Our History

St. Joseph’s Convent San Fernando – A Brief History

St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando shares the philosophy of education common to all the St. Joseph’s Convents, located here in Trinidad and Tobago and around the world.

In Trinidad, the St Joseph’s Convent was founded in the city of Port of Spain in 1836 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, whose foundress, Blessed Anne Marie Jahouvey, was concerned with the development of each human being to the full measure of perfection intended by God.  A guiding principle of our school, as passed on by Blessed Anne Marie, is for the liberation of people from all forms of oppression and ignorance.

The Establishment of St. Joseph’s Convent in the City of San Fernando.

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

St. Joseph’s Convent (Cluny building – Harris Promenade
This building is listed on the Heritage Asset Register (the official list of Trinidad and Tobago’s historic sites that are worthy of notation and preservation. The register is authorized by the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago.

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 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, as well as 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.

This photo was taken around 1977. In 1983, advanced dereliction and termite damage induced the demolition of this historic building.
(Photo credit: Angelo Bissessarsingh)

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.

Colour painting of St. Joseoh’s Convent San Fernando with Convent Cluny building (left background). Source – ABWMOTT

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 became 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 included the implementation of when middle management structures and establishing procedures that defined how things should be done.

Sr. Phyllis 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

South Wing (Forms 3 & 4, Staff lounge, Prayer room, IT facilities, science labs, old Principal’s office)
North Wing (Forms 5 & 6, Library, audio visual labs); Auditorium (offices, language labs, seminar room)

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 was 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 and always cautioned them never to settle for mediocrity. She was extremely happy when ‘at risk’ students benefitted from the care and concern of staff and peers to grow in self-esteem and confidence and to quote her, “It confirms that everything we do inside of here is worthwhile.”

In 2019, she was awarded the Public Service Medal of Merit National award for the Education and Empowerment of Young Women. Sadly, in November 2019, Sister Phyllis passed away. 

Sister Phyllis has bequeathed to St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando a rich legacy. In September 2004, Mrs. Dinna Rajpaul-Bainey assumed the duties of Acting Principal after Sister Phyllis’ retirement.  Mrs. Manwaring took over from Mrs. Bainey some years later. 

Currently, the school is ably led by Mrs. East who remains committed to upholding the values of St. Joseph’s Convent San Fernando and creating future generations of Women Of Worth.

                                                    (Source: The Angelo Bissessarsingh Virtual Museum of T&T)