St John Bosco Orphanage:
Caring for abandoned and motherless boys by Edlyn Benfield
June 30, 2002
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The St John Bosco convent with part of the orphanage to the left of the picture.
When asked if they ever returned to the orphanage, she replied: "Yes, sometimes. It is heartwarming when the boys grow up and come back." She noted that when love is combined with the right degree of discipline, positive attitudes were engendered.
"Although the key is to love them, you must enforce discipline," she advised. Sister Menezes said that the gift of sharing was instilled in them, as many members of the public, when celebrating their birthdays and on other special occasions like Christmas, distributed meals to the boys. It was pointed out to the boys that the example of persons giving on occasions when they were expected to receive, was one to be emulated.
She said too that the love shown to the children was often returned tenfold, as on Mother’s Day, the children presented lovely cards to them and even presents. But like everything else, there were instances where there was no evidence of gratitude.
The orphanage is maintained by donations and gifts from voluntary organisations.
And the children have everything which can be found in a regular home. The institution boasts a large video and book library - with the latter open to the children of Plaisance village - as well as eight computers. At Christmas, the boys are given beautiful gifts from various donors.
According to Sister Menezes, the order of the Sisters of Mercy was founded in 1831 by Sister Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland, and in 1894, some sisters came to Guyana. Catherine McAuley’s hallmark was a great concern for the poor.
The Sisters of Mercy once occupied the building, which is now the Canadian High Commission, but they sold it to its current owners some 25 years ago.
The Sisters of Mercy first went to Plaisance 100 years ago in 1902.
The orphanage itself, however, dates back further, having been established by Father Luigi Casati, an Italian Jesuit in 1879. According to a pamphlet giving a brief history of the institution, he gathered together a number of homeless boys he saw running around the streets of Plaisance.
He then started a boys’ band, which was the origin of the orphanage. "By the end of the century, because of failing health," says the pamphlet, "Father Casati was no longer able to care for the boys. In 1902 the orphanage was placed under the care of the Sisters of Mercy, who continue to maintain it today."
Sister Menezes, a history professor, told this newspaper that when she was a lecturer at the University of Guyana (UG) in 1968, she had moved to the Plaisance convent in order to be nearer to campus.
Over the years, donors have been very generous. The Mercy Home in Prashad Nagar for older boys had been purchased and furnished within six months, for example, while the present orphanage building in Plaisance had been erected in 1935 by William Fogarty Ltd.
"I have a very long list of people to pray for," Sister remarked. Among these were the Chestnut Hill Rotary Club in Philadelphia, Rebecca Anwar, Thelma Lewis, Banks DIH Ltd, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Vic Insanally who provided free tickets to cricket games hosted in Guyana, Art Williams and the Harry Wendt Aeronautical School, and many others, particularly in the United States and England. Furthermore, the children hardly suffered from health problems and received regular general check-ups, free of cost, at the St Joseph’s Mercy hospital. They also were given dental care.
Sister Menezes recalled how a short while ago, an eight-year-old had been brought to them and from the inception, it had been observed that he was not very robust. After noticing that he wheezed regularly, he had been taken to the St Joseph’s Mercy Hospital where Dr Mootoo had examined him. Using a donation of US$500, the child had been taken to Trinidad under the watchful eyes of Dr Mootoo, where it had been discovered that there were two holes in his heart. The child is still receiving treatment.
In the area of schooling, the boys attend nursery, primary, community high and secondary schools, and some are at the Marian Academy on scholarships.
Thirty-four sisters over the years have worked at the orphanage, now 123 years old.