Mary Elizabeth was born on November 12, 1928 to Theresa Elizabeth
Major, formerly of Roses, Long Island and Peter David Catalano
(Catalyn) formerly of Sicily, Italy. She grew up in St. Matthew’s
Parish, on Shirley Street, commonly known as “The Pond”.
Neighbourhoods being what they were in those days, she was nurtured,
loved and cherished by all. Manners and respect and being kind to
others, were instilled in her at an early age and these aspects of
good training were evident throughout her life.
Mary’s early education began at Mrs. Julia Johnson-Sawyer’s
Kindergarten School located on Cole Road and later renamed Bilney
Lane. From there, she was enrolled at Eastern Preparatory School,
known throughout time as “Sands’ School” named after the
headmistress and outstanding educator of the day. It is interesting
to note that Mrs. Sands also lived in “The Pond” and walked many of
the children from the area to school with her.
Following her primary education, she then moved to Eastern Junior
School, fondly referred to as “Worrell School” named after its
Headmistress, Mrs. Mamie Worrell, another outstanding educator of
the day. “Worrell School” was located on East Bay Street and in
later years included in The Pond area, because of proximity.
From there, she transferred to Eastern Senior School, on Shirley
Street, now the site of the Eastern Post Office. Donald Webster
Davis was the headmaster, an educator par excellence and a driving
force behind his students to obtain the high quality education
offered at the time and become the outstanding citizens, which many
of them became.
Among her many teachers and in addition to those already mentioned
were: Mrs. Agnes Lightbourn-Archer, Mrs. Mildred Lightbourn-Sawyer,
Mrs. C. H. (Mary) Reeves, Mrs. Cassie Kennear and Mr. Dawson
Conliffe. Upon reaching the seventh grade in 1943, Mary was chosen
among a specially selected few students to act as a substitute
teacher, to fill the place of those teachers who had one week- or
two-week leave to “sit” the Senior Cambridge Examinations, the
highest educational level offered in The Bahamas at that time.
those young formative years, young boys and girls were encouraged to
apprentice for certain “trades” or professions that would help them
later in life. Mary was apprenticed to the Misses Muriel and
Madeline Minus, her next door neighbours, who were dressmakers and
milliners. Their father J. H. C. Minus and brother Ronald, were
first-class tailors. It was a blessing as she was able to obtain a
well rounded sewing, hat making, knitting, smocking and embroidering
foundation. In school, Eastern Senior, Mrs. Reeves, offered Home
Economics classes in which she participated. She was an active
member of the YWCA as most young girls of the day were, and when
Mrs. Trevor Kelly put out the call for “knitters” to knit woolens
for the Red Cross to be sent to those fighting in World War II, Mary
was there with them doing her part. She knitted sweaters, pullovers,
gloves, muffs, scarves, socks and other woolen items, for the cause.
During the time that Mary served as “student/teacher”, she was
closely observed, and Headmaster Davis, noticed that she had a love
for children and a natural calling for the classroom. Mr. Davis
encouraged her to join the teaching profession and was instrumental
in having her, along with other “student/teachers” as pupil
teachers. In January 1944, she joined the staff of Eastern
Preparatory School No. 1 (“Sands’ School), as a pupil teacher where
Miss Olive Hanna served as principal. Her starting salary was 2
pounds, 10 Shillings (sterling), or (4 shillings to the U. S. dollar
at the time) $12.50. Years later the ratio was raised to 7 shillings
to the U. S. dollar.
Mary’s introduction into the classroom was at the Class One level.
This first year’s experience pales in comparison to today’s teachers
as she was given eighty bright-eyed boys and girls to teach. Among
many of her students at that time were, L. M. Maxwell Bowe, Sir
Arlington Butler, Msgr. Preston Moss, Hon. Kendal Nottage, Burgiss
Winder, Sonia Bowe Dames and her own brother James, to name a few.
Sands’ School was divided into three classrooms by floor to ceiling
folded partitions. The porch was also used as a classroom as needed.
Students sat on long wooden benches, with slates and chalk, which
they had to wipe clean after each lesson. Exercise books were only
used for homework, which when sent home, received the full attention
of parents or guardians. Mrs. Mildred Lightbourn-Sawyer was made
headmistress of the school and Mrs. Sybil Collie Butler joined the
staff and became one of her dearest friends.
