The St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Parish of Bartica is the second oldest religious organization to be established in Bartica almost 145 years ago. Like St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, much of its early history here was either not documented or the earlier church records have either been lost of destroyed.
What can be ascertained from tireless research is that this parish began somewhere around 1867 to 1870, but at the moment, we are able to access records dating to around 1897 and this is just the tip of the search.
This parish was an innovation of the priests of the society of Jesus, as we call them today the Jesuits, who were the early founders of the Catholic Church in Guyana. After establishing the Brickdam cathedral and the Sacred Heart church, the early Fathers turned their vision to the East Coast, Berbice, Essequibo and North West areas of the then British Guiana, including Bartica.
Bartica back then had just taken on the look of the future town, and with the Anglicans being first mission to begin evangelization in these parts, it was given that the Catholics would soon follow. The first mission came around the year 1867 to 1870, but the earliest pictures show A priest in front of a small one-bedroom presbytery around 1878/1880, right on this same location of the present church grounds, just that it was located more up the Avenue.
The former church building was made of materials that were brought by boat from down river by the great, great grandfather of Mrs. Vera Odwin, who almost lost his life in the process. One of the eye-catching parts of that building was the intricate high altar that was as a result of the architectural influence current at that time. Initially that altar was towards the east of the Former building with entrances being along the two sides. However, as the parish expanded somewhere in the 1930’s that altar was moved to the western front and two extensions were added to house blessed virgin and the sacred heart respectively. There was the choir loft to the eastern end as well as a lovely bell tower over the front porch. These were taken down in the early 90’s due to deterioration of the wooden materials at that time since replacement quality ones were hard to obtain. The early presbytery was also moved toward the rear of the lot in the 1930’s, and as the parish grew, the lower part was enclosed to be used as an office space, Sadly, there are no reminders of that old building that contributed so much to growth of this parish saved, except in our personal photographs of celebrations past and in our memories.
This generation and the ones to come will only be able to access part of our rich history.
In addition, the school – St. Anthony’s Primary was established in the 1940’s primarily for the Catholics who comprised mainly of the Portuguese and European descendants of the village but expanded to take in children from other catholic families. This was run by a board and the parish council, but in 1976 the school was taken over by the government of the day. Many of us can recall coming to midday mass as well as taking part in catechism classes and other religious events of the school during those years. There was also the catholic youth building situated on the site where the Hi Lo Hotel now stands. This building was the hive of many parish activities – youth meetings, guilds, sports and craft as well as housing the headmaster of the primary school and visitors from time to time. It was sold in the 1990’s to a local businessman.
The Parish also has responsibility for part of the sorrow Hill Cemetery where our members are interred.
Priests who have served in this parish include Frs. Victorine and Carey – Elwes (very briefly) early in the 1900’s, Fr. O’Brian, Fr. Buckley, Fr. Aidan Gill, Fr. George Vanderwood – our own Bartician, Fr. Meerabux, Fr. Tony De Souza, Fr. Ramsay, Fr. Andy Morrison, Fr. Hilderbrand Greene (OSB), Fr. Malcolm Rodrigues, Fr. Cedric of the Philippines, and now Fr. Joel Rathna – a Diocesan priest. With the exception of Fr. Greene and Fr. Cedric, until recently, all of the priests who have served in this parish, some briefly, some for extended periods, have all come from Jesuits. Many of them established long and fruitful relations not only with the parish families but with the extended community of Bartica.
Families who have been part of the parish from four five generations back include the Nasimentos, Dos Santos, Figuieras, Mendes, Mendoncas, Gonsalves, Rodrigues, Pequenos; many of their descendants have either migrated to other parts of Guyana or overseas. We also have the Jardines – Eunice was once the lady who played the Organ for mass for many years, Odwins, Kings – Their father Alexis – was once the Choir Master and Aunty Elna, her sisters and their brother were part of the choir; The Fagundes and Ramdatts, De Freitas, Frasers, the Mc. Kenzies, the Mc GArrells – Aunty Annie and her sisters and brothers, the Chows to name a few. They served in the Choir, as altar boys, Men’s Guild and Ladies Group, for fairs and dances to raise funds for the church projects and also cleaning and maintaining the buildings. There were also families of natives who came from the islands of St. Lucia, Grenada and Guadeloupe – Ms. Merryl, Ms. Prowell, Mr. Baptiste, Mr. Englais, and many others who came in the late 40’s and 50’s seeking to improve their livelihood and who have stayed and made here their home. In addition, they were joined by families who migrated to Bartrica over the years either through marriage or to look for a better living for themselves.
Currently we still have relations to these families still serving and being part of the parish, and while some have migrated, they continue to support the parish form afar. The Kings, Frasers, Fagundes, Jardines, Chows have been joined by the Sawh and Roberts and other families as we continue to keep the spirit of St. Anthony alive. Notably, we are the only parish (I Know) to have had a monastery established, the Benedictines until a few years back had their monastery at Mora Camp on the Mazaruni River, and today their building is still used as a mass centre for residents in that vicinity.
Ours is a rich legacy, and we will continue to witness to the love of Jesus in the way we preach and love all with whom we come in contact with as we go about our daily lives.
Fr. Joel Rathna
Lot 64-66 First Avenue,
Bartica, Cuyuni Mazaruni,
Sunday8:00 am - 9:00 am
Monday6:30 am - 7:30 am
Tuesday6:30 am - 7:30 am
Wednesday6:30 am - 7:30 am
Thursday6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Saturday6:30 am - 7:30 am