This brief history of The Abbey Of Our Lady Of Exile at Mount Saint
Benedict in Trinidad
and Tonago, covers the period from conception and inception. It is extracted from the diamond jubilee souvenir magazine
printed in 1972.
That the Benedictines came to Trinidad
is largely due to the missionary zeal of Dom Mayeul de Caigny, Abbot of San Sebastian in Bahia and
first Conventional Prior of Mount St. Benedict. His first visit to Trinidad began on 27th December 1911 and he spent two months here discussing plans for the new foundation with
the late Archbishop John Pius Dowling. After much searching in the districts around Sangre Grande and Arima, a site was finally
chosen on the 17th January, 1912 on the estate of Mr. Andrew
Victorino Gomez in the hills above St. Joseph, which commanded a breathtaking
view of the island. The first monks arrived on the sixth of October of the same year, and by 1917 the monastery of Mount St.
Benedict was complete according to the plans of the Abbot.
Dom Mayeul will be remembered as a brilliant student, an accomplished preacher
and an able conversationalist. These qualities of his made him popular in all classes of society from the Governor himself
down to the poor pilgrims who frequented his parlour daily.
In 1923, ten years after his arrival in Trinidad, he
resigned his office of Conventual Prior and retired to the Abbey of St. Leo in Florida,
U.S.A., where he died in 1939.
Benedictines, the world over, have
always chosen sites rich in natural beauty for erecting their monasteries.
Trinidad, situated as it is, in the emerald waters of
the Caribbean, presented the monks with an admirable setting for their foundation.
Civil unrest in Brazil
during 1911 compelled the monks to seek refuge in other lands.
The following is a letter from Dom Mayeul of Bahia, Brazil, to Archbishop Dowling,
OP. of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad:-
October 16th. 1911.
My Lord Archbishop,
As a religious persecution seems daily more imminent in Brazil,
we are now looking for a place of refuge. To this end, Trinidad seems to us most suitable: first, because
it is not too far distant, and within easy reach, even by direct line of steamers; the climate is similar, and so is the language.
Secondly, the ecclesiastical administrations are entrusted to the Dominican Fathers, and the Island
is under benevolent British rule.
I wish, therefore, to place my plans as soon as possible before you. My intention
is to buy a house in a healthy locality, somewhere in the mountains, that would serve as a refuge for my monks in case of
expulsion from, Brazil. In the meantime, the house could be
rented out, and part of the revenue I offer to your Church, unless, perhaps, one of my monks should come to reside there and
dedicate himself to apostolic labours under your jurisdiction. I am equally prepared to accept a mission station in the mountains.
If your Grace refuses not my humble petition, and if my proposals are acceptable
to you, I shall come to Trinidad to discuss matters with you in person. I beg for an early reply.
I am the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of San Sebastien at Bahia,
of Belgian nationality, and though I would not venture to write in English, the language is not altogether unknown to me,
and I can easily read it.
My address is herewith enclosed.
Recommending myself to your fervent prayers,
I remain, my Lord Archbishop,
Your humble servant in Christ,
To which his Grace replied:
15 November 1911.
Right Reverend Father Abbot,
Your esteemed letter of 16 October reached me only this morning, for it came I know not why via New
I thank you for the letter and wish to express my sorrow for the sad news of the threatening persecution. I was convinced
that things went pretty well over there, and that the civil authorities were co-operating with His Holiness and the Clergy
for the prosperity of the people.
With regards to the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain, I can assure you that I shall be only too glad to have you in the
Archdiocese, or in Trinidad. Come then, and you can judge for yourself what locality is best suited.
Right Reverend Father Abbot,
Yours truly in Christ
Archbishop of Port-of Spain.
Dom Mayuel, receiving that letter,
lost no time. He arrived in Trinidad on December 22 1911,
and proceeded at once to Archbishops House, where he had a long interview with his Grace.
A suitable place was needed for the venture, not too distant from town or village,
yet sufficiently secluded so as to ensure to the monks the fullest possible freedom for the observance of their rule.
On the morning of January 17, 1912,
Feast of St. Anthony the Hermit, the Abbot had said Holy Mass in the Parish Church of St. Joseph, the ancient Capital.
