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Humble beginning for Mount St Benedict
« on: April 21, 2013, 11:13:10 PM »

The first rectory at Mount St Benedict. Photo: Angelo Bissessarsingh

International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) T&T, in collaboration with Citizens for Conservation, is celebrating International Day for Monuments and Sites with a series of articles featuring heritage buildings in the T&T Guardian. Today is the fifth instalment in the series and features Mount St Benedict.
For further information on the day, previous themes, support material and the calendar of activities around the world, go to the International Day for Monuments and Sites page of the ICOMOS International Web site. A suitable place was needed to establish a Benedictine Monastery and school in Trinidad, sufficiently secluded to ensure the monks the fullest possible freedom for the observance of their rule.
Andrew Conrad Gomez, a gentleman of Spanish descent, was introduced to the abbott. He was the proprietor of a small estate in the hills above St Joseph, which he donated to the order. This included a small traditional hut with a thatched roof, which became the first rectory. in September 1912, the first monks departed from Bahia for Trinidad, the founders of the first Benedictine Monastery in the West Indies and Central America. They arrived in Trinidad on the morning of October 6, 1912.
The mission was called Our Blessed Lady of Exile, situated on Saint Benedict’s Hill. These titles were officially bestowed upon the new foundation by the abbot founder. The name Mount St Benedict was adopted by the monks on the suggestion of Archbishop Dowling and has traditionally been popularly as “The Mount.”
Two more monks were to arrive by the end of November and Brother Anthony set out to prepare another ajoupa for them. One room of the ajoupa was arranged as an oratory and contained a most primitive alter, two carriage lanterns serving as candlesticks. The other room was the community’s dormitory.
A temporary chapel was erected, and a carriage-driven road made access to the monastery much easier. The temporary chapel was completed early in August 1913, where the first mass was said on August 10. The Stations of the Cross were erected on January 18, 1914, the same time as an enthronement of the life-size statue of Our Holy Father St Benedict, which is still in the church.
The first substantial building was constructed in 1916 and partially finished in 1917. On the upper floor there were 13 rooms intended for the Brothers. The lower floor provided workshops, including a tailoring department, painting shop, bakery and printery.
During the many years from the foundation of the monastery to the present day, there have been several new additions to the buildings, including in 1952 the abbey, the foundation stone for which was laid in 1947, and the present living quarters of the monks. Brother Gabriel Mokveld personally superintended all building. In 1947 the monastery was given abbey status.
Since the early 1930s, the monks at Mount St Benedict began accepting lay students. In 1943, a new concrete building was erected to serve as a secondary school and catered for boarders as well as day students. The first headmaster was Dom Placid Ganteaume, who in 1919 became one of the first local priests to be ordained at the monastery.
In 1947, the school was certified as an institution for Cambridge GCE Higher Level certification. The school was closed in the early 1980s. In 1986, the Abbey School buildings were occupied by the New Life Ministries Drug Rehabilitation Centre.
In 1961, the kitchen and refectory of the Abbey School, along with the library and auditorium were built by Brother Gabriel, who is also responsible for building the holy shop and pilgrims’ parlours, which now constitute the southeastern wing of the abbey, completed in 1963. The building of the tower, made possible through the generosity of a benefactor, was begun in 1964.
Visitors and old-boys who still remember the pre-1967 sports field notice at once the difference in the bigger field on which the junior boys now have a section all for themselves and which should be an incentive for them to take a greater interest in sports, including swimming at the pool, lawn tennis, basket and volleyball.
St Bedes Technical School, opened in January 1967, completed the mount’s building project for the 1960s. The early seventies were mainly taken up with general repairs and maintenance of the huge complex of buildings.