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Jesuit Missions in British Honduras #456100
01/23/13 10:34 AM
01/23/13 10:34 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 72,769
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

With their departure from St Stephen's in 1891 the middlewestern Jesuits were again left without any Indian mission to administer. But Father Luis Martin, elected General of the order in 1893, was of the mind that the Missouri Province, in default of field-work among American aborigines, should undertake some or other foreign mission as a means of fostering the apostolic spirit among its members. In 1893 he asked of the province an expression of opinion as to whether it would be in a position in a few years to take in charge the Mission of the Zambesi in South Africa. A meeting of superiors and former superiors, which convened in St Louis, April 4, 1893, declared against the proposition. It was thought that the Zambesi was too remote, the travelling expenses for missionaries going thither from America being almost prohibitive. The climate, too, would prove oppressive for Americans. Further, the Bishops of the United States would look askance at a foreign mission conducted for Negroes, when millions of Negroes in the United States furnished a field for apostolic effort nearer home.

In fine, "Our Province is a quasi-mission. The colleges are inadequately staffed with teachers, and are without endowments or adequate financial means. Further, the Province is without a seminary for its theological students. In fine, many of the Province members, for the reason that the Province was a quasi-mission, have left home and country to labor here ad Mayorem Dei Gloriam." As far as the cultivation of the apostolic spirit in the province was necessary at the moment, this might be promoted by sending men to Alaska or South America or other regions where their services could be utilized to excellent purpose.

The difficulty of geographical remoteness that militated against the acceptance of the Zambesi Mission did not obtain, at least in the same measure, in the case of British Honduras, the spiritual care of which Father Martin assigned to the Missouri Province in 1893. This colony was at that time and is still organized ecclesiastically as the Vicariate apostolic of Belize, which comprises the entire Crown Colony of British Honduras, Central America. British Honduras is bounded by the Mexican province of Yucatan on the north and by Guatemala on the south and west while its eastern edge is washed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea. Belize, government headquarters of the colony and its chief town and seaport, lies eight hundred and sixty miles south by west of New Orleans. The vicariate-apostolic counted in 1930 besides a bishop, twenty-two priests of the Society of Jesus, nine churches with resident priests, fifty-four mission-churches, fifty-seven stations, and a Catholic population of approximately twenty-nine thousand. Belize has a population of about thirteen thousand, one-fourth of which is Catholic.

The stations outside of Belize where there are one or more Jesuit priests in residence are Corozal and Orange Walk in the north, the former on the coast, the latter in the interior on New River, Stann Creek and Punta Gorda in the south, both on the coast, and Cayo and Benque Viejo in the extreme west near the Guatemala border. Communication between the various stations must be made for the most part by boat or on horseback over forest trails where one has often to cut a way with a hatchet through the dense tropical growth. "It is almost impossible," writes Father William T. Kane, a sometime Jesuit resident of the colony, "even to estimate with anything like accuracy the racial proportions of the population. Perhaps rather more than two fifths are of more or less Indian descent, another two-fifths, negroes, are the products of miscegenation, of the remainder some three thousand are a mongrel black people improperly styled Caribs, three hundred or so are whites, the rest are unclassified and unclassifiable The Indians are chiefly Mayas, descendants of the ancient Toltecs, coppercolored, with high cheek bones and almond eyes. Many of them speak Spanish of a sort, amongst the blacks a barbarized English prevails under the linguistic title of 'Creole,' quite unintelligible to English speaking people. The Caribs speak an African dialect into which, in a curious manner, many French words have crept." {Catholic Encyclopedia, 7*450.)

The Catholics on the whole are a church-going people, loyal to their pastors and fairly regular in observance of their religious duties. But they have their share of human frailties. "In this tropical land," witnesses a Belize pastor, "everything tends to make people lead an easy life. Concubinage is not looked down upon as it should be and drunkenness is common. It is particularly difficult to bring home to an Indian or Carib the solemn duty of having their marriages blessed by the Church. There is no decisive public opinion against illicit relations between the sexes and couples unlawfully cohabiting may continue to do so without loss of social standing. But much has been achieved by the missionaries in the way of rooting out the evil and in a particular station (Benque Viejo) the rate of concubinage was brought down from eighty-five to twelve per cent."

