HISTORY OF SJHS
TO KNOW - TO LOVE - TO SERVE
St. Joseph High School is a government school located in Georgetown, Guyana and serves
students in grades 7-12.
“The Sisters shall feel convinced that no work of charity can be more productive of good to society or more conducive to the happiness of the poor than the careful instruction of women.” This was the conviction that led the Sisters of Mercy, a community of Roman Catholic nuns, to establish St. Joseph’s Mercy High School in 1897, three years after they launched their mission in Guyana.
The School began with secondary education classes given to a few girls in the Sisters’ Community Room at Dettering Hall, a former Dutch residence, located in the Charlestown ward of Georgetown. In 1899, it became a Boarding School, with Mother Columbia, a
trained dramatist, as its first Principal. She served for twenty three years (1897–1920), and, during her tenure, the School produced dramatic performances.
She was succeeded by Guyanese born Sister Gabriel Fernandes, who engineered the expansion of the School with the construction of a new two-storied building at the corner of Charles and Holmes Streets in 1925. The new building brought space for more classrooms and a separate Drama hall, where more performances were staged. To cope with the rapid growth of the School, the Sisters appealed to the Mercy Center in the United States for help, and, in 1935, Sisters Mary Consolata Muldowney, Austin and Clarita were the first American Sisters to join the staff at St. Joseph’s. At the same time, the Boarding
facility was closed to make room for the increased number of day students.
In 1938, under the direction of Sister Mary Elizabeth Robinson, a commercial business department was added. The demand for this specialty grew so rapidly that an annex was built in 1939 to accommodate these students. The new three-storied structure also accommodated an Infant School department, which admitted both girls and boys.
By 1939, St. Joseph High School was recognized by the University of London as a secondary school.
In 1944, the Sisters celebrated their fiftieth anniversary since their arrival in Guyana, and this event was made more memorable with the award of the coveted British Guiana Scholarship to a St. Joseph High School student, Elsa Gouveia.
As the demand for more classes grew, more expansion took place at the School. In 1950, an Art
department was introduced. With all these developments, the School did not receive any
financial aid from the government. One of its main sources of funding was the income generated from its annual “Tour Around the World” fair held around mid-year. At this fair, cultural displays and tastes of various countries, such as Ireland, England, Spain, India and China were presented.
Old Girls’ Association
Another important milestone in the School’s history was the establishment of the Old Girls’
Association in 1953. The three-fold mission of the organization was:
- To promote a bond of friendship among its members and loyalty to the School
- To help in the progress of their Alma Mater by providing scholarships among other
- To provide for the spiritual and social aspect of its members.
Among the many activities organized by the Association were weekend spiritual retreats, garden
parties and the publication of a magazine. Funds were also raised for the School’s Building Fund. In 1956, the organization granted its first award. This was given to the School’s best all-round student, and won by Josephine DeAbreu, a Third Form student at the time. The Association also presented a Public Address system to the School, which was especially welcomed for Assembly.
Board of Governors
After thirty-five years of dedicated service, Sister Gabriel retired in 1954. She was succeeded by Sister Mary Consolata Muldowney. During Sr. Consolata’s tenure at the helm, a Board of Governors for the School was established; this was in 1955. Its first members were: Sisters Consolata and Elizabeth Robinson, Patricia O’Connor, Aldora D’Ornellos, Celestine DeFreitas and Carlos Gomes. During this same year, Home Economics classes were introduced under the direction of Sister Margaretta Phillips, and at this juncture, enrollment had risen to about 620
By this time, the Preparatory section was relocated to another building under a new name, Stella Maris. This made way for further development at St. Joseph High, and, in 1957, a Science department was added, with Sister Mary Emerentia Bowyer in charge. The main subjects taught were Biology and Health Education. Towards the end of the decade, the Charlestown district was rezoned as an industrial site. This meant that the School had to be relocated. It was moved to Woolford Avenue, in the Thomas Lands section, starting a new era for St. Joseph High School.
