The Early Years
Our mission period formally began in 1837 when the Holy See placed the "Lucayan or Bahama Islands" under the authority of the newly established Vicariate Apostolic of Jamaica.
In the 19th century, priests who made brief visits, undertook challenging, even life threatening journeys by sea to minister to those early Catholics who endured long periods without the sacraments. Priests of the Diocese of Charleston and the Archdiocese of New York spent several months of the year in these islands to make up for the lack of a resident clergy.
On July 5, 1960, the Vicariate of the Bahama Islands was raised to the dignity of a Diocese. Paul Leonard Hagarty-- a Benedictine priest of St John's Abbey, Minnesota -- was installed as first Bishop of the Diocese of Nassau.
In 1981, Lawrence Aloysius Burke, a Jesuit priest native to Jamaica, was appointed Bishop. In 1999, the Diocese of Nassau was elevated to an Archdiocese, the Metropolitan See, whose province includes the Diocese of Hamilton, Bermuda and the Mission of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Bishop Burke was appointed the first Archbishop of Nassau,
In 2003, Patrick Christopher Pinder was ordained the first Bahamian Bishop. He served as Auxiliary Bishop and, in the very next year, Bishop Pinder was installed as Archbishop of Nassau.
Upon these rocks
The rich history of the Catholic Church in The Bahamas was built by missionary zeal and dedication of two Religious Orders: The Sisters of Charity of Mount St. Vincent-on-the-Hudson, New York and The Benedictine Monks of St. John’s Abbey, Minnesota, U.S.A.
The work of these early Catholic missionaries in establishing schools, church buildings, clinics, community programmes, and caring for the poor is noted as one of the most significant contributions in the development of Catholicism in The Bahamas today.
Sisters of Charity
The Sisters came to The Bahamas at a time when black and white poor children were not given the opportunity to obtain an education. Within days of their arrival, they opened the first free school (St. Francis Xavier) for poor children of all denominations. This was the birth of the Catholic Education System in The Bahamas.
The Sisters of Charity were responsible also for establishing medical and prenatal clinics, nurseries and day care centres, including the Madonna Nursery, Infant of Prague Clinic, Maria Clinic, and the Agnes Hardecker Children’s Clinic – each clinic was in a different area of New Providence.
Fr. Chrysostom Schreiner, OSB, was the first permanent Catholic priest in The Bahamas. He arrived in Nassau on February 2, 1891, beginning the permanent priestly ministry here. As head of the Bahama Mission, he also began the first Out Island mission on Andros on February 25, 1892.
The first Benedictine missionaries, mostly German-Americans, were ready to work and serve the Bahama Mission. They served not only as priests and educators, but took on roles as architects, builders, carpenters, masons, engineers, and event at times doctors and dentists.
Other Religious Orders and Congregations
Grey Sisters of Pembroke, Ontario, Canada
Religious Sisters of Mercy of Portland, Maine
Priests of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan and Caldwell, New Jersey
Sisters of St Joseph of Canada
Franciscan Sisters of Mount St. Clare, Iowa
Benedictine Sisters of St Martin Monastery, The Bahamas
Catholic Missionaries eventually spread the faith from Grand Bahama in the north, to Turks and Caicos Islands in the south. The establishment and maintenance of the new missions depended on lay input. Prior to the establishment of a permanent deaconate in 1970, Out Island Missions were often served by a dedicated band of lay catechists who were trained to offer word services and distribute Holy Communion when no priest was available for long periods.
The Most Reverend John Bernard Kevenhoerster, O.S.B., D.D., LL.D.
Appointed Prefect Apostolic of Bahamas: May 22, 1933
Vicar Apostolic of The Bahamas: January 15, 1941
Died: December 9, 1949
The Most Reverend Paul Leonard Hagarty, O.S.B., D.D., LL.D.
Appointed Vicar Apostolic: June 25, 1950
Appointed First Bishop of Diocese of Nassau: July 6, 1960
Died: September 22, 1984
The Most Reverend Lawrence Aloysius Burke, S. J., D.D.
Appointed Second Bishop of the Diocese of Nassau: July 17, 1981
Episcopal Ordination: October 11, 1981
Appointed Superior of Turks & Caicos: June 10, 1984
Resigned as Superior of Turks & Caicos: October 17, 1998
Appointed first Archbishop of the newly erected Archdiocese of Nassau and Metropolitan of the Province of Nassau: June 22, 1999
Installation as Archbishop and Establishment of Archdiocese of Nassau: October 28, 1999
Appointed fourth Archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica: February 17, 2004
Retired: April 12, 2008
Died: January 24, 2010, Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston, Jamaica
Upon These Rocks (1973) by Colman Barry, OSB, St. John’s Abbey Press, Collegeville, MN.
From the Void to the Wonderful: A History of the Roman Catholic Church in The Bahamas (1995). Patricia Glinton-Meicholas. Guanima Press.
- Tell Every Generation, A History of the Catholic Church in the Bahamas - Part 1 (60 min) (1995)
- Tell Every Generation - A History of the Catholic Church in the Bahamas - Part 2 (30 min) (1996)
Bahama Catholic “The Archdiocese of Nassau Celebrates 50th Anniversary: 1960-2010 Golden Jubilee”