The Catholic Church first came to Jamaica in 1494 when Christopher Columbus visited the island on 5 May 1494 on his 2nd voyage to the region. He had on board his ships a priest who no doubt first celebrated Mass as the ship was anchored offshore.
THE SPANISH PERIOD
Jamaica was the third land mass in the New World to be settled by Europeans (after the islands of Hispanola and Puerto Rico). In 1509 the Spanish founded a city (Sevilla Nueva) on Jamaica’s north coast, and with the conquistadors came friars of the Dominican Order who were tasked with the mission of converting the original residents of Jamaica, the Tainos, to Christianity. Soon Franciscan friars were given charge of the church in the colony.
In 1515 Pope Leo X established Jamaica as an Abbacy and named the first Abbot. During this period Jamaica was served by a series of 13 Abbots, and several churches, monasteries, hermitages and schools were built.
THE ENGLISH PERIOD
In 1655 a combined naval and military force sent by Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, captured Jamaica and drove out the Spanish Catholics, and burnt their churches. Cromwell – a Puritan – was rabidly anti-Catholic and the aim of his Western Design was to “purge the New World of Papists”.
The Catholic Church returned to Jamaica – briefly – in 1688 when James II (England’s last Catholic king) sent a priest to serve the few Catholics in Jamaica. As soon as King William III — the Protestant champion — deposed James in 1689, and sat upon the English throne, Catholicism in England and her colonies was outlawed (and remained so for more than a century). During this time the Catholic Church in Jamaica was underground.
The beginning of Catholic Emancipation in Great Britain and her colonies in 1791 meant that Catholicism could be practiced openly, and an Irish Franciscan was sent to Jamaica to minister to the few resident Catholics, mostly Spanish-speaking trade representatives, and a few Irish in the military.
In the same year, the successful slave rebellion in Sainte Domingue (Haiti) drove many Catholics to Kingston as refugees, including several priests. At first, Jamaica fell under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicar of London, then later under the Apostolic Vicar of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
JAMAICA BECOMES AN APOSTOLIC VICARIATE
On January 10, 1837, Pope Gregory XVI erected Jamaica as an Apostolic Vicariate, and placed the island under the pastoral care of the English Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Between 1837 and 1894 when they were replaced by the Maryland-New York Province of the Society of Jesus, there were never more than 10 priests on the island at any one time. The Jamaica Mission was understaffed, and grew slowly.
In 1850 Spanish Jesuits deported from New Granada (today’s Colombia) took refuge in Jamaica, and established St. George’s College, a high school for boys. On their departure, the English Jesuits took over the school, which still flourishes today.
In 1857 Franciscan Sisters from Dublin, Ireland, accepted an invitation to work in Jamaica. They have established several schools and colleges.
In 1890 the Sisters of Mercy from Bermondsey, England, accepted an invitation to work in Jamaica. They have established several schools, children’s homes and apostolates among the poor.
In 1911 the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary from Union City, New Jersey (USA) accepted an invitation to work in Jamaica. They established several schools, and staffed the local Catholic hospital.
Under the Maryland-New York Province, the number of priests doubled, but the mission was still understaffed. After 1919 when management of the the mission fell to the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, the number of missionaries increased dramatically, but Protestants and Evangelicals had already converted the majority of the population.
In 1929 a local religious congregation of nuns – the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary – were founded. They have founded several schools and have staffed homes for the elderly.
In 1952 St. Michael’s Seminary was established to train Jamaicans for the priesthood.
In 1955 priests of the Congregation of the Passion (the Passionists) arrived to serve in central Jamaica.
KINGSTON AS A DIOCESE AND THEN AN ARCHDIOCESE
In 1956 the Diocese of Kingston headed by a diocesan bishop was erected, encompassing all of Jamaica.
In 1958 priests from the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans) arrived to serve in Kingston, and to be chaplains to the Franciscan sisters.
With the reforms in Church governance after Vatican II, on September 14, 1967 Jamaica was split into two dioceses: Kingston was elevated to become an Archdiocese (of Kingston-in-Jamaica), while the Diocese of Montego Bay (in western Jamaica) was erected.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston-in-Jamaica (Latin: Archidioecesis Regio-politanus in Iamaica) is an Archdiocese of the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church in the Caribbean. The Archdiocese encompasses the larger portion of the island of Jamaica, including its capital, Kingston. It is the Metropolitan Archdiocese for three suffragan dioceses: Montego Bay and Mandeville (in Jamaica), and Belize City-Belmopan (in Belize). The Archdiocese and its suffragan Dioceses are members of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC).
THE LIST OF PRELATES GOVERNING KINGSTON AND JAMAICA
Over the years Jamaica has been blessed by a number of Bishops and Archbishops who have served the people of God with love and generosity:
- Benito Fernández O.F.M. (1837 — 1855)
- James Eustace Dupeyron S.J. (1855 — 1872)
- Joseph Sidney Woollett S.J. (1871 — 1877)
- Thomas Porter S.J. (1877 — 1888)
- Charles Menzies Gordon S.J. (1889 — 1906)
- John Joseph Collins S.J. (1907 — 1918)
- William F. O’Hare S.J. (1919 — 1926)
- Joseph N. Dinand S.J. (1927 — 1930)
- Thomas Addis Emmet S.J. (1930 — 1949)
- John Joseph McEleney S.J. (1950 — 1970)
- Samuel Emmanuel Carter S.J. (1970 — 1994)
- Edgerton Roland Clarke D.D., C.D. (1994 — 2004)
- Lawrence Aloysius Burke S.J. (2004 — 2008)
- Donald James Reece D.D., G.C.M. (2008 — 2011)
- Charles H. Dufour, D.D., C.D. (2011 — 2016)
- Kenneth Richards, D.D. (2016 — Present)