St Joseph

About the St.Joseph Primary School







In 1875 Fr. Nieuwenhuis requested the Prioress of Voorschoten, Holland , to send some sisters to St. Maarten to help with Catholic Education. This request was not granted. Fr. Onderwater repeated that request and finally the Prioress decided to send six sisters to St. Maarten.

On the 15th April 1890 the sisters left Holland . They were: Sr. Regina, who was the first prioress on St. Maarten and also the first principal of St. Joseph school, Sr. Catharina, Sr. Helena, Sr. Gonzales, Sr. Raymunda and Sr. Huberta. It took them 2 1/ 2 weeks to reach St. Kitts by boat. They arrived there in the evening, but did not want to spend the night there.

They chartered a schooner and arrived in St. Maarten on May 3rd, 1890 at 8:00 am, at the small pier. There were a lot of people present to welcome them. Six little girls presented them with flowers. This friendly welcome made the sisters happy. Soon they felt at home in St. Maarten.

Three years previously the parish priest, Fr. Nieuwenhuis had died. He left a sum of money, houses, and a piece of property behind. One of these houses was specially built for the sisters. It was so large that there was enough space in it for some classrooms. The convent and the school were housed in the same building and stood at the same location where the St. Joseph Convent on Front street stood. The convent and the school were blessed and were given the name St. Joseph , under whose protection they were put.

Monday June 2nd, 1890 was the first school day. The day started with a Holy Mass. All the pupils were present. After Mass all went to their class rooms. The pupils were divided into two sections: paying and non paying. The fee paying section was for the well to do people, but those were mainly non Catholics.

Although there were a lot of decent people among the Catholics, only a very few of them would be able to pay the school fees. It was then decided to give free tuition to all Catholics and even to provide them with the necessary supplies. Many of them who wanted to attend school had to be given clothes in order to be able to dress themselves properly.

The school population consisted of 62 children in the kindergarten (all in one classroom), 56 children in two other classrooms and 14 in the paying section. Some peculiar difficulties arose during the first morning session. The majority of the children in the kindergarten had no idea about discipline, and many of them were very scared of the sisters who were so strangely dressed. Crying, shouting, fighting, climbing through windows, it all happened several times. The sisters did not understand them and they did not understand the sisters.

The main problem during the first weeks was definitely the language barrier. So four of the sisters decided to take English lessons from two local ladies. Then things started to get better. After 6 months the sisters wanted to show what was taught in the school and how much progress was made.

A public examination was held for both sections, paying and non paying. The examination for the paying section took place in the classroom on December 23rd, 1890. About thirty people were present and they were all satisfied. The examination of the non-paying section took place in the church on Sunday January 4th, 1891, because the classrooms were too small. A lot of the people believed that the children were not learning much at the Sister’s school. The examination had the desired results, because the people were satisfied.

The parents were no doubt impressed to hear their children speak words and even short sentences in foreign language. Each child received a little present as a reward for attending school, (the children had to foot it to and from school. This was especially tiresome for those who lived in the outer districts.) and for the progress he made. The reward was also given in order to encourage them to continue. The majority received clothes, made by children of the school. The pupils of the well to do received a toy or a booklet. Thanks to the benefactors in Holland they were able to give a dress or a parcel of clothes to about 100 children. 

The next day the sisters immediately noticed the results of the public exam and the handing out of presents. The school reopened after Christmas recess and many more children came to school, and those who used to attend irregularly began to come more often, probably hoping to receive a gift too next time. 

Up to 1891 15 to 20 paying pupils attended the school. This could have been larger if one Methodist family had not refused to send their children to the school because of some religious misunderstandings. They sent for a Methodist teacher of their own, Mr. Cran. Four of our students left the school because they were closely related to this family; only 12 paying pupils were left.

The school received a government grant of f.400,-for the first time in 1893. In April of that same year, Mr. C. Hudig left the island and took his 6 children with him. Only 6 paying pupils were left: In 1894 the government’s grant was raised by f200,-a year. In March 1895, Mr. Cran’s Methodist School closed down and his students rejoined the Catholic School . The number of paying children came back to 12. in 1895 the kindergarten and the classroom for the more advanced pupils were made into one classroom and a new building for the kindergartenwas added, This is the present “documentation room ”/ reading room or better known as the ”Casino”. Because the classrooms were too small, the sisters received permission in March 1900 to add two more classrooms, the present 1st and 2nd grade. This was all paid for by a donation of a rich deceased person. 

The last public exam in church was held in December 1900. Afterwards they were held at the school. In August 1901, permission was obtained from the Bisdom to allow the better-off Catholic children to attend the non-Catholic paying school at a greatly reduced fee. It was also in that year that the nuns decided to have the children pray before and after classes. A tradition that is being observed up to now. Bible lessons were given during school hours and lessons in catechism were given after school hours. 

