March 1857 marked the beginning of an organized mission by The Society of Jesus in British Guiana with the arrival of James Etheridge, SJ and two Italian companions, Aloysius Emiliani from the Roman Province, and Fr Clement Negri from Naples. Six more Jesuits arrived 8 months later in November. The situation facing Etheridge was to proclaim the gospel of God’s love in a country whose population was made up of indigenous Amerindians, recently emancipated African slaves, the European colonialists who had enslaved them, and ever increasing numbers of arriving indentured labourers from a variety of countries.
Among the indentured labourers, there were, of course, the Portuguese from the island of Madeira. These had arrived already steeped in Catholic faith and tradition and while their practice of their religion might leave much to be desired, they still clung to it with a fierce pride. Soon after their arrival they had started looking for alternatives to the hard labour of the cane fields and within a short time many had become overseers, farmers, hucksters, merchants and shop keepers. To replace them on the sugar estates, at the suggestion of John Gladstone, the father of a future British Prime Minister, the English colonists had turned to another corner of the British Empire: the Indian sub-continent. On 5 May 1838, the Hesperus and the Whitby docked in Georgetown with the first consignment of “East Indians”.
The Italian and Maltese Jesuits who arrived with Etheridge had been picked specifically with the needs of the Portuguese community in mind. In a short time they mastered the Portuguese language and began intensive work among the Catholics from Madeira. They preached sermons in Portuguese and introduced Portuguese hymns and devotions that had been familiar to their congregations back in Madeira. More importantly they were able to visit and converse freely with Portuguese families in their homes, listening to their concerns and encouraging them in their faith. Such pastoral care paid dividends and soon the congregation attending the one Catholic Church on Brickdam became far too large for the small building. A plot of land was purchased in Main Street through the help of a wealthy Portuguese businessman Manuel Fernandez and a new church dedicated to the Sacred Heart was built. The Christmas midnight mass of 1861, celebrated by Fr Benedict Schembri, provided a fiting moment to mark the official opening of the new church.
(Taken from http://www.guyanajesuits.org/)
The Jesuits in Georgetown, Guyana
The Catholic Diocese of Georgetown had around nine distinct parishes in the city, but in the last few years the administration & planning for the urban churches has been centralised and the parishes have combined to a single ‘Pastoral Area’ which has developed an integrated sacramental and formation programme across the city. Three Diocesan priests care for this area and the Jesuits resident in the city assist their work in different ways – Masses, preaching, adult education & catechesis etc… The Jesuits in Georgetown are also responsible for a 30-minute weekly TV programme (“The Catholic Magazine”) and have written extensively for “The Catholic Standard” (the national weekly Catholic newspaper) over many years.
The Jesuits have an interest in wider education and so we are involved in various ways with some schools in the city.