Basement Days (1930-1931)
The early history of Presentation College, San Fernando begins in 1930, when a small school called St. Benedict's was established in a lowly basement beneath the San Fernando Presbytery on Harris Promenade.
This was the first Catholic secondary school in South Trinidad, and was set up in response to the requests of the Catholic population - as well as many non-Catholic residents - there. After repeated petitions to the Archbishop of Port-of-Spain, the latter directed the Benedictine Fathers of Mount St. Benedict to start the college as a diocesan institution, and on March 31, 1930, the legacy began.
Under the spiritual directorship of Rev. Fr. Sebastian Weber, OSB, and with a teaching staff of two (Mr. Vincent Ferrer and Mr. Mitchell), St. Benedict's opened with twenty-three students on its roll, including such names as Raphie Gillezeau, the Espinet brothers, the Hart brothers, Steve Bennett, Elwin Maingot, and Rex Latour.
From this small beginning, there was rapid progress. In November of the same year, the Benedictine Fathers purchased the Colony Buildings and grounds at La Pique, nestled at the foothills of the San Fernando Hill. This six-acre site was the former residence of the Governor during his visits to South Trinidad, and cost some £5,000 to acquire.
Rev. Fr. Odilo van Tongeren, OSB, returning from Downside Abbey, England, took up duties as Principal of the new St. Benedict's College. It was his keen foresight and business sense that led to the purchase of the Colony Buildings and surrounding grounds, and the buildings were refitted with a recreation hall, a library, and eight classrooms capable of holding some 190 students. The College was soon settled comfortably in its new home.
During Fr. Odilo's regime, Mr. H. N. S. McDavid joined the staff, as did Churchill Johnson, R. M. Hercules, Albert Rigsby, and Fr. Wilfred Broens, OSB. Under his principalship, too, the College made its first attempt at the Cambridge Local examinations, and both candidates - Kenneth Lamsee and Ben Winchester - passed. It was during this time, too, that the College made the first tenative steps towards obtaining government recognition and aid.
College Grounds (1933-1934)
It was the Rev. Fr. Placide Ganteaumme, OSB, who, during his short two years as College Principal, and with characteristic grit and determination, made the first assault on San Fernando Hill. Armed with pick and shovel, he began the grueling task of manually converting the quarry into a playground fit for the students. It was indeed inspiring to see principal, staff and pupils all working together on this project.
This period must also be remembered for the annual bus outings to Mount St. Benedict on the feast of the patron saint, the additions to the staff of Rev. Fr. Maurus Maingot, OSB, Rolando Corbie, Harold Araujo, and Smokie Ford. It was during this period, also, that the College realised its first successes in the School Certificate examinations - Gerald de Verteuil, Clive Evans, Rex Latour, Gerard Montano, and Ben Winchester, the latter who placed fifth in the island.
Grand-Scale Developments (1934-1939)
This was the era of Fr. Ludger Nauer, OSB, and was characterised by lofty but practical schemes, some of which materialised in his own day, while others were shelved on the outbreak of war.
He set up the first Science Laboratory, which was formally opened by Lady Fletcher, wife of the then Governor of Trinidad, and which was operated by Cecil Lai Fook and later by Eugene Bertrand.
Fr. Ludger saw to the building of the first Chapel, introduced a College Song,
and published in March of 1936 the only St. Benedict's College magazine. It was during this period that the St. Benedict's Home, a boarding house, was built.
According to the 1936 magazine, "(the boarding house was) intended mainly for boys whose parents reside away from San Fernando. The catering is done by a capable lady, whilst the Benedictine Fathers are responsible for the disciplinary part of the Home."
Monthly boarding fees of $20 and tuition fees of $16 helped the College finances.
This period saw the College football XI win the SAFA Second League for the Leiba Cup in 1934; it saw Roy Seon win a place on the SAFA forward line, the first College student to play representative football.
It also saw its first Cantata and other concerts organised by Mr. Churchill Johnston, a tour to St. Vincent in 1937 and another to British Guiana in 1939, and several open air boxing tournaments. Cricket coaching sessions during this time by ex-international cricketer George John and BG Intercolonial cricketer Chatterpaul Persad would later realise results in the form of the invitation of several of our College players to the Trials for Intercolonial cricket.
Additions to the teaching staff were J. E. Borneo, Ken Mungal, F. A. Hoyos, E. Lowe, Cecil Lai Fook, Ben Winchester, Mrs. Andre, and Rev. Fr. Boniface, OSB. This period saw Ramnath as the first full-time member of the grounds staff. It was at this time that a young Gerard Montano revealed himself to be a leading light in the Debating Club conducted by Mr. Hoyos.
War Years and Immediate Post-War Period (1939-1947)
This was the regime of Fr. Boniface, which saw the construction in 1945 of what is now affectionately known as the "Old Block," the organisation of a Sea Scouts group and construction of a Boat Club, the introduction of the Prefect System (with Jim Paul and Terrence Greteau as first Head Prefects), the start of the Legion of Mary, and the winning of the Cow and Gate Cup, emblem of supremacy in Intercollegiate football in Trinidad.
It was at this time that Mr. Mac, with the aid of Mr. Page, Captain of the Fleet-Air-Arm Football XI, began to introduce the third back method of play in the College Team which was then skippered by Jim Paul.
Leon Leacock had already become famous as the youngest player ever to play representative football in Trinidad, when he was selected to represent SAFA at the age of fourteen. John Streetly had begun to reveal his penchant for mountain-climbing by numerous assaults on the San Fernando Peak via the most inaccessible routes.
Rev. Fr. Willibrord Vonk, OSB joined the staff during this time, as well as Ralph Boland, Aubrey Garcia, and Victor de Castro.
The Presentation Takeover (1948)
Rev. Fr. Placide Ganteaumme was recalled from St. Vincent in 1948 to prepare the College for the takeover by the Presentation Brothers, the latter who had begun to arrive in Trinidad in December of the previous year. Br. Kelley of Presentation and Fr. Placide of St. Benedict's were the principal figures in this momentous act in which the old order gave way to the new, and the Presentation Brothers began the gigantic task of reorganising the College to cope with the new conditions, new requirements, and new material. The Presentation era had begun.