Returning to the Sacristy, an elderly gentleman of Spanish descent was introduced
to him as Mr. Andrew Conrad Gomez. He was the proprietor of a small estate in the hills above St.
Joseph, and insisted
very much that the Abbot should come and visit his place. Not to disappoint
the poor old man, Dom Mayuel accepted the
Traffic was not heavy on the Eastern Main Road,
in 1912, and half an hours pleasant drive brought our visitors to the village
of St. John. There the road came to an end and the buggy was left. The ascent had
to he made on foot.
After a stiff climb, a small hut was reached, occupied by an East Indian. named
Kisto Barcoa, the factotum of the estate. The hut measured some fifteen feet by nine feet and was built of mud. It had a thatched
roof and the interior was divided into two small compartments. Beneath the floor there were cocoa drying trays. The view took
the Abbot by storm and conquered him. Dom Mayuel was impressed by the solitude and solemn stillness of the place. He was enchanted
by its natural beauty, and refreshed by the coolness of the water.
The Abbot had found HIS SITE. By June
28th 1912 transactions
were completed and the property of Mr. Andrew Voctoriano Conrad
Gomez passed over to the BENEDICTINES.
On September 27. 1912, the first monks departed from Bahia
for Trinidad. They were: Reverend Dom Ambrose Vinckier, Reverend Dom Paul Dobart, and Brother Anthony
Feldner. the founders of the first Benedictine Monastery in the West Indies and Central
America. They arrived in Trinidad on the morning of October
6th 1912 on the Vauban.
It was Rosary Sunday and the three Benedictines received a truly Benedictine
hospitality from their Dominican hosts.
In a letter of introduction presented to Archbishop Dowling by Dom Ambrose,
the mission was called Our Blessed Lady of Exile, situated on Saint Benedicts Hill. These titles were officially bestowed
upon the new foundation by the Abbot founder.
Short1y afterwards, however, the name Mount St. Benedict was adopted by the
monks on the suggestion of Archbishop Dowling. Ever since the nineteenth of
October 1912, the Benedictine property in the hills above St. Joseph
has been known as:
or simply the Mount.
Two more monks were to arrive by the end of November and Brother Anthony set
out to prepare a little ajoupa for them. No definitive work was undertaken before the arrival of Brother Joseph Kleinmann
and his companion Brother Donatian Marcus, on November 27, 1912.
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 Communitys dormitory. A large mango tree nearby,
served as reception room, kitchen and refectory. All furniture was of the most primitive kind imaginable: empty packing
cases serving as table, chair, bed and cupboard.
Visitors were not wanting; nor were they in anyway deterred by the inaccessibility
of the place. They found their way all right, for at first curiosity brought them there.
Everyone wanted to see what monks were like, how they could subsist in
such miserable surroundings and yet be happy and receive everyone with a smile and a kind word.
The language was still unfamiliar to the missionaries, but a strong mixture
of French, Portuguese and German, together with a smattering of English satisfied all and sundry. All visitors went away greatly
impressed and edified, firm in their resolve to return as soon and as often as possible.
In their kindheartedness, they brought fowls, eggs, rice, coffee, and even
pieces of furniture and kitchen utensils.
The clergy too showed their interest in the new venture. His Grace had
already visited the property previous to the arrival of the monks.
The Very Reverend Father Henry Vincent Casey, Vicar Provincial of the
Dominicans and Editor of the Catholic News kept his readers well informed of all the movements of the monks.
The Holy Ghost Fathers visited the place with the Parish Priest of St. Joseph,
Reverend Father James Mc Donnel, C.S.Sp. and Reverend Father Leimann, C.S.Sp. took a photograph of the ajoupa which was afterwards
printed on postcards under the caption: Benedictine Beginnings.
February 11th 1913 brought
reinforcements in the persons of two solemn professed clerics: the brothers U!rich and Fridoline Fromhertz, and
Mr. Gustav Frommhertz, an oblate brother postulant. A third solemn professed cleric, Dom Maurus Varriera de Alancar,
a Brazilian, arrived on February 23rd and was accompanied by two postulant lay-brothers:
Messers. Adrian van Tongeren and Everard Mokveld (the present Brother Gabriel).
The little community numbered now eleven members and it was time to look for some more accommodation. A fairly large workshop
was built of round wood and galvanized sheets; this was to house the machinery. An annex was made to serve as an oratory.
