The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson


A short History of the St. Joseph Convent

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Front part of the Convent was the home of Dr. George Illidge van Romondt. The  chapel and other rooms were added in 1891.

In the year 1888 the Roman Catholic Priest Father Stephanus J.J. Nieuwenhuis passed away and in his last will and testament he left two houses, a plot of land and Ten thousand guilders to the Dominican Nuns in The Netherlands. The money and buildings were intended to lure the Dominican Nuns to St. Maarten to start a school there. He had been a priest on St. Martin for 35 years and saw where there was a great need for a school.

One of the buildings was the stately mansion which had belonged to Dr. George Illidge van Romondt who died in 1854 and which building was acquired after his death by Father Nieuwenhuis.

On a Saturday morning May 3rd 1890 at 8am the first Nuns of the Dominican Order arrived on St. Maarten.

After a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the afternoon they went to the future convent where everything was nicely prepared by Father Jordanus Onderwater O.P. and Miss Catherine Mildrum the former house keeper of the late Father Niewenhuys. The convent was dedicated to St. Joseph. The Reverend Sister Egelie was the first principal of the new school and the first prioress of the St. Joseph Convent.


Sister Regina Egelie was the first head of the school and Prioress of the St. Joseph Convent

On June 2nd 1890 the doors of the convent were opened to children to attend school there. 132 children came to go to the new school, Catholics and non-Catholics and 62 toddlers. The latter posed the biggest problem. Losing their freedom and not accustomed to the Nuns and the strange way they were dressed there was a screaming and crying and a number of children jumped through the windows and ran out the doors. The lessons were given in the English language. A couple of the Nuns had a problem with the language, but in time as locals were trained to become teachers the language problem was solved.

Teachers at St. Joseph School..jpg

Some of the local teachers who helped to make the St. Joseph School a success. Left to right. Cynthia Lake, Sister Agatha, Agnes Houtman, Hilda Conner, Sister Magda, Julian Conner, Marie Greaux, Clare Conner, Sister Modeste and Edna Peterson. 1952

In 1891 Miss Catharina Mildrum died and left her possessions to the convent. With this money a Gothic Chapel and a classroom were added to the existing building. It was designed by Mr. R. Terlaag while Mr. G. Stephens was the builder.

A few years later in the night of February 17th and 18th 1893 the Convent was threatened by fire when the house of Mrs. A van Romondt on the opposite side of the street was consumed by fire. Because of the high winds and in order to prevent the Convent from burning down the roof had to be kept wet and thus saved.


St. Joseph School teachers 1937: Seated left to right. Miss Agnes de Weever, Sister Dorothea, Miss Marie Greaux. Standing Sister Modeste, Miss Mary Conner, Sister Everdina, Sister Magdala  and Miss Hilda Conner.

Over the years many locals served as teachers in the convent.

Many well-known people in the community also went to school there. I myself got my typing degree from lessons which I attended there.

For some years in the nineteen twenties there was also a boarding school in the Convent for young ladies from St. Barth’s but there were also some from St. Martin as well.

Maria Institute

This building housed the St. Mary Institute where girls from St. Barth’s, St. Martin and a few from other islands were housed. It later became the St. Joseph School. It was severely damaged in hurricane Irma on September 6th, 2017 and in the process of being restored.

On March 12th, 1954 the official opening of the new Convent took place and was presided over by Mgr. A. van der Veen Zeppenfeldt assisted by Father Barbanson and Father Maessen.

After 1990 the Convent went over into private hands. Hurricane Irma a category five hurricane which devastated St. Maarten on September 6th,   2017 destroyed the roof of the former Convent. A new cement roof replaced the old roof while the owners the Goia family taking into consideration the historic nature of the building  will replace the former roof so that the building will look the same as before the hurricane.

Convent in Philipsburg.

The new St. Joseph Convent was dedicated on March 12th, 1954. It was severely damaged in hurricane Irma. A concrete roof has been added and in keeping with the important history of the Dominican Nuns and the St. Joseph Convent the present owners the Goia family have decided to put by the original roof as it was before the hurricane. A word of praise is in place to the Goia family for this gesture.

The office of the Dutch representative is located upstairs and downstairs there are a number of stores. Other improvement are being carried out to the former St. Joseph School and the property in general. This property will now be upgraded and better secured and will continue to enjoy its historic place in Philipsburg.

Will Johnson.

Much thanks to Mr. Mathis S. Voges for allowing me to use text and photos of his history of the Dominican Nuns which will soon be published in the English Language.

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