The Society of Jesus arrived in British Guiana in 1857. The situation facing Etheridge, one of the founding missionaries, 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, the Portuguese from the island of Madeira. Those who had arrived had already steeped in Catholic faith and tradition. 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

Read Fr Jim’s account of life as a Jesuit in Guyana.