The 1994 Chapter, Jamaica, West Indies
by Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D.
The Regional Vicar of Jamaica, West Indies, Paul Zilonka, C.P., walked to the microphone and addressed the 1994 Open Chapter. His information was important; several times discussion time was extended. Arguably, the boundaries for the future commitment of St. Paul of the Cross Province to Jamaica were being established.
While Passionists need such discussion, an important element was missing. None of the chapter participants knew the history of the foundation in Jamaica, West Indies. Yes, there is an oral tradition. Yes, individuals who had served there were present to clarify. However, after forty years of Passionist presence no critical history has been written. The discussion at the Chapter had no historical context. We Passionists must face the fact that we have been lax in developing a method to engage in historical examination of ministry in the twentieth century. Our strength has been historical investigation in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Enter the historian. What do the documents tell us about the beginnings of the Passionists in Jamaica, West Indies. Archivist John Poole, C.P., gathered documents in May 1973 that chronicle the early years.
By 1953 most Passionists had been expelled from China. There was a strong desire to stay in Asia. At the same time it was deemed prudent to seek a new mission nearer the United States so distance would not be a burden. Lower Mexico and several Central American countries were considered. Panama was given serious thought.
The possibility of the Passionists entering Jamaica came about through personal contact. The agents were Mission Secretary Caspar Caulfield, C.P., and Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica, British West Indies, John J. McEleney, S.J. The place was Rome, Italy. On 5 May 1954 Caulfield made a "courtesy visit" to family friend, McEleney, who was on his quinquennial visit. McEleney, through Caulfield, offered the Passionists to come to Jamaica.
Caulfield, in a 11 May letter to Provincial Ernest Welch, gave the details. McEleney desired four Passionists. One would work in Kingston; the rest outside the city. McEleney hoped that the Passionist presence would free the Jesuits to start a university; he also hoped they might relate to Hakka Chinese. Caulfield knew that "older missionaries could be reassigned to the new mission [without] learning a new language." There was, Caulfield told McEleney, an "outside chance" for acceptance.
Passionist leadership, wrote Poole, was attracted by the proximity of Jamaica and the need not to learn another language. Communication continued. On 12 June 1954 McEleney visited the Curia at St. Michael's, Union City, NJ. Discussion lasted three hours. The Passionists were invited to see the territory. On 21 August 1954 Provincial Welch informed Bishop McEleney that first consultor Canisius Hazlett was assigned to investigate in September.
Hazlett traveled by ship to Port-au Prince, Haiti, and by plane to Kingston, Jamaica. Arriving 15 September he was greeted by Bishop McEleney, Jesuit religious superior Denis Tobin, and Henry Martin, S.J., a cousin of Father Hazlett. Hazlett, writes Poole, stayed with Tobin and proceeded to see "nearly all of the missions and most of the mission stations." A "tentative unsigned contract" agreeable to both parties was endorsed pending approvement of the Passionist Curia and "legitimate authority." The Passionists were to be given responsibility for the civil parishes of Manchester and St. Elizabeth; also they were given the ecclesiastical parishes of St. Elizabeth and St. Peter Claver in Kingston. Hazlett completed a report filed in the Provincial Archives entitled "British West Indies."