The life of Father Charles- In his own words
It is not by chance that this extended Curriculum Vitae/Autobiographical information of Fr. Charles, was there ready at his death. He knew the importance of record keeping in the life of any person or institution, and hence wanted to chronicle his humble efforts at spreading the Gospel message, as a religious, priest and missionary, among the people of God, in this beautiful Island which he loved and had made his home.
The first part was written in 2006 and covered the period up to 2002 when he was transferred from being Director of the Holy Redeemer Retreat House to parish ministry, in Our Lady of Fatima, Newtown. Although he was still Parish Priest there, he was turning 75 in January 2006, and ever looking ahead, he was anticipating possible retirement from being Parish Priest, as is required by Canon Law.
The 2nd part, completed ten years later in January 2016, chronicles his ministry as Parish Priest in the Parish of Our Lady of Fatima to his ministry in retirement, in residence at St. Clement.
The last writing was triggered by the request of one of his many nephews, Willem Vermeulen, who visited him two years ago. He proposed "a reconstitution of Fr. Charles' curriculum vitae in view of his 60th anniversary of ordination in September 2017: the differ¬ent parishes he served as a priest, his pastoral work, the people concerned, the buildings he initiated or help erect (church, parish Hall, middle school, retirement home, retreat house). Photographs interlace with texts in a PowerPoint presentation might be of use for the presenta¬tion in Dominica with his friends and former parishioners as well as in Belgium with his family."
That request was made on August 30, 2015. Fr Charles therefore found it necessary to set to work at completing the chronicles of his life.
How Providence works!
The Autobiography of Father Charles
Extended Curriculum Vitae
Name Reverend Charles Vermeulen, C.Ss.R.
Date of Birth 14th January 1931, Ouwegem, Belgium, the sixteenth child of Alphonse Vermeulen and Irma, nee Wieme.
Primary Education Ouwegem Primary School, Belgium Secondary Education Redemptorist (C.Ss.R.) Juvenate, Essen, Belgium: 1945-1951
Entered noviciate 15th August 1951, Redemptorist Novitiate, St. Truiden, Belgium
Profession 15th September 1952, St. Truiden, Belgium
Philosophical Studies 1952 - 1954, Beauplateau, Belgium
Theological Studies 1954 - 1958, Louvain, Belgium
Ordination 15th September 1957, Louvain
Tertiary Education 1958 - 1959, Catechetical studies, Lumen Vitae, Brussels
August 1971 - Antilles Pastoral Institute, Jamaica
January 7 - 31, 1974, Pastoral Renewal Course for Bishops and priests, Puerto Rico
August 1978 - 1979, Pastoral Case of the family, St. Paul's University, Ottawa, Canada
August 1990 - December 1990, Ministry to Ministers Programme, San Antonio, Texas
Assistant priest at the Cathedral: 1959-1960
I was appointed by Ft Provincial Fr. De Ceuninck to the West Indies, at the request of Bishop Boghaert. I was given five weeks in England with our C.Ss.R. students to learn English, yet on my arrival I was made chaplain of Y.C.W.
I remember how hard it was to prepare my weekly talks to two groups of leaders, young men and women. Only years later did I appreciate what a grace it was to start my missionary work as someone who did not know, as someone who had to learn, as someone who was dependent on the goodwill of the listeners. It was the humble way but many doors of goodwill opened for me. The Y.C.W. method: "see judge and act" helped me all through my life.
Assistant Priest at Basseterre, St Kitts- 1960-1961
Ft Albert Rutten was the parish priest of Basseterre, St. Kitts. I replaced Fr. John Bergmans who went on a prolonged leave.
I fixed the old Estate house severely damaged by a hurricane and helped to survey the property given by Marie Lake at Wall House, Anguilla. Together with the I.C.M. Sisters we did many hours of house visitation and there were a number of converts.
I repaired the chapel of Molineux together with the uncle of our present Fr. Mark Owen. Confirmation took place there on 24th September 1961: 6 boys, 22 girls. Assistant Priest at St. John's Antigua- 9th October 1981-19th May 1964
I took care of Ovals church community. In those days the parishioners were mainly from Dominica or of parents who had migrated from Dominica to Antigua. There was some competition between what happened in St. John, the main church and Ovals. One had to be very attentive and sensitive to people's feelings. I was the choirmaster of the St. John's church I really had guts in those days. I was chaplain of Y.C.W and we attended the yearly congress that took place in Roseau, Dominica. It was a wonderful time. I felt I was well accepted by all groups of people.