This last structure was of the simplest kind.
The ajoupa, which had rendered such good services, was now promoted to library
and classroom for philosophy. The reporter of Port of Spain Gazette of May 25th 1913 writes:
We were taken to the library, a thatched roof ajoupa, where already there is
quite a valuable selection of books including St. Thomas Aquinas incomparable works, Janssens works, the Catholic Encyclopedia
and some other leading works of theology and philosophy. Here, we were formally introduced to three students of the priesthood,
who are pursuing their course of studies at the monastery.
Together with the last arrivals came also Dom Mayeul on his second visit to
Trinidad, which was to last one month. He returned once more in November 1913. He indicated the spot
where the temporary chapel should be erected, and studied the plans for a better road - a carriage-driven road this time -
so as to get easier access to the monastery.
The temporary chapel was completed early in August 1913. The first mass
was said therein on August 10th and on that same day a postulant lay-brother was received into the canonical novitiate
under the name of Brother Gabriel.
November 1st Dom Sebastian Weber and Dom Bertin Behaese joined the little
band of workers in Trinidad. Dom Sebastian had been proposed as assistant to the Parish Priest
of Arouca until the latters departure for Europe, which was fixed for January 1914, when Dom Sebastian
would act in his place. He took up residence in Arouca and did active parish work for some time, devoting his spare moments
the study of English and Hindustani. Dom Bertin, an ardent preacher, speaking
French and Portuguese fluently, was stationed at the monastery, but his name appeared frequently as the preacher of great
sermons in the Rosary Church, where French
sermons were then in vogue.
The only arrival during the following year was Brother Raphael Goemare,
on the Feast of St. Benedict, March 21st 1914. The Stations of the Cross
were canonically erected by Dom Mayeul on January 18th 1914.
At the same time, there took place also the solemn enthronement of the life-size
statue of Our Holy Father St. Benedict, which is still in our Abbey Church.
It arrived on January 7th by the S.S. Venetia from Hamburg.
In May 1914, the Apostolic Delegate
of the Brazilian Congregation the Right Reverend Laurence Zeller, visited
the Monastery and suggested the erection of a guest house for pilgrims, who were coming daily to the Mount in greater numbers.
While the contractors were busy building the Guest and Rest Houses, the Brothers were constructing a large refectory
and chapter hall running parallel to the Church.
The year 1915 began with the arrival of two simple-professed clerics: Brothers
Willibrord Luiten and Odo van der Heydt. (January 1st.). Later that same year seven more members came to Trinidad
from Bahia. They were Brother Odilo van Togeren, simple professed and Mr. Robert Boxruth, choir
postulant (May 30th); August 10th - Dom Charles Verbeke, Brother Hugh van der Sanden, simple professed, and Mr. Anthony Callaghan,
choir postulant. The last contingent arrived on September 10th bringing Dom Anselm Romano and Brother Wilfred Broens, a simple
The first house with any pretense of durability was constructed in 1916 and
partially finished in 1917. Upstairs there were thirteen rooms intended for the Brothers. Downstairs accommodation was
provided for workshops such as: a tailoring department, painting shop, bakery and printery. IN CONSEQUENCE OF A CANONICAL
VISIT, THE NEW
FOUNDATION WAS GRANTED THE STATUS OF A CONVENTUAL PRIORY BY A RECEIPT
OF THE HOLY SEE, MARCH 6TH 1915. IT WAS DEDICATED TO OUR LADY
The Right Reverend Mayeul de Caigny, having asked to retire in 1923, the Holy
See sent a Visitor Extraordinary in the person of the Right Reverend Dom Maurus Etcheverry, O.S.B. On invitation of the
Lord Abbot Primate, the newly appointed Prior, Very Reverend Dom, Hugb van der Sanden went to Rome
and during his sojourn in Rome, sought affiliation of his monastery to another
Congregation, as communication with Brazil was becoming increasingly
difficult. The Trinidad Community accepted Provisional Affiliation granted them by the Belgian Congregation in May 1925.
