History of the Convent High School
Adapted from an article by Bishop Arnold Boghaert
The Convent High School is one of the oldest institutions in Dominica and is the first secondary school in the Island. It all began with the vision of the then Bishop of Roseau, Bishop Vesque, 2nd Bishop of Roseau. He is the founder of the Convent High School. In May 1857, recognizing that he needed the support of a religious community, Bishop Vesque wrote to the foundress of the congregation of the Sisters of the Faithful Virgin in Norwood, England. He had been chaplain of the orphanage run by the nuns. In a subsequent appeal for help, Bishop Vesque warned the Sisters of the hardships and poverty they would have to endure. As a true missionary, the foundress of the Sisters of the Faithful Virgin accepted the new venture and appointed seven sisters to the new mission on October 30, 1857. On December 8, 1857, the Sisters disembarked at Roseau from French vessel “Occindental” after a voyage that had lasted 33 days. The corridor of the Bishop’s House was converted into a dormitory for the nuns, consisting of two beds, three sofas and three mattresses on the floor.
On January 20, 1858, the Sisters officially opened an orphanage. The Convent High School opened its doors on February 2, 1858. Only 6 students were enrolled. During these humble beginnings the school stood where the St. Mary’s Academy and the St. Gerard’s Hall now stand. The Sisters were able to move into their new convent, called St. Ives, present residence of the Christian Brothers. The principal was Mother Marie des Neiges, a member of the Sisters of the Faithful Virgin.
In 1907 a move was made to what we now call the Convent High School building, in order to provide needed space and to also mark the Golden Jubilee of the arrival of the Sisters. The newly built three wing stone structure today houses the ICM Sister’s residence, the school Auditorium and some classes.
Between 1858 and 1891, the Sisters of the Faithful Virgin had provided some 500 girls a home with board and lodging, schooling and even employment. While the orphanage closed in 1891, the Convent High School continued. As early as 1881, girls from Dominica and neighbouring islands, Antigua, St. Kitts and Trinidad, applied for membership to the Sisters of the Faithful Virgin. A noviciate was opened and several made their religious vows. By 1933, however, neither England and France nor the Caribbean could provide the religious staff to serve the growing school. The Superior of Sisters was forced to inform Bishop Moris that they had decided to withdraw from Dominica.
When the running of the School was handed over to the Missionary of Canonesses of St. Augustine (now called the ICM Sisters) in about 1937 there were about 67 students on roll. After this the school experienced a great deal of growth numerically and also in the curriculum. The preparatory section was built along the new wings today occupied by the Forms 1, 2, 4 and 5. School life was also enhanced by a number of club groups. The curriculum was adapted to accommodate overseas and later the Caribbean Examinations and greater emphasis was placed on science education.
In 1983, Mrs. Dorothy Leevy became the School’s first lay principal. Although the School experienced no physical expansion at this time other changes were made to respond to the changes in society and education. Student population was then about five hundred. The School became a fore runner in providing computer literacy to its students, as well as the general public. A key individual in this aspect was Sister Hilda. The Computer Lab was recently dubbed the Sister Hilda Computer Lab in February 2006. Thousands of people have participated in the school’s computer programme.
Our early founders were driven with a faith what was translated into dedication and commitment of service to others. Bishop Vesque’s dream of providing quality education especially for girls is still alive. The School’s dominance in academic education, debate and essay competitions as well as in Netball, Junior Monarch and Talent Teen Competitions, attest to this. Today students and teachers are challenged to continue keeping lit our “lamp of knowledge, wisdom and virtue”. We are called to diligence as expressed by our motto “Labor Omnia Vincit” – Hard Work Conquerors All.