In 1965 Jesuit Fr. Frank Stobey, pastor of St. Ignatius Church in the Southside of Belize City, decided that it was necessary to open a school to accommodate students in the west part of his parish (Prisoner Creek area now known as Lake Independence). Students living in this area would regularly miss classes as they would have to travel through swampy areas to arrive at the school; this was particularly problematic during the rainy season. Consequently, he asked one of his St. Ignatius principals, Mrs. Juanita Saldivar, to open an Infant School in the area in a little wooden structure owned by a gentleman named Mr. Vellos; the school building was located at the corner of Mopan and Ebony Streets. The initiative proved very successful and Fr. Stobey approached Mr. Vellos for an expansion of the structure to accommodate an Infant II and Standard I class. Mr. Vellos agreed, and leased the area and building for the expansion of the new school, and officially renamed St. Martin de Porres Roman Catholic Primary School. St. Martin was chosen as the church’s patron because of his lifelong care for the poor.
More teachers were hired, and classes continued at this location until the early 1970s. By this time the school had grown significantly and additional classroom space was needed. In 1971 under Bishop Robert L. Hodapp, an entire block of land was identified to permanently relocate St. Martin de Porres School onto the Corner of Partridge and Vernon Streets in the Lake Independence Area of Belize City. Initially, the school building also served as a church, parish office and Jesuit residence. Some of the founding administrators of the young parish and school included Fr. Bill Messmer, Fr. Thomas Thro, Fr. Ron Putoff, Fr. Jerry Nonnenkamp, Sr. Amelia Charpentier, Sr. Sarita Vasquez, Sr. Sue Lachapelle, and Sr. Magaret Gongora. Belizean Jesuit, Brother Karl Swift, S.J., joined the St. Martin de Porres Rectory in 1970, and served the parish and community of Lake Independence for 15 years. Bro. Swift and the St Martin’s Women’s Group spearheaded many successful fundraising efforts to finance both the church and school. Today, St. Martin de Porres Primary School serves over 700 students in day care, pre-school and elementary school programs, and is still administered by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Situated in one of Belize’s City’s most violent and impoverished neighborhoods, the schools administration works tirelessly to provide the best learning environment for students who suffer from poverty, behavioural issues (as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD), hunger, abuse, and troubled family structures.In an effort to improve the learning environment for our students, in 2015 a memorandum of understanding was signed between St. Martin de Porres, St. Louis University (SLU) and the Jesuits of the Central and Southern Province. This partnership now known as “BELIZE 2020” is a developmental initiative aimed at improving the quality of life for Belizeans (particularly those living in the Lake Independence/St. Martin’s neighborhoods), with an emphasis on education.The core areas of focus of BELIZE 2020 today are:Swift Hall – a new multi-purpose building which will meet the needs of the school, church and neighborhood. The Hall will provide a location for parishioners to gather for funeral repasts, wedding receptions, church meetings, conferences, etc.; the school to hold student assemblies, indoor sporting events, graduations, parent/teacher meetings, performances, etc.; and for the neighborhood to have a safe location to play indoor sports, hold town hall meetings, rallies, etc.
Swift Hall will also be used a source of evangelization bringing more children/youth into the church through sports and life skills training, with an aim of keeping them positively engaged and off the streets away from crime and violence in the area. Project HEAL (Hope Education Altering Lives) – Project HEAL conducts a two-part program:1. It provides a unique educational program for selected students in the upper three grades (Standard 4-6 or Grade 6-8; 20 from each grade). Known as the “HEAL Academy”, the program seeks to address the academic needs of students who may be in danger of falling behind, and as a result, may not be admitted to, or succeed in high school. HEAL Academy provides students with an extended day (additional instruction with emphasis on reading and math, individual tutoring, computer assisted learning, and preparation for the National Primary School Examination, along with art, music, yoga, karate, and educational field trips) and summer school.2. It also provides counseling services (HEAL Counseling) to students and their families whose academic success and/or family wellbeing may be threatened by trauma or other psychological impediments. Because of the economic and social ills experiences by St. Martin’s students, some adopt patterns of behaviour that are counter-productive and often result in academic failure, gang involvement, and lifelong poverty. Professional counseling can alleviate behaviours that bring about negative outcomes.
To Donate contact:
Jesuits of the Central & Southern Province
4511 West Pine Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108
in Belize contact:
St. Martin de Porres Parish
Cor. Partridge & Vernon Street
Belize City, Belize