Sunday, 6 February 2011

Congratulations to St Joseph Cluny Sisters 175 years in Trinidad

On January 29, 1836 the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny came to Trinidad. Congratulations on 175 years of service to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, The caribbean and the World.

On November 10, 1779, in the little village of Jallanges, Burgundy, France, a little girl was born to Balthasar Javouhey, a well-to-do farmer, and his wife, Claudine Parizot. Anne, baptised the next day, November 11, was the fifth child in a family of nine. Of these nine children, three died in infancy and so Nanette, as she was familiarly called by family and friends, became the oldest sister in the family.

The French Revolution broke out in 1789. It aimed at the complete extinction of the Catholic Church and the complete dechristianisation of France. It was in the midst of these religious and political upheavals that Nanette, the intrepid teenager, in defiance of the anti-Catholic and anti-Christian laws, collected the children of the village of Chamblanc, where the family now lived, and of neighbouring villages, to teach them the catechism and prepare them for the reception of the sacraments.

She organised the celebration of Mass by non-juror priests (those who refused to take the oath of allegiance to the anti-Christian dictates of the revolutionary state), in secret in her home and the homes of faithful Catholics, at great risk to herself.

If she had been caught, the least she could expect was imprisonment, the worst, the guillotine. Yet, when soldiers entered her home one night looking for a priest, Fr Ballanche, who happened to be in the house, she calmly outwitted them and sent them away empty-handed, after having served them her father’s wine in a show of hospitality.

Though all convents and monasteries were closed down, Nanette still hoped to be a Religious Sister and to this end she privately made vows on November 11, 1798 at the age of 19.

After the coup d’état of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799, gradually convents and monasteries were re-opened and Nanette entered with the Daughters of Charity at Besançon, but realised that that was not what God wanted of her. In that convent, however, she had a vision one night of children of all different races, whom she did not even know existed, and of the Spanish nun, St Teresa of Avila, who assured her that God wished her to form a new congregation.

Later she entered the Trappistine Convent called the “Monastery of the Holy Will of God” in Val Sainte in Riedra, Switzerland, but again this was not God’s will for her. These two trials in Besançon and La Trappe were not wasted. From the Daughters of Charity, she experienced the direct apostolate, from the Trappistines she received a solid spiritual formation.

On returning home, Nanette began to establish schools and orphanages. Her three sisters, Pierette, Marie Francoise and Claudine eventually joined her, as well as three other young girls. In 1806 Anne added “Marie” to her baptismal name.

On May 12, 1807 in the church of St Peter in Chalon, Ann Marie and her companions were clothed in a religious habit and publicly pronounced vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and a fourth vow to devote themselves to the Christian education of youth. They also took new names. Ann Marie retained her name, while Pierette became Marie Therese, Marie Francoise became Marie Joseph and Claudine became Rosalie.

The Congregation was dedicated to Saint Joseph and in June 1810, Mother Javouhey established the Mother House of the Congregation and the Novitiate in an abandoned Franciscan monastery in Cluny, famous for the Benedictine Abbey founded by Berno in 910. Thus the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny was born.

The Cluny Sisters came to Trinidad in 1836, at the request of Msgr Mac Donnell, Bishop of Port of Spain, for Sisters to start a school in Trinidad for the daughters of the French planters from Grenada.

When Trinidad was a Spanish colony, the Spanish government invited these French planters to develop agriculture in Trinidad. The Sisters established what is now St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain as a fee-paying school for the daughters of the French planters.

Side by side with this school, they started a free school for the daughters of mulatto and negro parents. Mother Javouhey’s sister, Mother Rosalie Javouhey, is credited with having been responsible for this establishment from Bourbon, while Anne Marie was in Mana overseeing the emancipation of the slaves.

Ann Marie had at the time wisely handed over the reigns of government of the Congregation to her sister, Mother Rosalie, who commissioned her other sister, Mother Marie Therese, then Superior in Martinique, to investigate the possibilities of establishing a foundation in Trinidad. Mother Marie Therese came to Trinidad to survey the situation, on which she reported favourably.

During the ensuing years the Sisters opened other schools in Trinidad, both secondary and primary in Port of Spain, St Joseph, Arouca, Arima and San Fernando.

Most of the primary schools eventually had to be handed over to lay personnel and today the Sisters still have vested interests in the St Joseph’s Convents in Port of Spain, St Joseph, San Fernando and Providence Convent, Belmont, as well as private grade schools – Maria Regina (Port of Spain) and St Xavier’s (St Joseph).

The Sisters have also branched out into nursing, pastoral work (home visitation of the sick and the elderly), parish ministry (animating the liturgy and being ministers of the Eucharist), catechetics, retreat work, youth ministry, counselling, healing prayer ministry, care of the poor, visitation of prisons, rehabilitation of substance abuse victims, Servol, and the Foundation for Human Development Institute.

A Cluny Sister is also Chancellor in the Archdiocese, the first woman to be appointed to this office in Trinidad.

The Cluny Sisters did not remain only in Trinidad, but over the past 168 years have been instrumental in establishing schools and other apostolic works in St Lucia (1854), St Vincent (1856), Grenada (1875), Tobago and Dominica (1993).

At present the Sisters have 14 convents in the English-speaking Caribbean. Most of these Sisters are now elderly, some of them having devoted 60+ years to serving their fellowmen in imitation of their foundress and in the service of their Lord.

Sisters from France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, USA, England, Fiji, Réunion, Alsace, Italy, English-speaking West Indies, Martinique and Guadeloupe have over the years worked in the Province of the West Indies.

It is now time for more Caribbean Sisters to listen and respond to the invitation that God is constantly issuing to generous girls and women to work in this section of His Vineyard. May His call be heeded and responded to.

If you sense you have a vocation to the religious life in the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, please contact:
Sr Claire Joseph
Mistress of Novices,
St Joseph’s Convent,
Eastern Main Road, Arouca.
Phone: 642-4881 or any Cluny sister
Fax: 646-9080

(taken from the Website


  1. It is not my first time to visit this website, i am visiting this site dailly and
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  2. I had a grand aunt who was a nun in Port of Spain in Trinidad but have failed to trace her.

    Her family name was Leavy.

    How can I trace her?

    1. well there are several ways. Do you know if she was born in Trinidad? Do you know if she died here? Do you know when she died (year)? Do you know which order she belonged to? send me an email at and I will try to help you, but you will have to supply me as much info as you can.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Buen dia, mi abuela Carmen Victoria Giovannetti Martinez y sus hermanas Maria Nicolsa, Margarita, Julia y Angelina Giovannetti estudiaron en el Colegio entre 1890 y 1916; ellas eran de Uracoa-Venezuela; su padre se llamaba Federico Giovannetti; agradeceria cualquier informacion sobre ellas y su pasantia por el colegio;

    de antemano gracias.....Luis Eduardo Hernandez

  5. luis eduardo hernandez villarroel says - Good day , my grandmother Carmen Victoria Giovannetti Maria Martinez and her sisters Nicolsa , Margarita , Julia and Angelina Giovannetti studied at the College between 1890 and 1916 ; they were Uracoa - Venezuela ; his father's name was Federico Giovannetti ; appreciate any information about them and their internship by the school ; in advanced, thank you.

  6. Hello from Canada. This is very interesting - thank you for this information. I was wondering how many sisters made the foundation in 1836 and if you happen to have their names or know where I could find them? I've checked Harricharan's book, but I've been unable to find specifics.