Acting Dean of the Cathedral and Superior of C.Ss.R Community- 1964 to 1965
I replaced Fr. Francis Boogaerts. During that time I built the cafeteria of St. Martin's school and the chapel at Morne Prosper. Building the Cafeteria was easy enough because that was in Roseau, but the chapel at Morne Proper that was something else; there was practically no road, there was no water. I had to haul the water from the river in drums and because the road was so bad I lost half of the water in going up. Note well, I did all building work before and after my normal pastoral duties, early in the morning and late in the afternoon. I had no difficulty in finding sleep at night. What a grace! What better reward can one expect from the Good Lord? The blessing of the chapel took place on 6th March 1966. I was already Parish Priest in Goodwill.
Parish Priest of Goodwill and Religious Superior 19 January 1966-1969
I succeeded Fr. Kelvin Felix, the first local Diocesan priest. He was the pride of the local people and he had been very successful at St. Alphonsus Church. He got a lot of support from the prominent people .of Roseau. He had great plans to build a parish hall which would serve as a hub for all generations. It was with great trepidation that I went to St. Alphonsus Church, Pottersville. But the grace of God is with the one who generously accepts His mission. I never had the slightest difficulty with any of the parishioners. I started by taking good care of the church and especially the catechism of the children. We had hundreds of children at mass - as a matter of fact we had to borrow benches from the Infant School nearby to accommodate all of them in the church.
I fenced the property. At that time there was a road running along the church which divided the property. I obtained from the appropriate authorities permission to remove the road along the church to the other side of the property. This resulted in a big improvement to the property itself and also for the safety of the children.
Other big works had to be done namely, the big sewer line coming from the hospital ran through our property and we had to divert it. We did so.
We built the Parish Hall and it was blessed on the 17th of April 1969 by Archbishop Anthony Pantin of Trinidad. If I remember correctly the Hall was built at a cost of EC $120,000. I am very proud of the fact that when the Parish Hall was finished I designated one large room for the use of the handicapped which later would develop into the Alpha centre. We also built the Infant school with the storeroom below to provide some needed income.
It is also around this time that I convinced Bishop Boghaert to continue work on the Fatima church which had stood there for many years with no progress. He allowed me to order the steel frame for the roof from Sanders and Fosters. What a beautiful Church that is now!
Vatican II was on and we had to involve lay people in the mass and church life. I introduced lay-readers, Ralph Elwin being one of the first who was willing to do so. People look at me sometimes as a builder of buildings but my greatest pleasure was to be with people and build them. I loved to go to the hospital and I did so frequently, especially at night when everything was quiet and when people are more inclined to think of God.
The prison apostolate too was a very important one. I assisted spiritually, two men who were condemned to death by hanging, up to their last moments. I am now very much convinced that the death penalty should be abolished. It is inhuman, it is cruel, it is gravely sinful.
Among the lay persons that I had the privilege to work with at St. Alphonsus Parish, was Mr. Oliver Cruickshank who would become our first permanent Deacon. He was wonderful, had working, humble and prayerful. I have nothing but good to tell about him. We can learn from our devoted lay people. I have wonderful memories of those days at Pottersville and Goodwill; I especially remember the children's mass which kept increasing in numbers and which gave me so much satisfaction. God is good indeed and the little suffering we much undergo is so small in comparison to the satisfaction we already enjoy now, not to speak of what awaits us!
I got very good help from Frs. Paul Loncke and Jan Bijloos who were respectively assistant priest during that time. They were very cooperative and good company at all times.
Dean of the Cathedral, Vicar General and Rector- 1st April 1970 to 23 August 1978
I was again involved with the Y.C.W. The early seventies were a time of transformation in all aspects, spiritual, cultural and political.
This was a time when we had to implement the reforms of Vatican II without having printed material. We had to provide hymn sheets. Mass texts in English etc. We had to convince the people to fully participate at mass and in the church life as whole. It was an exciting time.
I formed the Christian Family Movement (CFM). I had several family groups that met in their homes twice a month. They became active in the liturgy.
We had to deal with the black power movement. The Christian Brothers left the Academy at one time but we had to stay on and try to steer prudently. Life was changing rapidly.
It was a very busy time because we still had besides the Cathedral, eight stations: Laudat, Trafalgar, Morne Prosper, Wotton Waven, Giraudel, New Town, Loubiere and Bellevue Chopin.
It was then that the formation of lay people was encouraged. I sent one young lady, Miss Noeliva Le Blanc to the Seminary in Trinidad, with the approval of Bishop Boghaert and with the cooperation of Fr. Michel de Verteuil C.S.Sp., the Rector of the Seminary. It may be a good time now to report what happened to her.
She went to Trinidad in September 1975 and finished her studies in 1979 with very good results. On her return the Bishop asked her to go back to the Convent High School as teacher.