The first priest known to have visited the colony appears to have been the Franciscan friar, Fray Antonio, who in 1832 was ministering to a small group of Catholic refugees settled in Mullins River, a village a few miles south of Belize. In 1848 occurred the first notable increase in the Catholic population of the colony when seven thousand Spanish refugees, driven out of Yucatan by Indian uprisings, settled within its borders. Some Jesuits passing through British Honduras in 1850 were asked by the refugees to secure them pastors. The result was that the following year, 1851, the Vicar-apostolic of Jamaica, a Franciscan, in whose jurisdiction British Honduras was included, visited Belize in person bringing with him two Jesuits, Fathers Dupont and Dupeyron. The latter were placed in charge of the local congregation. Other members of the Society followed them in succeeding years, churches and schools were built throughout the colony, and stations with resident priests, eight in number, were established at various points outside of Belize. The mission thus organized was placed under care of the Jesuit province of England. In view of the difficulty of communication between Jamaica and British Honduras the latter territory was in 1888 erected into an autonomous prefecture-apostolic with Father Salvatore Di Pietro, a Sicilian Jesuit, who had spent many years in the colony and had been three times superior of the mission, named as first prefect-apostolic. Five years later, in 1893, British Honduras was made a vicariate and the prefect-apostolic, Di Pietro, appointed vicarapostolic. He was consecrated in Belize under the title of Bishop of Eurea and governed the Church in British Honduras with devoted zeal for six years, being succeeded on his death by Father Frederick C Hopkins, S.J , who was consecrated Bishop in St. Louis, November 5, 1899. Bishop Hopkins, after a quarter-century of an unusually energetic and strenuous career in the episcopal ministry, met death by drowning in 1924 and was followed as head of the Vicanate-apostolic of Belize by Father Joseph A. Murphy, S J., of St. Louis University, who was consecrated Bishop March 19, 1924. Like his predecessor he received episcopal consecration in the College (Jesuit) Church, St Louis.

Though the Mission of British Honduras had passed into the hands of the St. Louis Jesuits in 1893, the duties of superior of the Jesuits resident in the colony continued to be discharged by Bishop Di Pietro up to his death in 1898. After this an arrangement was introduced by which the Jesuits received their own superior appointed by the Father General, though in all matters pertaining to the parochial ministry they remained under the jurisdiction of the Bishop. Father William J. Wallace thus became superior, March, 1900, of the Jesuit Mission of British Honduras He was succeeded in the office in turn by Fathers William A. Mitchell, John F. Neenan, Joseph B Kammerer, Anthony H. Corey and Marvin M O'Connor.

At the period of the transfer of British Honduras to the Missouri Jesuits, Belize had its Catholic select school, established in 1887 by Father Cassian Gillet, S J., with an initial attendance of two boarders and twelve day-scholars. The boarding-department soon succumbed, but the day-school was maintained with a fair measure of success. At the same time Bishop Di Pietro felt that the educational needs of the colony could not be met without a boarding-school. Moreover, a great good was to be realized by providing school facilities of higher grade for the Catholic youth of the neighboring Central American republics, which were notably behindhand in this respect. Belize was easily accessible from these republics and enjoyed, besides, the inestimable advantage of stable government. Funds were accordingly collected both in the colony and the states for the erection in the rear of the presbytery or fathers' residence of a moderately sized building, in which on February 3, 1896, a boarding and day school under the name of St. John's College was formally opened with Father William J. Wallace, S J., as director. The boarding-school was discontinued after a few years but was subsequently reopened though its maintenance in the contracted quarters in which it was installed became increasingly difficult. Finally, Father William A. Mitchell, superior of the mission, acquired from the government a piece of property of twenty-five acres abutting on the sea a mile or so beyond the southern limits of the town. Here was erected in 1916 a building of impressive appearance, having a front of two hundred and sixty-two feet and a depth of seventy It was constructed of wood, other building material not being easily obtainable in the colony. Later years saw the erection of a gymnasium and of the Fusz Memorial Chapel, named for a benefactor in the states. With the opening of the new St. John's College the registration began to rise, standing in 1929 at ninety. As a dispenser of serious and well balanced education of the Jesuit type, St. John's College, Belize, achieved a place of its own in the educational life of Central America.

