St. Francis Parish, Belmont
Call Us Free: 1-868-624-7923

About Us

St. Francis Parish, BelmontA Brief History Of St. Francis Catholic Church, Belmont

By Angela Pidduck

One hundred years ago on May 25, 1902, Trinity Sunday, His Grace The Archbishop of Port of Spain, Patrick Vincent Flood O.P. solemnly blessed and opened the Roman Catholic Church of St Francis Of Assisi in Belmont.

The parish planned to celebrate this milestone anniversary on October 6, 2002, the Sunday immediately following October 4, the feast-day of its patron saint. Having learned that Rosary Parish will celebrate its feast on that day, St Francis has changed to September 29 at which time there will be one morning Mass rather than the two at 6.30 and 8.30 a.m.,followed by breakfast. St Francis Church was erected in memory of the late Very Rev Father Coveney O.P. a former Superior of the Dominican Community in the colony, and dedicated by the then parish priest, Father Vincent Sutherland O.P., to the founder of the Franciscan order, St Francis of Assisi, according to the traditional association of Dominicans and Franciscans.

However, Archbishop Flood was unable to consecrate the church on May 25, because there was an outstanding debt of $7,000 from the overall cost of the $20,000 building. I quote from The Catholic News of May 28, 1902, where the late Archbishop explained to the 600 plus congregation: “There is unfortunately one drawback to our church – and that is the debt. We have offered it to God, but we have not consecrated it. It cannot be consecrated as long as any man has a claim upon it. Consecration comes when the last penny of debt has been paid.”

Strangely enough, it is only recently that the current parish priest since 1997, Father Michael Hayden, who will celebrate his 25th anniversary as a priest on June 26, stumbled upon the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that St Francis Church was ever thereafter consecrated. Says Jean Nurse, vice chairman of the St Francis Pastoral Council “we would like to consecrate the church but because we fixed the roof last year in celebration of this upcoming anniversary, there is money owing afresh at this time and so it cannot be done until this debt is paid off.”

The history of St Francis Church continues in more unusual fashion. Vincent Jean Baptiste, in his Will dated July 13, 1866, gave and devised to the Most Reverend Joachim Louis Gonin, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain and his Successors the piece of land “fronting the Laventille Circular Road (now Belmont Circular Road) on which the foundations for a schoolhouse and chapel were then being erected. Although up to the 1870’s most of Belmont was a government pasture, and it was only in 1899 that the suburbs of Belmont and Woodbrook were incorporated into the town’s limits. However, undaunted, in 1872, Reverend Father A Violette, a French Dominican and one of the Vicars of the Cathedral, began to use the school chapel, situated more or less on the spot where the church now stands.

Then in 1897, Father Sutherland came to the parish and started plans to build the present church, which Archbishop Flood boasted “is the design of an architect….we have had churches before designed by carpenters.” St Francis was designed by Mr Ashlin, a member of the well-known ecclesiastical architects, Ashlin and Coleman of Dublin, Ireland, the same architects responsible for the Archbishop’s residence on Queen’s Park West.

Another most unique happening was Father Sutherland’s method of fund-raising. He organised a series of annual two-day bazaars at the Princess Building from as far back as August 1899 through to May 6, 1902, to build St Francis. Again, a first for any local mission was the gift of two cameos set in gold, one of our Blessed Lady and the other of the Holy Father himself, donated to the September 1900 bazaar by His Holiness Pope Leo X11, brought from Rome by a Mr Hamel Smith, and raffled at the bazaar.

When he opened the final Bazaar on May 5, Archbishop Flood chided the parishioners “many of you might think that there were too many bazaars – for Father Sutherland’s bazaars were not like angels’ visits, few and far between. No sooner was one bazaar done with, than another came on.” But all reports show that it was the success of the bazaars which went a long way in completing the church in less than one year from the laying of the Foundation Stone in June 1901.

Of the thirty or more Dominican priests who worked arduously to build up the Belmont parish, Father Colm Graham, who served for 20 years from 1950, is the priest most will remember. Many Romans who were married in the late 50’s/60’s shied away, if they could help it, from being married at St Francis, as Father Graham, a no-nonsense priest, did not tolerate any hint of improper attire. Many a bride with low cut neckline and/or sleeveless gown went up and down the aisle, in tears, with an altar cloth carelessly thrown over her shoulders by the good priest. Bridesmaids were at time left standing outside the church because Father Graham was not satisfied with the cut of their gowns. Every week we waited with bated breath to find out who was Father Graham’s latest victim.

In an article written by Father Graham in the Iona News of October 1997, a magazine of St Columbia’s Parish, Drukcondra/Glasnevin, Ireland, he compares the similarity of design of St Francis in Belmont with that of St Columba’s on Iona Road. They were both designed by the same architects. St Francis was his first posting as a parish priest, and he writes of having installed fans as his first project: “With its thick walls and narrow windows it (St Francis) is not well suited to tropical conditions, with the result that the atmosphere within the church was uncomfortably warm.”

He oversaw the building of a sacristy matching the design of the church, with a large basement where the voluntary Altar ladies had plenty of room to do the “wonderful” works associated with these indispensable helpers. Later came a public address system, a set of artistically carved Bavarian Stations of the Cross, new lighting system, and new Hammond organ. The money for all improvements raised entirely by the people of the parish who organised fund raising projects continually.

Not only are the parishioners still involved in fund-raising but a Support Group has been introduced and says Nurse “members are now doing a course on counselling for people with problems who do not know where to go and need help whether it be medical, domestic, legal, or otherwise. There is a hospitality team not just to see that people are comfortable in church but to look after those who may be ill or hungry during church or any function. And there is an Outreach Programme for those who no longer attend Mass and/or other activities run by the church. We want to go out to those people.” While a grand Family Day has replaced the late Father Sutherland’s fund-raising bazaars.

Latest Posts