On March 25, 1960, ground breaking for the new construction took place. This was followed by laying of the cornerstone on July 2, 1961 and formal blessing/opening on October 4th. The new building boasted a spacious foyer, airy classrooms, Art room, Biology and Home Economics labs. Heading the Biology Department was Sister Celine Marie Kirsch, who arrived in Guyana in 1960. The construction of the new school opened the way for greater success. In addition to Science, Mathematics, History, Foreign Languages and English, Art, Business, Needlework and Cookery also made the curriculum. Also, through the hard work of Sister
Consolata, university boards gave permission for the Oxford and Cambridge examinations to be written at the School.
In an effort to cater to the all-round development of the girls, the School introduced supervised
games and other extra-curricular activities, such as drama and ballet. Sports were given a boost
with the development of the grounds at the eastern end, thanks mainly to the assistance of Joseph and Everest Vieira, M.J. Mahanger and the Georgetown Town Council. Sister Consolata stepped down in 1964 and returned to the United States. For the next five
years, the School was led by Sister Mary Ellen; after which time, Sister Mary Admirabilis, the second Guyanese born nun to be appointed to the head post took over. Coinciding with the Sisters’ 75th anniversary, in 1969, the newly constructed northern wing was blessed open. This section housed the Biology, Chemistry and Physics Labs, the Home
Economics and Technical Departments, the Cafeteria and the expansive Patio.
The decade of the seventies ushered in dramatic changes. Sister Therese Marie Marques was promoted to Principal in 1971, and within her first two years in this position, the curriculum was revamped to meet the requirements of National Development. Under the new system, courses like Craft, Co-operative Development, Homemaking, School Leaving and West Indian Literature were added. In 1973, Red Cross officials were also invited to form a unit in the School that offered courses in Home Nursing, Maternal and Child Care services and First Aid. In this same year, the School received confirmation of its Grade A status from the Ministry of Education. New House and Merit systems were also introduced in 1973 to provide students with incentives
for good conduct and citizenship. The following year, a Diploma system, emphasizing both academic performance and personality assessment, was introduced.
In 1975, complying with a government mandate, St. Joseph High School officially became a co-educational institution. For the first time, boys were admitted to the lower forms. For some years before this, the School had been admitting boys to its Sixth Form program, so not too many physical alterations had to be made.
The 70’s and 80’s were some challenging years for the School. Although the Sisters had virtually lost the freedom to direct the School’s operation, Sister Therese Marie cooperated fully with the government but when she resigned in December 1983, that ended the dynasty of the Sisters of Mercy at St. Joseph High School.
The following year, history was created when, for the first time, a male, Mr. Guru Govind, was appointed as Headmaster in an acting capacity. Months later, he left to reside in the United States and was succeeded by Mr. Shivraj, who also served for a short period.
In 1984, the new school year began with a newly appointed Principal, Mr. Arthur Brown, who has been described as a disciplinarian and hard worker, has also been credited for restructuring the curriculum to sustain a high degree of discipline and improved academic standards. He is also credited for ensuring that the cafeteria was operated in the best interest of the students and for engaging the co-operation of the Parent Teachers Association in carrying out projects that benefited the School.
Mr. Brown left in 1988 and was succeeded by Mrs. Joan Kendall. Some of the highlights of Mrs. Kendall’s eight-year tenure were improved exam results, refurbishment of school facilities and the establishment of an Environmental Club and Class Councils. These Councils were formed to foster better relationships among parents, teachers and students. Apart from ensuring that classrooms were always kept in a clean and tidy manner, Class Councils played a meaningful role in helping to promote the social, academic and moral development of the child. Mrs. Kendall is also credited with restoring the observance of St. Joseph Day on March 19, at the school.
Taking over from Mrs. Kendall after her retirement in 1996 was Ms. Gloria Croft who acted in the position for one year and was replaced by Ms. Brenda Garrett who subsequently retired in 2001.
Mrs. Ingrid Fung then became Headmistress and held that position until 2006 and was followed by Ms. Gail Primo. Ms. Primo served as Headmistress from 2006 through 2015 and following her departure, Mr. Nathram Raghubansi assumed the role of Headmaster in an acting capacity from April 2015 through the end of September 2018. On October 1, 2018, Mr. Raghubansi was appointed as the official Headmaster and continues to hold that position
MORE FACTS ABOUT THE SCHOOL TO COME