Part I by Bernard Lauwyck
“On his pastoral visit to the district in June 1860 Bishop Poirier stopped for a while at the Quanary estate to offer a prayer in the tiny chapel constructed from ruined walls, and used only for prayers and catechism. In the parochial church of La Plaine he held a Confirmation service and blessed a church bell. Then he proceeded to Victoria, and in passing visited a small chapel erected by the labourers of the Belvedere estate. At Victoria he found a neat little presbytery, nearly finished, and a church in the course of construction.
“The spot” , wrote Bishop Poirier , “is badly chosen; but as the people of that quarter have done all the work without any assistance, it is better not to interfere.”” Excerpt from the ECCLESIASTICAL BULLETIN OF ROSEAU
The “badly chosen” location refers to the church at La Roche being perched on the edge of a cliff, as it is still today.
Indeed the location has not changed but about ten year ago Fr. Vincent Esprit FMI, Parish priest of La Plaine at the time, asked me to create a side entrance/ exit. The pavement in front of the old entrance/ exit was crumbling and getting dangerously small. The old presbytery, once a beautiful wooden house, which was used for years as the DJ Convent, is today falling into ruin.
The most important information we get from Bishop Poirier is that the people of Delices-Caribe-Victoria- La Roche were building their church without help from anyone .
The church is located in an area, named after the Roche family who had an estate there. Jean Roche is listed on the John Byres map (1767-1773) as a holder of a lease of land in the parish of St. Patrick.
Cou-de-main was still very much practiced in Dominica up to a few decades ago. It is a tradition where the whole community comes together to help built a neigbour’s house or in this case their church. This church in local stonework reminds us of a period of intense faith which inspired great generosity and efforts. This is how many catholic churches were built in Dominica in past times.
While there are many stones in the neighbourhood, the stone used were cut and shaped and might have been salvaged from some ruins of a plantation factory works in the neighbourhood.
In the vicinity of the church there is an old cemetery, which was abandoned some years ago.
There was no resident priest in this isolated area of Dominica’s east coast until September 1849 . Carib- Delices-Victoria-La Roche was part of the Nord of the St. Patrick’s Parish and so is frequently mentioned in the registers of Grandbay. It was occasionally visited by priests serving Grandbay. One of these priests was Fr. L.J. Cosgrave, an irish missionary who arrived in Dominica in 1842 and was put in charge of St. David and St. Patrick- North.
The first resident priest in the area was Fr. MacNiece, an irish missionary who was stationed in Monserrat before he came to Dominica. He accepted the lonely and difficult post in September 1849, at the request of Dr. Edward Smith, parish priest of Roseau and Vicar General of the Vicar Apostolic Richard Patrick Smith of Port-of-Spain. The diocesan records state that Fr. MacNiece remained until 1852 in the area “In spite of poverty and hardships of every kind”.
He was succeeded by two Italian priests, named Paoli and Zanetlini , who each only stayed for a short time.
With the establishment of the Diocese of Roseau in 1850, its first Bishop Michael Monaghan (1850-1855) sent Father Souquieres to La Plaine to serve as resident priest. more about him in a subsequent article.