During this period Mary was observed periodically by Mr. T.A.
Thompson (director of Education) and Mr. Wilton Albury, both
outstanding educators of that era. Within two years she was promoted
to assistant teacher and subsequently recommended each year to
receive increments because of her display of excellence, hard work,
and dedication. At that time, there were no fancy charts, bulletin
board trims and paper. Mary, like many teachers then, had to be
creative and make her own teaching aids. She used all available
material: pictures from magazines or labels from empty cans,
Tamarind and Poinciana seeds, sea shells or soda bottle covers, and
match sticks were used for counters. There were no sophisticated
workbooks, but children learned their lessons.
attended Ebenezer Methodist Church where she was actively involved
in church work. She was a Sunday school teacher and active in the
Young People’s Fellowship among other aspects of church life.
Although not a regular habit, Mary and some of her “out east”
friends would occasionally visit one of the popular “over-the-hill”
nightclubs, the Zanzibar or the Silver Slipper, as entertainment,
especially for their Halloween and Valentine’s Day dances. It was at
the Silver Slipper that her husband of 63 years did espy her, and to
hear him tell it, he walked in the door as Freddie Munnings band was
playing, scanned the dance floor and noticed an exquisite lady, a
good dancer on the dance floor. He observed her until the band
stopped, noticed where she sat and followed up to the upper balcony,
and from behind her he asked for the next dance. At first she
refused until she turned around and noticed who had asked her and
accepted his hand to dance, and they danced until the last number
before midnight on that Christmas Eve as the band played, “On a Slow
Boat to China,” and the rest is history.
To divert briefly, the lyrics are: “I'd love to get you on a Slow
Boat to China, All to myself alone. Get you and keep you in my arms
evermore, Leave all your lovers, Weeping on a far away shore. Out on
the briny, With the moon big and shiny, Melting your heart of stone,
I'd love to get you on a Slow Boat to China, All to myself alone.”
(Frank Loesser, circa 1940’s). It was their song. How romantic.
July 18, 1951, at Ebenezer Methodist Church, Shirley Street, Rev.
Lovelock joined Mary Elizabeth Catalyn and Alfred Addington
Alexander Brennen (a construction worker, now a building contractor)
in holy matrimony. Their attendants were Mrs. Elva Collie Tynes,
maid of honour and Mr. Ezekiel Major, best man. Alfred was very
supportive of Mary through the years, in her quest for excellence.
He recalls carrying her teaching load many days on his bicycle, as
they did not own a motor vehicle during the early years of marriage.
They lived in a house at the top of Fort Fincastle Hill and
following in the footsteps of Mrs. Alice Sands, guided a lot of
students along the way, to “Sands’ School”, an act of kindness much
appreciated by her neighbours and friends. This trend continued at
Bahamas Academy in later years, especially after she learned to
drive a car, as the car was always filled with many passengers
seeking a ride to school.
December of 1951, Mary and her husband Alfred were baptized into The
Seventh-day Adventist faith following a series of Bible studies.
Other persons baptized along with them were Pastor Hugh A. Roach and
Mrs. Mable Mason. They worshiped at Grant’s Town Seventh-day Church,
where she became an active and formidable member.
In 1957, and
after accepting the message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,
Mary was inspired to join the staff of her church school, Bahamas
Academy. Her decision to leave the Government service resulted in a
loss of income, decreasing her salary from 48 pounds sterling, to 24
pounds sterling, per month; but because of her dedication and
commitment to her new found faith, the sacrifice seemed immaterial
to her. Mr. Wilfred W. Liske, the then principal, placed her in
charge of Grades 3 and 4, with only 13 students.
In 1968, to better prepare for the changing challenges of the
classroom and the times, Mary attended the Teachers Training
College, Oakes Field and successfully completed her course of study,
obtaining her Teacher Certificate in 1969. Throughout the following
years, she continued to attend workshops and seminars to improve her
teaching skills and strategies.
