Mary leads Providence Girls'
MARY leads at Providence Girls' Catholic School. Maria Duce: "Lead, Mary," its motto, represents the school's devotion to Jesus, Mary and the Roman Catholic faith that guides the staff of Providence in their teaching.
Newsday spoke with principal Zena Ojoe-Mark, vice principal Krisal Gorin, deans Krystle-Ann Steele, Sr Vanesa Manzano and head girl Micah Cipriani about the 160-year-old school's history and achievements.
"Mary leads and we are teaching our children our full Catholic faith. Each of our assemblies is about living the life of Christ, and Mary would intercede for us as his mother. We try to build their (the students') faith to guide them in our daily life. We teach there is strength in prayer and creating a relationship with Mary and Jesus," Ojoe-Mark said.
History of the little convent
Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey was the founder of the Cluny Sisters. Born on November 10, 1779 in Burgundy, France, Mother Javouhey was one of the first women to establish missionaries in Africa. In 1836, the Cluny sisters came to Trinidad and founded St Joseph's Convent, Port of Spain.
In 1860 the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny opened Providence as an elementary school, on the ground floor of the archbishop's house on Pembroke Street. It was part of St Joseph's Convent, Port of Spain, and fondly called "Little Convent" at the time. It occupied the St George's College building which had housed the first boys' college in the island, which subsequently closed down.
When St Joseph's Convent
expanded its school in 1937, Providence moved to 146 Belmont Circular Road, to the George F Huggins building, which was bought by Rev Mother Gabriel Mary, Sister Superior of St Joseph's Convent. That building is now the convent where the nuns live. By then, the school was an intermediate one.
As more of the sisters lived in St Joseph Convent on Pembroke Street in the 1930s, the nuns used to travel via horse and buggy back and forth to teach in Belmont.
In 1972 Providence moved to its current building on Belmont Hill.
Under principal Sr Regina Leiba, Providence went from an intermediate school to a five-year secondary school. At that time, the Ministry of Education was changing intermediate schools into either primary or secondary schools. In 1997 it introduced A-level studies in accounting, business studies, economics and general paper, becoming a seven-year-school.
Sr Regina was Ojoe-Mark's principal when she graduated in 1977. Patricia Ho-Koon, the first lay principal of the school, was appointed in 1992.
Providence girls who went to school between 1981 and 2002 would be familiar with the sound of a bell ringing, and three quick claps followed by the words, "Get to your classes ih-midg-it-ly (immediately)."
They knew Sr Philip Geofroy, was near. She was dean of discipline from 1982 and became vice principal in 2000. She also taught food and nutrition and religious education.
“You would hear Sister was on the floor and everyone would get quiet,” said Steele, who graduated from Providence in 2000.
The role of dean of discipline no longer exists, but Ojoe-Mark still continues the three-clap tradition.
The dean of discipline, she said, "was there to manage and maintain comportment, how to behave yourself, whether you're in school, out there on the street, or wherever you are. All now we've tried to maintain that level of discipline. It is a little challenging now, but we work at it," Ojoe-Mark said.
The school is a part of UNESCO's Creative Cities Project: Musical and Heritage Walk in Belmont because of its contribution to pan. Providence participated in pan activities in the late 1970s. Sr Regina introduced it to the school, though it was later inactive for a few decades. Providence resumed participation in the National Schools Panorama in 2014, teaming up with Queen's Royal College to become the Providence/QRC Steel Orchestra. They won that first year. The Providence Steel Ensemble won their pan categories in San Fest for 2020 and 2019.
A number of notable students attended Providence. Newsday's founding editor in chief, Therese Mills, attended the school, and the current newsroom includes old girls Camille Moreno, the Sunday editor, and the present writer.
Comedian Nikki Crosby; Avonelle Hector, head of NGO Is there Not a Cause; government minister Donna Cox; general manager of Republic Bank Anna-Maria Garcia-Brooks; Miss TT 2008 Gabrielle Walcott; radio personality Whitney Husbands; opera singer Natalia Dopwell; singer Marie Cartar; Womantra director Elysse Marcellin; and Stacey Siu Butt, former captain of TT's indoor hockey team, are all alumnae.
Providence has 585 students. The school has maintained 95-98 per cent full certificates in the past 20 years. It offers a diverse range of subjects.
"The academics are strong...We try to maintain a strong vocational core in our curriculum...Wherever their talents lie, they could find a place," Gorin said.
Marissa Leung won the President's Medal in 2004. Her picture still hangs in the school's office among the trophy cases of awards won by other students. In the past four years the school has won at least one scholarship every year.
This year, Mandy Mohan won an additional scholarship in natural sciences.
Gorin said the school has a strong art programme. Since Providence started doing art in form six, the girls have been getting ones. Teja Loutoo placed 11th in the country for unit one art and design and Aeryn Daniel-Joseph placed 33rd for unit two.
Arts and drama are particularly valued at Providence as a way for the students to work through their emotions or learn through theatre. Their assemblies are usually filled with skits and presentations to inform the students. Everything from family relations to the Church's influence in Carnival can be discussed.
The staff of Providence is particularly proud of its drama club, and for three years now, the school has put on a show.
"We have a vibrant drama club that comes alive for the concert as they get to showcase their talent. We get girls who act, sing and dance. We try to highlight in the concert all the cultural aspects of the school. We have an art exhibition before the show starts. We incorporate the choir, the soloists, the pan and folk dance. Our choir mistress is Natalia Dopwell. The foundation part of the concert is the drama," Gorin said,
This year's production is called Glory. Cipriani is the lead of the show. It will be held at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) on April 25.
Aside from arts and drama, the girls take part in activities such as tagby (a type of rugby),
swimming, netball and track and field. Last year Nicola Pesnell competed in the Girls Under 20 4x400 relay at Carifta 2019. She'll be at Carifta again this year.
Students also participate in Girl Guides, Legion of Mary and Cadets.
The school was historically taught by nuns but not many women are choosing that path. Sr Vanesa made a call for young women to seriously consider becoming nuns as few women now take up the ministry.
"We need more vocations. It is a ministry and people are saying they want to see sisters in the schools, but if people don't become sisters, (or) encourage their children to see it as a vocation, it will never happen,” she said.
What makes a Providence girl?
Cipriani said being a Providence student is more than just attending the school.
"First of all, your attitude towards your school environment, towards your academics and towards being an all-round person. Comportment is very important."
Cipriani is an upper six student who is preparing to leave Providence. She's studying management, business, economics and geography, and though undecided about her career, she has political aspirations. She considers Providence her second home.
"I love everything about Providence. I would not change my mind to go anywhere else. This school makes me feel at home. The interaction with teachers and students makes me feel comfortable. We have the fun aspects, the serious aspects and the spiritual aspects, which I love."
She said Providence is all about kindness, comportment and a willingness to help one's classmates
"Yes, we have the competitive aspects, but we are still looking out for each other. It has been inculcated in us for a long time. In assembly we were told: 'If you see your friends or anybody having difficulties in any area, try and help them.'
"It is not just about your betterment, but the betterment of your sisters."
"Mary leads Providence Girls’"