Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Vicariate Apostolic of British Honduras
VICARIATE APOSTOLIC OF BRITISH HONDURAS.
The territory of the vicariate is co-extensive with that of the British Crown Colony of the same name. It lies to the south of the peninsula of Yucatan, from which it is separated by the Rio Hondo; is bounded on the east by that part of the Caribbean Sea known as the Bay of Honduras, on the south and west by the Republic of Guatemala; and has a total area of 7562 square miles, being approximately equal in size to the state of News Jersey. Statistics concerning this part of the world are largely conjectural. According to a fairly careful estimate, the total population of the vicariate at present is some 40,000; of which the Catholics number about 23,500. Of this latter number, however, not more than 14,000 are with any regularity and frequency reached by the ministrations of the vicar Apostolic and his assistants. There are in the vicariate eight churches served by resident priests, and fifty-five chapels, in which, from time to time, priests from the residences say Mass and administer the sacraments. At present, under the vicar Apostolic, Right Reverend Frederick C. Hopkins, S.J., titular Bishop of Athribis, the vicariate is ministered to by 6 priests, all members of the Society of Jesus, under the immediate jurisdiction of the Missouri province, assisted by four clerics not priests, and by four lay brothers, all of the same society.
The territory long known as British Honduras was originally part of the Spanish claim, but in the first half of the seventeenth century was settled by English adventurers, mostly of the buccaneering type, without even pretence of legal right. Later the English claimed possession by prescription, and, because of Spanish military inferiority, carried the claim. Naturally there were few, if any, Catholics amongst the early settlers. Hence the territory for many years was under no especial ecclesiastical jurisdiction; only towards the end of the eighteenth century was it considered as roughly included in the Vicariate of Trinidad. In 1836 it was named as part of the new Vicariate of Jamaica, with the Very Rev. Benito Fernández, a Franciscan, as first vicar Apostolic. In 1848 the mission received its first notable influx of Catholics; seven thousand of whom, driven from Yucatan by Indian outbreaks, took refuge in British Honduras. Some Jesuits, passing through the colony in 1850, were asked by those Catholics to have priests sent to them; and as a result of their representations, the Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica came in person, bringing with him two Jesuit missionaries, who built the first Catholic church in 1851. Very Rev. James Eustace Dupeyron, S.J., succeeded to the Vicariate of Jamaica, 27 September, 1855, and several times visited the mission up to 1871, when he resigned his office, and was succeeded by Very Rev. Joseph Woollett, S.J., as pro-vicar Apostolic. On 6 Sept., 1877, Very Rev. Thomas Porter, S.J., was named Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica, and held the office until his death, 29 Sept., 1888. Shortly before his death, it was determined, in view of the difficulty of communication between Jamaica and British Honduras, that the latter territory should be separated from the Vicariate of Jamaica and erected into a prefecture Apostolic. Very Rev. Salvatore di Pietro, a Sicilian Jesuit, who since 1869, with various interruptions, spent fifteen years in the mission, and who had three times been its superior, was named the first prefect Apostolic, 10 June, 1888.
At length, in 1893, in response to the general desire of the Catholics of the territory, British Honduras was made a vicariate, and the prefect Apostolic appointed vicar Apostolic. He was consecrated on 16 April of that year, in Belize, under the title of Bishop of Eurea. Bishop di Pietro laboured in his office with great energy and zeal. Under him, missionary work in the vicariate received a new impetus. At the erection of the vicariate there were nine priests in the mission; the Catholic population was about 12,000, with 1819 children in the Catholic schools. A few months after his consecration, the mission was removed from the care of the English province of the Society of Jesus, and attached to the Missouri province. More priests came to labour, and new residences were opened. Ten years previously, in January, 1883, some Sisters of Mercy had come to Belize from New Orleans, and had opened a convent for girls; which still exists, with an attendance of about one hundred. A select school for boys had been begun in 1887 by Rev. Cassian Gillett, an English Jesuit, to be replaced nine years later by the present St. John Berchmans's College, established in 1896 with sixty-one pupils. Both convent and college accommodate a small number of boarding-scholars, and were intended to serve as means of higher education for the surrounding republics. In May, 1898, the Sisters of the Holy Family (coloured) were brought from New Orleans and began teaching in Stann Creek, the chief village of the Carib district. At present they number five, and have the care of some three hundred children.
Bishop di Pitro died in Belize, 23 August, 1898, and was succeeded by the present vicar Apostolic, Bishop Hopkins, who was consecrated 4 November, 1899, in St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A. Exceptional difficulties attend the work of the ministry. The Catholics of the vicariate are mostly scattered over the territory in small villages. There are no roads. Communication must be made by boat, or on horseback through the dense tropical bush, often under necessity of cutting one's way with the machete. Diversity of language presents another obstacle, as the population is very heterogenous. It is almost impossible even to estimate with anything like accuracy the racial proportions of the population. Perhaps rather more than two-fifths are of more or less mixed Indian descent, another two-fifths negroes or the product of miscegenation; of the remainder, some three thousand are a mongrel black people, improperly styled Caribs; three hundred or so are whites; the rest are unclassified and unclassifiable. The Indians are chiefly Mayas, with high cheekbones and almond eyes. Many of them speak Spanish¯of a sort; amongst the blacks a barbarized English prevails, under the linguistic title of "Creole", quite unintelligible to English-speaking people. The Caribs speak an African dialect, into which, in a curious manner, many French words have crept.
Poverty is the universal condition; owing, in part, to native laziness and want of thrift; in part, to governmental neglect in opening up the superb resources of the colony, and to an almost total absence of local manufactures. There are comparatively few pagans, but pagan superstitions abound, and obeah rites are to some small extent carried on in secret. Concubinage obtains very widely, the percentages of legitimate and illegitimate births being nearly equal. Yet, in despite of these and many other hindrances, a great deal is accomplished yearly in the vicariate. In 1908, upon estimate, there were 1200 baptisms, 320 marriages, 500 confirmations, 40,000 confessions, 38,000 Holy Communions. There are, in the whole vicariate, twenty sodalities with a membership of about eight hundred. The League of the Sacred Heart was established in British Honduras in 1888, and has since grown steadily. In 1895 the associates numbered 1200, and at present are estimated at some 4500. There is absolute freedom of worship in the colony. Although formerly the Anglican Church was established by law, there is at present no established religion. The educational system, all things considered, is very good; Government grant-in-aid being divided impartially amongst public schools under the charge of various denominations, according to the class and attendance of each school, with full liberty of religious instruction accorded to each denomination in the proper schools. The grant to Catholic schools for 1908 was over $7,500 gold. There are about 2300 children in the Catholic public schools. Except those of Belize, which are under the care of the Sisters of Mercy, and those of Stann Creek, these schools are taught by lay teachers, who have qualified in a government examination. The vicariate depends for its priests and religious teachers chiefly upon the United States. It has no seminary or novitiate of its own. The material support of the vicariate, since the contributions of its own people are entirely inadequate, is also derived from the outside world, principally from the benefactions of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and from various charities sent from the United States.
WILLIAM T. KANE.