Saint Augustine’s College was founded in January 1945 by the Very Reverend Frederic U. Frey, O.S.B., the then Prior of The Bahamas, and the school’s first Headmaster from 1945 to 1963.
The history of St. Augustine’s College is so closely interwoven with that of St. Augustine’s Monastary that at the inception, it is impossible to distinguish the two. The college, like the monastery, is based on the Benedictine tradition and for many years the teachers were all Benedictine.
The college was founded in response to a need in The Bahamas for an environment in which Bahamian youth could have access to the traditional Benedictine cultural heritage. St. Augustine’s School, as it was then called, opened its doors to its first group of students on January 4, 1945. The students were housed in a small two-storey house known as The Niche in the Priory yard near St. Francis Xavier Church in Nassau.
There were only 35 boys chosen from 95 applicants who had taken the entrance examination. The careful screening of applicants for admission has remained the established policy to this day.
Besides the headmaster there were four other teachers: Father Hubert Dahlheimer, Father Alto Buthowski, Brother Barnabas McClathy and William T. McWeeney. The course of studies was limited to an academic program for Forms I, II, and II in a junior secondary educational system. In his announcement to the Press, the Headmaster stated: “It will be the aim of the school to equip its students with the knowledge required to comply with the recognized educational standards of British and American universities and colleges. At the same time, special emphasis will be given to the development of a thoroughly Christian character.”
At the time St. Augustine’s College and Monastery were established in 1945, the Benedictines from St. John’s Abbey, Minnesota, U.S.A., had already been working in The Bahamas for nearly half a century, beginning with Father Chrysostom Schriener who came in 1891. The emphasis during those early years had been on established new parish communities and Catholic elementary schools for the education of boys and girls of all denominations.
In 1946, plans were already taking shape for the transfer of St. Augustine’s to its location in Fox Hill, then an isolated part of the island, in the Eastern district of New Providence. The Monastery and original College complex which dominated the entire campus from the hilltop were designed by the famous “Hermit of Cat Island”, Monsignor Jerome Hawes. ON January 13, 1947 the first classes were conducted in the new building which then became officially known as St. Augustine’s College. The enrollment was 50 boys and the school day lasted from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. There was a 2.5 hour break between noon and 2:30 p.m. during which the students went home for lunch. From 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. there was sports – cricket, softball, basketball, volleyball, and track and field under the direction of Father Elias. There was a supervised study period in the assembly hall from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
At the beginning of the fifths scholastic year in 1949, St. Augustine’s College was granted recognition by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate as an approved College who successful candidates in the annual overseas examination were entitled to receive the award of Certificate A. Until January 1993, students took GCE Examinations from the University of London. The Bahamas General Certificate has replaced the GCE since June 1993. In 1953, St. Mary’s Hall was completed to house the auditorium, classrooms, library, cafeteria, and science laboratories.
From 1954 to 1966, the Headmaster’s Annual Inter-School Track and Field Meets were held on St. Augustine’s playing ground, since this was the only suitable place in Nassau for such a program. With the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Sports Center in 1967, the venue was changed to that location.
The first Natural History Museum in The Bahamas was started at the college in 1962 under the direction of the late Mr. Robert Hanlon, Biology Master.
The College financed collecting expeditions to Andros, Acklins, Long Island, Great Inagua, Bimini, Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, Harbour Island, Exuma, and Ragged Island. With the construction of a new science complex in 1970 better facilities were provided for greater study of Bahamian flora and fauna.
The last building which the founder and headmaster, Father Frey, started in 1963, but did not live to see completed, was the Athletic Building.
The second phase of St. Augustine’s history began with the advent of its second Headmaster Father Burton Bloms, O.S.B., who engineered the building of the new school complex below the hill and initiated the Bahamas’ first boarding school in 1965 (discontinued 1974). During Father Bloms’ tenure, groundwork was laid for the merger of St. Augustine’s College with Xavier’s College.
In 1967, St. Augustine’s became a co-instructional high school with boys and girls sharing the same teaching facility, but in separate classes. The union was aided tremendously by generous financial contributions by the late Most Reverend Paul Leonard Hagerty, O.S.B., Bishop of Nassau. Prior to this St. Augustine’s was an all-boys school run along traditional English grammar school lines. Xavier’s College, formerly an all-girls school directed by the Sisters of Charity, had been founded in 1956 as an outgrowth of an academy started in 1880. Xavier’s recognized the Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate.
Earlier that year, in February, the appointment of an alumnus as Headmaster, the Very Reverent Bonaventure Dean, O.S.B., heralded a new era in the school’s history. Under his supervision, the College became fully co-educational, and there was a reorganization of the administration. Enrollment experienced phenomenal growth from 35 students in 1945 you more than 1,000 in September 1986. In 1971, the College reverted to a six-year program with an annual enrollment of 900 students.
In the words of Father Frey, St. Augustine’s was to be a “community institution…used for the good of the people of The Bahamas. We intentionally have avoided making it parochial in the sense of limiting it to Catholics of using it as a training college for candidates to the clergy.”
Father Theophile Brown, O.S.B., briefly held the position of Headmaster from September 1971 to December 1972. A former scholar of the College, Deacon Leviticus Adderley became Headmaster in January 1973. During the 1980s there was been expansion to the complex with a changing room for girls, a Home Economics block, and a Fine Arts building for music and art classed. The library was expanded to include an audio visual room.
In July 1991, Ms. Sonja Knowles, a former student and teacher, and Vice Principal, was appointed Principal of St. Augustine’s College.
The first computer lab with thirty computers was opened in September 1990, and it was complete refurbished in 1996 and in 2018. In October 1998, the school dedicated two computer labs on the upper campus. The Br. Barry Gearman Lab (Room 144) was named after the Benedictine monk who worked in the college and monastery from 1981 until his death in March 1995. The second lab was named after Deacon Leviticus Adderley. The school now has three computer labs for classes, and Computer is a mandatory subject students take in grades 7 through 12.
St. Augustine’s College is operated as an independent school with an independent school board. Prior to this, the College was owned and operated by the Benedictines of the Bahamas. The College is a Roman Catholic school whose aim is to promote intellectual, physical and spiritual growth of persons and thereby contribute with wisdom to the welfare of church and society.
From its inception in 1945, St. Augustine’s College has consistently produced fine young men and women who have become some of the most successful persons in the fields of education, religion, politics, law, music, fine art, culinary art, medicine and science, business, and finance. No other high school in The Bahamas can boast of producing a prime minister, an archbishop, a defense force commodore, a central bank governor, an Olympic gold medalist, a Bahamas teacher of the Year, as well as a Georgia Teacher of the Year.