Following upon a favourable report of a Canonical Visitor, the Right Reverend Dom Chrysostom de Saegher, who came to
Trinidad in 1927, the General Chapter (upon the definitive incorporation of) in December of that year,
decided upon the definitive incorporation of the Priory of Mount St. Benedict with the Belgian Congregation. This decision
was fully approved by the Holy See, in December 1928. At the same time the Trinidad Government granted the community the right
of corporation with perpetual succession
In 1947, the Monastery, having
made wonderful strides was raised to the dignity of an Abbey. The monks in conclave, under the presidency of the Right Reverend
Lord Abbot Theodore Neve, O.S.B.;D.D.., Head of the Congregation, elected the then Dom Adelbert van Duin, O.S.B.;Ph.D; I.C.D., as first Abbot; he received the abbatial blessing on 16th June 1947 from
His Grace the most Reverend Dr. Fanbar Ryan, O.P.;D.D.:M.A.;L.L.D. Archbishop of Port of Spain.
This was a memorable day in the history of Mount St. Benedict: that the people of the Island were pleased at this event, was
clearly demonstrated by the crowds that arrived to witness the great function and filled the small church to overflowing;
all the Chief Catholic Clergy, numerous important personages, and well wishers of all classes; messages of congratulations
poured in and many journeyed from distant parts to offer their felicitations in person.
Dom Placid Ganteaume. the first local vocation for the monastery was ordained
in 1926. Dom Maurus Maingot, another local, joined the Benedictine Community together with Dom Placid. Both of these eminent
sons have now gone to their eternal reward. The other early local vocations are Dom Basil Mathews, professed 6th August, 1930, ordained priest 21st December. 1935, and Dom Bapt. Osborne, professed
25th December 1933, ordained priest 27th July, 1939, both of whom are still with us. At present thirty percent of the
Community are locals.
During the many years from the foundation of the monastery to the present day, there has hardly ever been a lull in the building and other activities, first, under the wise
direction of Dom Mayeul de Caigny and, later that of Dom Hugh van der Sanden, to whose perspicacity and driving force, supported
by the able advice of his Council, was due a succession of important developments.
We are fortunate to have as Architect and Builder one of our own monks, Brother
Gabriel Mokveld, who meticulously carried out the plans and personally superintended all building, including the
building of the present Abbey. The first public act of the newly elected Abbot was the laying of the foundation stone on 11th
The new Abbey Church
and the greater part of the present living quarters of the monks were completed in 1952. The guestrooms of the monastery were
constructed in 1954, and the first Rest House, by now inadequate to meet the needs of the increasing number of pilgrims,
was replaced by the present structure in the same year.
In 1961 the kitchen and refectory of the Abbey
School, along with the library and auditorium were built by Bro. Gabriel, who is
also responsible for building the Holy Shop and pilgrims parlors, which now constitute the southeastern wing of the Abbey,
completed in 1963. The building of the tower, made possib1e through the generosity of a benefactor, was begun in 1964, and
is to be capped off soon.
The road, which was fast deteriorating, was resurfaced in 1965, thus making
it possible for everyone to enjoy a comfortable drive to and from the Mount.
Visitors and old-boys who still remember the pre-1967 sports field notice at once the difference in the much 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 Abbey pool, lawn tennis, basket and volley ball.
St. Bedes Technical School,
opened in January 1967, completed the Mounts building project for the 1960s. The early seventies have so far been taken
up with general repairs and maintenance of the huge complex of buildings that go to make up MOUNT ST. BENEDICT.
Patroness of the Abbey
In the letter of introduction, presented by Dom Ambrose Vinckier O.S.B. to
the Archbishop of Port-of-Spain on the arrival of the first monks in the island, Dom Mayeul de Caigny expressly stated that
the Benedictine mission should be dedicated to Our Lady of Exile. The name was chosen by the Abbot because he intended the
foundation in this island to be a place of refuge in the event of persecution, which was threatening in Bahia.
The Abbot was, no doubt, well acquainted with the devotion to the Mother of God under this title because veneration of Our
Lady of Exile was popular in Brazil as well as in other Portuguese
Whatever be the reason for its choice, the title has a special significance
for all of us as a salutary reminder that our life here on earth is merely a sojourn or exile from our true home which is
The Feast, which recalls the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt
to escape the persecution of King Herod, who sought to destroy the Child, is celebrated in the Catholic Church on the 4th