The road to establishing a Presbyterian presence in Venezuela was not an easy one. Early Presbyterian missionaries, who arrived during the onset of “civil wars, poverty, hard times and…the [emergence of] smallpox,” were also met with harassment and persecution at the hands of devout Catholics and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.
Despite these hardships, Rev. and Mrs.Theodore Pond, former missionaries to Colombia, worked tirelessly to establish Venezuela’s first Presbyterian church, The Church of the Redeemer, in 1900, a mere four years after their arrival. Twelve years later, in 1912, the Board of Foreign Missions organized an independent mission station in Caracas, Venezuela.
Missionaries who accepted the call to Venezuela joined the faculty of “El Colegio Americano” a predominately female institution geared towards reversing the 60 to 65 percent illiteracy rate among young women. “El Colegio Americano para Senoritas” catered to girls ages six to sixteen and prepared them for higher education and domestic duties.
The school grew from humble beginnings, having a mere 60 students in 1928. By 1956, the school, which by then was coed, boasted over 500 students from varied cultural and religious backgrounds. Maude Phillips (1889-1972, top right) and her husband, Rev. Clarence Arthur Phillips (1893-1977), served as missionaries to Venezuela from 1919 to their retirement in 1959. Mrs. Phillips taught music at El Colegio Americano and led Bible workshops for women in the city. Rev. Phillips led theological courses in addition to teaching science, history and math.
Despite the success of El Colegio Americano and the growing Presbyterian presence in Venezuela, undertones of Catholicism remained as vital components of Venezuelan culture. From depictions of members of the Catholic community to handmade lace, these objects brought back from Venezuela by Maude and C. Arthur Phillips speak to the predominance of Catholicism in this South American nation.