In 1923. the wooden building next to St. Joseph Convent was built and named St, Mary’s Boarding school (Maria Instituut ). This building also housed girls of the neighbouring islands who had no Catholic education on their own island. It was used as a boarding school until 1930, After that, it was used as a regular school, namely, the St. Joseph School . In 1948, a great part of the wooden building was found unsuitable and in 1954 or 1955, the building was condemned by Mr. Tjon Sie Fat. A new school was necessary to accommodate the rapidly growing school population. 

Since August 1988, The Sr. Marie Laurence Primary School had been occupying the building. The statue of the Blessed Virgin in the niche in the façade reminds us of the years when it was St. Mary’s Boarding School.



The first day of the new school year was very exciting one, because that was the day on which the children would be promoted. At the sound of the bell, the children would line up in front of their former classroom and wait until the principal came to take them to their new classroom and introduce them to their new teacher. This event was so special, that it was called a ceremony.

The principal would go for the group of 7th graders and walk with them to the 8th grade. The following group to be promoted would be the 6th graders and so on. The kindergarten children were also promoted to the first grade in this special way. After all the children were taken to their new classrooms, the principal, who was at that time Sr., Constance , would register the new students.

Up until 1959, the St. Joseph School consisted of eight grades and an U.L.O. (Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs). In 1953, eight grades occupied seven classrooms. The amount of children in grades 1, 2 and 3 were more than 50 in each classroom. In the 4th grade there were about 45 children and in grade 5, and 40 children. The 6th and 7th grade shared one classroom with 48 children. The 8th grade was the smallest group with only 16 children. Sr. Constance, who was at that time principal, was also class teacher of the 8th grade. The language of instruction was English in grade 1, 2 and 3 with Dutch being a subject. In grades 4 up to 8, the language of instruction was Dutch and English a subject, The 6th, 7th and 8th graders Miss Marie Greaux gave gymnastic lessons to the girls of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade. These lessons were given on the playground. At that time, the playground was not paved. It was just sand. That same afternoon, Sr. Modesta, who gave lessons to the kindergarten children in the morning, would give the same group of girls’ handicraft lessons.

Water had to be pumped up from the cistern. There were three pumps, one by each cistern. Once a day, a student would pump water up from the cistern. For this job he received f. 10, - a month. In 1955, the 8th grade with 14 children was moved to the principal’s office. In those days, there were no chairs and tables in the classrooms. The children sat on benches. When it was time for testing, some benches would be placed on the playground. The children would be split up into two groups, some in the principal’s office and some on the playground. (Remember, the principal was at the same time, the 8th grade teacher.) sufficient money was not always available. The principal received f. 4, - per child per month to buy teaching materials and f 120,-per classroom for the maintenance.

Two or three years before 1957, the youngest son of Mr. Japa Beaujon, Lieutenant Governor of the Windward Islands was admitted to the first grade of St. Joseph school. The class population was at that time, 55 or 56 children. The little boy came home and said “Daddy, there are so many children in my class, I can’t even count them and I can count up to one hundred,” Naturally the Lieutenant Governor decided to visit his son’s classroom. You could walk over the little heads here,”he said. This situation cannot continue. He told the principal, who was at that time Sr. Constance, to send in a request for an extra teacher so that the class could be split in two. I will see to it that you get an extra teacher, he said. It took a few months before they got an extra teacher because not many teachers were available and the new classroom had to be obtained. That was how an extra teacher was made available.

The law on this subject was the following: for every thirty children, one teacher, for every forty more, another teacher would be added. There were about 250 to 300 children, with seven teachers. To accommodate the growing school population, more classrooms had to be made available. That is why, in 1957, two extra classrooms were made available on the 2nd floor of the wooden building. The two existing classrooms were partitioned, so there were now four classrooms on the 2nd floor. The total cost, including painting, was f2500,-.

It took a lot of effort to see to it that the furniture (benches, blackboards, desk, cupboards etc.) for the two new classrooms were received before the new school year.

In 1958, the room facing the Front Street, on the 1st floor of the wooden building, was turned into a classroom. The partition between the hall and the rooms were taken down, the windows and door of the next classroom next to the hall were closed off with bricks. In 1960, two more classrooms were built on the playground (where the present 5th and 6th graders are). On September 1st, 1960 there were12 classes and the school consisted of nine grades.


The School Bus

There was a bus for the children who lived in Simpson Bay . Later in 1955/1956, a bus was also available for children who lived in Sucker Garden and Middle Region. This bus was extremely full, so in consultation with the police, an agreement was made to set a border-line. The children who lived behind the border line were allowed to go on the bus. Those who lived before the border line had to walk it to school or find other means of transportation.

