will always be there for those who are margins of society.
“So while today we are reflecting on excellence, and a vision for excellence, my vision is that we have to root the excellence in education in the excellence of the catholicity, and the way of transmitting that to the next generation.
"If we do that and we are excellent at that, all the children coming to our schools will leave with a rootedness of solidness and a character and a contribution, because every child would find education and every child living their vocation will make a contribution to the world, and the contribution they are meant to make by God. That will allow each one of them to become the best version of themselves, and that’s how we build a better nation,” said Gordon.
Earlier. PPA president Laurel Lezama Lee-Sing described the awardees as five extremely outstanding women who will forever be etched in the sacred Hall of Excellence, and whose legacies will forever guide within the sacred walls of SJC. She said: “The calibre of these women is unmatched and certainly inspires us.”
Lezama-Lee Sing listed several endeavours undertaken by the PPA in the last couple of years. Among them, was a store they opened at the school selling all things SJC, as well as opened a multipurpose health and wellness centre
at the school.
They also launched the Fifty@50 initiative, in which the class celebrating its 50th/golden anniversary is called upon to raise US$50,000
towards a capital project in the school.
She told the gathering that next month, the first international chapter of the PPA will be launched in Washington, DC.