But its career was abruptly cut short. With the complete destruction of its buildings accompanied with appalling loss of life among faculty members and students alike in the great hurricane of September 11, 1931, the institution ceased to be. The Jesuits, eleven in number, who died on the tragic occasion were. Fathers Francis J. Kemphues, Bernard A. New, Charles M. Palacio, Leo A. Rooney, William J. Tracy, William S Ferris, the scholastics Alfred A. Bauermeister, Deodat I. Burn, Richard F. Koch, Richard W. Smith, and the coadjutor-brother, John B. Rodgers.

Much of human interest and edifying tenor may be written of these American Jesuits at work in the sub-tropics. The name of Father William A. Stanton would alone lend lustre to the record of Jesuit missionary activity in British Honduras. As a scholastic he had served as an instructor in St. John's College, Belize, and after his ordination saw missionary service for some years in the Philippines. Then he found his way back to British Honduras, arriving in the colony on October 10, 1905. Thirteen days later he set out with Bishop Hopkins for Benque Viejo in the heart of the bush where it creeps up to the Guatemala border. Benque was reached November 1. Attempts had previously been made to establish a mission at this point but without result. This was the task to which Father Stanton now addressed himself and in which he scored an obvious success, the mission of Benque looking to him as its founder. He had with him on his arrival some tinned provisions, a few cooking utensils, one set of white Mass vestments, an altar stone and a few odds and ends of household furniture.

For the first few months he lived in a borrowed Indian hut of thatch while the people were building him a house, doing his own cooking and turning hunter when he needed meat. Some seeds which he obtained from the states enabled him to begin what turned out to be a successful vegetable garden. Meanwhile, during the first four months when he was without a companion priest, he managed to visit thirty of the forty pueblos in the district, preaching in Spanish and Maya, baptizing and otherwise performing his pastoral functions. His parishioners were Maya-speaking Petenero Indians, who had moved from the nearby Petan district of Guatemala; but they were without trace of Spanish blood and in this respect unlike the Yucatacan Indians of Orange Walk and Corozal, also Maya-speaking. For a space of four years the young missionary went on discharging his remarkable ministry at Benque, forgetting self, courting hardships, helping his people to better themselves in spiritual and economic ways. But while his apostolic career, brimming over with energy and zeal, was thus running at high tide, he was seized with a deadly internal cancer and reduced to helplessness.

He made a long and painful journey for medical aid to St. Louis, where he died at forty on March 10, 1910. His life, an inspiring one from any point of view, has been engagingly written by a fellow-Jesuit. Father Stanton sustained in his own brief span of life one of the cherished traditions of his order, the combination of missionary zeal with scientific research. His studies in Honduranean and Philippine fauna and flora were persistent and of a sort that issued in distinct contributions to these important fields of knowledge.

In the summer of 1921 St. John's College underwent in the Providence of God the most harrowing experience in all its history next to the great tragedy of 1931 that brought it to an end. Yellow-fever, brought in by some newly hired servants, broke out within its walls and took a toll of four lives, two in the faculty and two in the student body. The brother-infirmanan, Charles Studer, a native of Washington, Missouri, where he was born in 1869, was called on August 29. Twelve days before, on the 17th, he had begun nursing the patients who were down with the contagion. Three days later, reluctantly and only under peremptory orders from the physician, he took to bed, having himself contracted the disease. On the tenth day he felt that the end was at hand and declared himself more than willing to go to meet the Master.