During her years of service at Bahamas Academy, she became known as
“the nurse.” Her duties increased from teaching in the classroom to
looking after all the sick school children from day to day. Also,
because her niece and nephews attended Bahamas Academy, she became
“Aunt Mary” to many. At the school, Mary served under many
principals including Pastor Hugh Roach, Dr. John Carey and Dr. Ruth
White. In 1986, when the school was divided into two separate
campuses, Mary was asked to serve as the vice-principal of the
Elementary Division of Bahamas Academy, along with Dr. Althea
McMillan as principal. She served in that capacity until her
retirement in 1997.
She also became the school’s most valued counselor. Many would
remember Mrs. Brennen as a stern and firm teacher and disciplinarian
as vice-principal; however, it can be attested that these were
administered with a double portion of love and compassion and
spiritual counsel for her students. She is proud of the fact that
many of her students, whom she taught from Primary School through to
her retirement, have become upright and respected citizens: lawyers,
bankers, doctors, priests, pastors, nurses, teachers, police
officers, architects, carpenters, builders, plumbers, electricians,
the list goes on. She was satisfied that through her efforts she was
able to lay a firm foundation on which to build an education.
Mary dedicated 53 years of her life to teaching excellence and
administration. Thirteen of these years were given to public service
at the Eastern Preparatory School and 40 years of uninterrupted
service were given to her church school, Bahamas Academy of
In addition to her teaching career pursuits, through the years Mary
Elizabeth Brennen served faithfully and with equal fervour in
various leadership capacities in her church, as Sabbath School
leader, Dorcas leader, Community Services leader and also as the
first Children’s Ministries director for the Bahamas Conference of
works in church life and the community are legendary. She worked
along with the Dorcas group, providing much needed clothing and
other items for the less fortunate; assisted with the school’s fairs
and other fund-raising church activities. Who could forget her corn
dogs, corn fritters, fried breadfruit, vegelona sandwiches, scallop
(taste like conch) salad, her bread puddings, raisin duffs, bennie
cakes, and peanut brittle, all made with love to support her church
and school work. In her early years Mrs. Brennen was such an
exquisite cook that she catered for many wedding receptions. Her
vegetarian recipes are used by many today, such as her veggie burger
After serving at the Grants Town Church for 40 years, Mary and
Alfred accepted the call, along with Stanley and Ruby Major, to
become founding/charter members of the Ephesus Seventh-day Church
now known as the Parkgate Seventh-day Adventist Church. Their
efforts as a team in establishing and nurturing that new
congregation are etched into the annals of history.
Her love for community services work was still evident even in her
seasoned years as she accepted full responsibility for the soup
kitchen operated by Parkgate Seventh-day Adventist Church, where
she, in her kitchen, along with other members, cooked large pots of
soup to feed the hungry and those in need. One of her favourite
sayings was, “Ah child! The Lord will provide.” Mrs. Brennen
remained active as head deaconess and Community Service leader up to
her 79th year, when only for health reason she laid the mantle down.
Mary was an outstanding member of the Pond Reunion Committee and
along with her cousin Juanita Butler, Donna Thompson-Sherman, and
Lady Alicia Fountain served as an historian of The Pond.
Additionally she served faithfully with distinction as treasurer for
The Bahamas National Children’s Committee with Canon Harry Ward for
Throughout her many years of service and involvement, she and her
husband Alfred, whom she lovingly referred to as “Dear” worked
together as a team, supporting each other in their many
undertakings, in school, church or community work.
Her many awards include:
Commonwealth of The Bahamas Silver Jubilee Award, in recognition
of “Outstanding contribution to the National Development of
Education,” July 1988.
Who in The Bahamas, Mother of The Year Award, Mother’s Day. May
Certificate of Honour from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, for
long and dedicated service to the community in the field of
education, in the Queen’s Honours, January 1, 1996.
Recipient of an Honorary Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education (Honoris
Causa) from Northern Caribbean University, June, 1996
Recipient of the Precious Conch Pearl Award, 1998.
Indies Union of Education Very Special Award for 40 Years of
Education Ministry, October 18, 2003.
many other awards too numerous to mention.
Mary Elizabeth Catalyn Brennen was a loving, committed, and
dedicated wife and mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.
Many fond memories of her will linger forever in our hearts.