The parents of the kids who lived before the border-line were very upset and protested against the aforementioned agreement. It was then decided to cancel that agreement. The bus- drivers were advised that the bus was strictly for school children and adults were not allowed to sit on the bus, because it was reported that some adults were regular passengers. Anyone who fought on the bus was put out immediately. They then had to walk it home or walk it to school, depending on the time of day. If they reached school late because of a fight, they would be punished.

For many years, (1954 to 1967) there was a wooden shed on the same location where the two classrooms in the Backstreet are now, the present handicraft rooms). This shed was used for the school feeding. In the fifties, many children were recipients of the school feeding program.

During the renovation of St. Joseph Convent, this shed was used as a kitchen. The doctor came to school to examine the children. He also gave them an injection to prevent smallpox. To be admitted into school, the children had to be in possession of a vacation card and, a copy of their birth certificate was also compulsory. Most of the children lived with their grandmothers or aunts, because their parents worked in Curacao or Aruba . Father de Barbanson once made the following remark about the fifties. “I have only grandmothers and children as parishioners.

Absenteeism among the boys of the higher grades was very high. They started to skip school occasionally and because of this they couldn’t follow the lessons. After awhile they stopped coming to school all together. It was very difficult to contact the parents or guardians of these boys. It often happened that these boys came back to school after a year or two and were very diligent. If they were too old to come back to school, the principal then had to ask permission of the executive council to readmit them. This request was never refused. Some of these boys later received scholarships to go to Curacao to finish the M.U.L. Since 1965, two classes of St. Joseph School were housed in the Backstreet where the old “Sweet Repose” was. (The present Sr. Borgia Primary School ).

In 1967 they began with education in home economics. That same year, two classrooms facing the Backstreet (the present handicraft classrooms) were built, one of those classrooms was used for theoretical lessons in home economics.


The splitting up of St. Joseph School .

a. In 1968, the St. Joseph School was split up into elementary school (onderbouw) and secondary school (bovenbouw). The class for home economics was moved to Cul-de-Sac, where the present Sr. Magda School is. Sr. Lamberta was appointed principal of the St. Joseph School . Sr. Borgia remained principal of the M.U.L.O. (Meer Uitgerbreid Lager Onderwijs).

Mr. Slippens was appointed principal of the school for home economics. In 1969, the M.U.L.O. was moved to Backstreet where a new wing was built by the old “Sweet Repose”. The school population was growing rapidly, so it was decided to look for a building in Cul-de-Sac to accommodate students who lived in that area. Up until 1976, three classes of the St. Joseph School were housed in the St. John’s Ranch, and two classrooms were in a house behind Food Center . After the M.A.V.O. (former M.U.L.O.) was moved to the Milton Peters College in 1976, those classrooms in the Backstreet next to the old Sweet Repose, were empty.

It was then decided to move the two classes at the St. John’s Ranch back to town. St. Joseph School at that time consisted of 22 classes. There were three parallel classes of some grades.

b. In 1978 the St. Joseph School was again split up. This time, into three schools, namely the St. Joseph School with 11 classes, The Old Pondside School with six classes and the Sr. Magda Primary School with 6 classes. Sr. Lamberta remained principal of the St. Joseph School. Mrs. Silvia Nisbeth became the first principal of the Old Pondside School () the present Sr. Borgia Primary School ) and Mr. Wim Scheerder, principal of the Sr. Magda Primary School.

c. The year 1984 was a significant year for the history of St. Joseph School . Sr. Lamberta, who had been principal for 16 years, was transferred to Holland to serve on the board of the “Congregatie van de H. Catharina van Siena ”. This meant the end of the nuns as teachers in the classrooms of the Catholic School . It was that same year that St. Joseph School had for the first time a male principal, namely Mr. Frans van Veghel. In the eighties the school population continued to grow rapidly and it consisted of 12 classes.

Grades 1, 2 and 3 were housed in the classrooms on the playground. Grades 4, 5 and 6 were in the wooden building in Front Street (Mary’s Boarding School). It was also in this year that the playground was fully paved and the shelter on the playground was completed. It was in 1985 that Mrs. Marina Haynes, at that time 4th grade teacher wrote the St. Joseph School Song. Meanwhile, the school board looked for land to build a new school because the wooden building on Front Street was condemned. In 1987, a piece of property in Middle Region, was made available.

The intention was to build a new school. That is why, in 1988, the St. Joseph School with 6 classes, the Sr. Marie Laurence Primary School with 6 classes and the children who lived in the area of St. Peters, South Reward and Cay Hill were transferred to St. Dominic Primary School . In April 1990, Angelique Gumbs, student of the 6th grade, designed the school flag of St. Joseph School . 

Mrs. Carmen Bowers-Lake took over from Mr. Van Veghel as principal of the St. Joseph school.

In 2013 Mrs. Dorothee Illis became principal of the St. Joseph school. In 2017 Mrs. Illis left the school.

At present the school is under guidance of a management team led by Mrs. Shaina Fernandes