Fortified with the last rites of the Church, he died calmly, meriting in view of the peculiar circumstances of his death the name which recurs with frequency in Jesuit history, a "martyr of charity." Brother Studer, though not a professionally trained nurse, was a past master in the art of tending the sick. He was at all times quietly and unobtrusively efficient and on all counts an excellent example of the type of coadjutor-brother which in the mind of St Ignatius best serves the purposes of the Society of Jesus. One who knew him intimately wrote that "he never seemed to get tired and he never shirked an unpleasant task."

The same yellow-fever epidemic of 1921 carried off the scholastic, Gabriel Bachner, on September 10 of that year, his illness having lasted ten days. He had arrived at Belize only the month before, having volunteered for the mission while a student of philosophy in a Spanish scholasticate. H e was born in Cincinnati, January 6, 1895, and was only twenty-six when he passed away. He had been an office-boy to Father Francis Finn, S.J., the writer of Catholic juveniles, whom he greatly admired and whose literary career as a writer for the young he hoped one day to imitate, for he himself wielded a ready pen. "I am glad to go to Honduras," he said on receiving his appointment to Belize, "though I did not ask for that post in particular. I believe we do best by leaving the whole disposition of ourselves to our Superiors. To this day I do not know why I was sent to Spain. Certainly I did not ask for it. With God's grace I shall never try to fix my own destination but leave it in His hands and those of His representatives on earth." Of certain undoubtedly real discomforts he spoke as being of such a nature that "any Jesuit blessed with health as I am would be ashamed to complain of them They will never hurt anyone." Gabriel Bachner was of a prepossessing appearance, tall and physically strong, and he struggled with a man's strength against the progress of the dread disease, but the end was peaceful and came while his brothers in religion were praying at his bedside. "His body was taken to the hospital by boat for burial preparation at about six o'clock. The sea was almost dead calm. The sun was setting beside the college. In the Kraal and in the yard the boys had placed themselves here and there in silent groups.

A little nearer the water's edge, his fellow Jesuits stared seaward, where, under the dark canopy of clouds, the tiny boat, seeming to stand up out of the water, carried away the white shrouded figure out of their sight."

Bishop Frederick C. Hopkins, S.J., a native of Birmingham, England, where he was born in 1844, had spent thirty-six years in active service in British Honduras, twelve as a priest and twenty-four as bishop, when death claimed him with abruptness at the age of seventy nine. During all these years he was a conspicuous figure in the civil and religious life of the colony. His energy and zeal in the discharge of his pastoral duties were untiring. When almost an octogenarian he was still travelling about his vicariate on official business and it was while voyaging to Corozal to make his annual visitation of the northern district that he met his tragic death in the Caribbean Sea on April 10, 1923. He had boarded an unseaworthy old hulk with other passengers, men, women and children, almost seventy in number.

At two in the morning, when the boat was within seven miles of Corozal, the cry was suddenly raised that she had sprung a leak and was rapidly sinking. There was consternation on board and a wild scramble for lifebelts, boxes, barrels, anything that would float. Above the uproar rose the Bishop's voice, "save the women and children first." But his plea was disregarded. Nearly all the women and children perished while the Bishop was the only man aboard to lose his life.

Two days later his disfigured body was picked up on the Yucatan coast. "He was as near sainthood as any man we ever met," wrote the editor of the Clanon, a secular weekly of Belize. "During the whole period of his long stay in the Colony no one, we venture to say, has been better known as a staunch friend of the Colony and as an active worker for the betterment of its people, materially, morally and spiritually. Devoted as his Lordship has been to spiritual works, absorbed, we may say, in sacred duties, it is a marvel how active he has been along other lines and how admirably public spirited he has shown himself at every call." This was the impression Bishop Hopkins made on the outside world. On his fellow-workers in the ministry the impression he made was that of a man extraordinarily devoted and singleminded in the pursuit of duty. "His talents, whether great or small," wrote two of them in a joint tribute to his memory, "he made the most of and with God's help the work he succeeded in producing is a masterpiece."


Re: Jesuit Missions in British Honduras [Re: Marty] #456121
01/23/13 02:53 PM
01/23/13 02:53 PM
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,461
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