Sunday, 16 June 2013

Dom Basil Matthews - a national treasure

EARLY LIFE - Born in the San Juan area of Trinidad on September 2nd 1911, Basil stephen Matthews later attended the College of the Immaculate Conception (St Mary’s College), an all-boys secondary school founded by the Roman Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers in 1863. 

THE PRIEST - When he left St Mary`s in 1928 and went up –literally and figuratively – to the Mount St Benedict`s Seminary to commence his studies for the priesthood. Matthews took his priestly vows in 1935 and then went on to the Benedictine College of Theology in Louvain, Belgium; from Louvain it was on to Fordham University, New York, where he earned a Master’s degree in sociology: He also took a PhD at Fordham. 

CRISIS IN THE WEST INDIAN FAMILY - While at Mount st Benedict Dom Basil was one of the assigned counsellors of the many who came to the monastary. His experiences in that role led to his publication of Crisis of the West Indian Family, one of the earliest sociological works on Caribbean family problems

THE DOM - Dom is short for Dominus (Latin for lord/ master). It is a title of respect commonly used when addressing monks. 

THE INTELLECTUAL - In the United States Dom Basil taught at Fordham University, the Graduate School for Social Work , Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart (New York)  Howard University and Talladega College, Alabama`s oldest historically black college.

The Dom was in the U.S in 1943 when he became one of  two New York based Trinidadians to have been recruited by Eric Williams to assist with the planning for a conference under the theme “The Economic Future of the Caribbean ”:   Eric Williams hosted the conference at Howard University in Washington, DC. in June 1943.

At some point Howard University requested Dom Basil's services to develop an "intellectual academic base for the integration of black experience into the curriculum of the University". While working on that project, he was assigned to the Graduate School of Social Work where he was Chairman of Human Behaviour in the Social Environment, and later Chairman of the Graduate Studies at the School of Communications involving print and broadcast media. 

ST BENEDICTS COLLEGE - When Dom Basil was sent to minister in the San Fernando region in the early 1950s, he felt that he had to do something about the lack of educational opportunity in the district. In 1953, Matthews began laying the foundation for what evolved into St Benedict's College.  He encouraged the church to purchase land from the Lucky family in La Romaine and their home was used as the building to house the primary school. Many scoffed at his idea but Dom Basil was undaunted and with the support of Archbishop Ryan, some businessmen and parishioners, he was able to bring his dream to fruition. St. Benedict's College opened its doors on September 11, 1956 with 220 students. It was to be one of the first comprehensive schools in the country for besides the normal grammar school subjects, a number of technical and vocatioanl subjects formed part of the curriculum. In 1957, with support of the then Minister of Education, Dr. Patrick Solomon, St. Benedict's became a government assisted school. There was a steady expansion from then on. the staff room block was opened in 1960. the auditorium in 1961 and the playing field in 1963 at La-Romaine by the Sea. Dom Basil believed that excellence in sports would develop the self-esteem of students which would lead to an improvement in academic standards.Alas, the Dom was drummed out of St Benedict`s in 1968 amidst allegations of financial misconduct; though never substantiated these charges will shadow him to the grave. 

A NATIONAL HERO -Apart from his principalship at St Benedict's College, he taught for several years at the Abbey School at Mt St Benedict, and was a lecturer for the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies at St Augustine. He also served as a vice-president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association for several years

A PRIEST NO LONGER - In 1981, news was received in Trinidad that Pope John Paul II had consented to an application by Dom Basil made three years previously for a release from his priestly vows. The application had been forwarded through Archbishop Anthony Pantin and Abbot Hildebrand Greene of the Abbey at Mount St Benedict. 

IN THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM - The former monk spent most of his time in the United States. He died in an Aberdeen Mississippi nursing home on April 7, 1999  after a long illness. He was 87.

1 comment: