Neighbor Focus


Amid the pandemic Catholics in Jamaica are summoning the courage to open a school for boys and teens. They know there is a crisis in the educational system for males and they believe there is no time to waste because lives depend on it. Fr. Colin King, OFM, is a missionary with the Franciscan Friars from Ohio and the Vicar of Education for the Diocese of Montego Bay. He explained, “There are an infinite number of reasons not to open a school while facing a pandemic. But the reason to do it is to help these young men. To stare down fear and the uncertainty of a pandemic and go forward with eyes wide open not seeing anything but trusting that God will lead us.”

Monsignor Gladstone Wilson College opened in October 2020 in a simple building transformed from a parish hall. The school is located in the Diocese of Montego Bay which has had a strong relationship with Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers for many years. Fr. Leo Shea, M.M. spent many years in mission there. The diocese now hosts immersions for the Maryknoll Mission Education Department. Deacon Baldwin Powell is a deacon at the Cathedral and part of the Maryknoll Deacon Partner Program. As our immersion groups have learned from our Jamaican hosts, the economy in Montego Bay, once supported by agriculture with sugar cane as its main crop, has shifted, leaving many behind. The school is surrounded by depressed neighborhoods full of people struggling to get by.

The downturn of the economy has forced many boys and young men to leave school to find work to help their families. Many of the children grow up in one parent families with a mother or grandmother being the sole parent. Confronted with poverty and few opportunities for work without an education, the young men are often recruited into gangs and into illegal scamming. Seeing the impact of this crisis affecting their young men the community organized to build without delay. Deacon Baldwin said, “We are building hope. Our goal is to try and establish a school to try and reduce the risk of these vulnerable boys so they can be prepared to live lives of service, be committed in relationships, and to be good citizens. We want to put a lifeboat out there for those who are struggling and drowning. We want them to know that even though they may come from broken homes with no father figure it does not mean that will determine their future.”

One of the students who is courageously navigating his first year at the school is Chrison. The pandemic has forced him to learn remotely. With no internet or computer at home he attends his classes on a cell phone. Fr. Colin has helped him buy more data for his phone so he can attend classes. Two other young men that Fr. Colin has helped with education are Gifford and Andre. Gifford is studying to be an architect and aspires to build community centers to provide a safe place for the children in his community. Andre is working to become a teacher. All three of these bright, talented, young men are examples of what an investment in quality education can do to open doors not only for them but for the lives they will touch in the future. Fr. Colin said, “They would not have been able to finish high school without help because their families did not have the money. They are all grateful for the opportunity to pursue their education.”

Although, only a tiny fraction of the population, the Catholic Church in Montego Bay continues its long history of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and educating the young. Faced with all the challenges of the pandemic and a struggling economy they courageously took a leap of faith trusting that God will open doors. Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers looks forward to the day when the pandemic is over, and we can take immersion trips again to be with our friends in Jamaica. We look forward to visiting the school and witnessing how hope even in the most difficult of times can transform lives. 



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