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51 C h a p t e r 4 The 1920s to the Second Vatican Council There is little in the sisters’ archives documenting their mission in British Honduras from the 1920s through the 1950s. We know that in 1924, when Mother Mary of Sacred Heart Jourdan visited Stann Creek to survey the mission, “she had the pleasure of witnessing the results of years of toil when five stalwart young Carib men called upon her introducing themselves as former pupils of the school.”1 All had had successful careers: three were government employees, one a clerk of the court, and another an owner of his own store. “But what pleased her most of all was the fact that each was a practicing Catholic faithful to Sunday Mass and a frequenter of the Sacraments. Four were fathers with families while the fifth had forgone marriage in order to take care of his widowed mother.”2 Mother Elizabeth Bowie, who after a res­ pite of twelve years was again elected mother superior, likewise visited the mission, this time in 1935. Twenty-four years had passed since she had last been in the British colony. She was well pleased with how the mission had advanced; improvements had been made in the school plant and the number of students had increased. The town itself had progressed nicely. After a three-week stay, she returned to the United States, bringing with her two Belizean women for the novitiate.3 We know from the Sacred Heart School Records that in 1936 the school had 413 students. A letter from Belize Bishop Joseph Murphy 52  The Pre-Vatican II Years to Mother Elizabeth, written in that year, notes that Sacred Heart was overcrowded and that plans by the Jesuits to build a much-needed addition had not come to fruition because money from U.S. donors had decreased significantly due to the Great Depression. We also know from this letter that tropical sickness still haunted some of the sisters and forced their return to New Orleans.4 Disasters seem to get more attention than do successes. Thus, much detailed information is found in the archives concerning the fire that destroyed the sisters’ convent along with Sacred Heart Church on January 26, 1942. On that Monday morning, sometime between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m., Sister Bernardine Stanford was awakened by noise coming from the church. When she looked out the convent window, she found the church ablaze. She quickly alerted the other sisters, who grabbed what was most important and escaped before the flames reached the wooden-framed convent. Some townspeople braved the smoke and fire to save most of the furniture downstairs, but almost everything that was upstairs was lost. Since the convent was completely destroyed, the sisters had no idea where they would stay. But their anxieties were relieved somewhat when William Bowman, a Stann Creek merchant, generously offered the eight sisters the temporary use of his large home, where the sisters remained for a month. They then rented the upstairs floor of a building in the heart of town. It was far too small to house all of them comfortably, and privacy was limited by the fact that the downstairs was occupied by the shops of two merchants. Nevertheless, the sisters had no recourse but to reside in these crowded quarters for the next five years. But at least they were fortunate enough to have a friend such as Bowman, who paid their rent. In their accounts of this tragic fire, the Stann Creek sisters point out with pride that only one day of classes was lost. On Tuesday morning, although exhausted and despondent from the horrors of the day before, all of the sisters reported on time to their classrooms to teach a student body that now numbered 589. Then, on April 1, 1947, the sisters were finally able to leave their crowded “temporary” quarters and move into a new two-story, concrete convent that could house up to twenty sisters. It was larger and less susceptible to natural disasters than had been their old wooden The 1920s to the Second Vatican Council   53 residence. It had been built for the sisters by the Jesuits of the Missouri Province at a cost of $20,000, and it had taken so long to be completed because building materials had not been available due to scarcities during World War II.5 The Sacred Heart School Records also tell us that in 1947 twentyone candidates...


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