When I became Dean again in 1982 I employed her in the Cathedral parish as a pastoral worker with as principal mission, the formation of catechists and the organization of the catechism classes. She did a wonderful job up till 1987 when she left to study in Canada. Fr. Albert Ruffen marked: " the organization of the catechism classes under Miss Le Blanc is the most important event that happened in the Cathedral parish the last twenty years:' In February of 1984 she organized a two day seminar for catechists at St. Gerard's hall. There were some 420 participants.
She was then asked by Bishop Boghaert to study Canon Law at St. Paul's University Ottawa, Canada. She obtained her Masters in July 1989. Bishop Boghaert then employed her as director of tribunal and editor of the Newsletter.
In 1994 Bishop Edward Gilbert made her chancellor of the Diocese. She became a very important co-worker with Bishop Gilbert.
And one other young lady, Laurel St. Hilaire, was recommended to go to Rome for catechetical training. She spent two years in Rome at Mater Ecclesiae the international training center. She too did very well and she is the resource person for the catechetical center and the training of catechists.
One of my very close collaborators was the late Miss Elsie Ritchie. She was a member of the Legion of Mary and a very effective co-worker. She did an enormous amount of work with the poor and sick and she brought me in contact with most of them. She was a holy lady. She had a very good influence on me. We got confirmation candidates and young people involved in visiting the sick and bringing parcels to the poor. Some of them, now adults, still lovingly remember whose days with pride. I took good care of the Cathedral both the building and the Christian community. I did not think there is any community more appreciative of what the pastor does, than the Cathedral community.
On 22nd December 1975 I placed four new stained glass windows in the sanctuary at the cost of EC $15,000.00. An artist of Dendermonde in Belgium made them at a very favorable price. They represent St Peter and St Paul, the Good Shepherd and Our Lady. I am very proud about the choice of Saints and what they represent for the people of God.
Due to pressures we had known on account of the Black Power Movement public religious manifestations were practically non-existent for a few years. But on 20th June 1976 we made a new attempt with great success. We organized Corpus Christi procession from the New Roseau Market to the
Cathedral. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Boghaert at the New Market and there were no masses at Goodwill and New Town. We estimated that there were about five thousand people who marched in procession praying and singing in honour of the Blessed Sacrament.
On Sunday 14th August 1977, the Feast of the Cathedral, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Redemptorist Congregation in Dominica with a concelebrated mass in which C.Ss.R. & F.M.I. Fathers took part.
On 30th April 1978: 13 Benedictine monks of the community of Weston Priory, Vermont on holidays in Dominica, sang at the evening mass at the Cathedral. It was impressive and beautiful. Parishioners were delighted.
13th August 1978 Feast of Cathedral: farewell for Fr. Charles who goes on sabbatical leave. My eight years at the Cathedral were a gift of God to me and the people I was allowed to minister to. I was able to serve without counting the cost. Francis Andre told me once: "Fr. Charles you don't spare yourself?' I took it for a compliment then, and even more so now, because the message given by His Holiness, the Pope to the young people says: you received without paying, give without counting the cost.
Refresher Course at St. Paul's University Pastoral Care of the Family- 1978 to1979
This was a real blessing for me because I had a special interest in family life. It was a relaxing time and a time of wonderful contacts: students and friends. I made friends because I reached out to the Marriage Encounter community. I wrote the talks and I was invited to give weekends to Canadian couples. I remember the first weekend one of the participants made a contribution to M.E. of $5000.00 Canadian and the team members attributed this generous donation to me. Of course they were kidding me, but we were on very good terms with all those couples.
I would recommend to any priest to take his sabbatical. It is a period of grace, peace and joy: no worries, no criticisms, no pressing obligations and especially a time for the best in you to well up. God restores you in very gentle and loving way. After my year at the University, I left Ottawa for Belgium for my long leave, part of the Sabbatical year, but this was cut short because Hurricane David created havoc in Dominica. Coordinator of the Reconstruction post Hurricane David- 1980 to 1983
On the 17th September 1979 I returned to Roseau from Belgium, having shortened my leave to help with the reconstruction. Hurricane David did heavy damage to 84 church buildings.
On 24th October bishop Boghaert and his consultors asked me to coordinate the reconstruction of the many church buildings that had been damaged by the hurricane. On November 4th 1979, my Feast Day, I left for Belgium to do preparatory work for the reconstruction: this included raising funds and buying materials as well as seeking the assistance of volunteers through the co-operation of "Withuis" a voluntary organization with the purpose of helping developing countries. There I found the help and assistance of two volunteers: Guy Steenput, an architect and Bernard Lauwyck, a construction engineer, both having just completed university. I also got Fr. Joseph Jacobs C.Ss.R to come and help us. He would assist principally with the re-roofing of the Cathedral. While in Europe, I also made personal contact with ADVENIAT in Germany. They gave an enormous amount of financial help.
We were faced with a dilemma: we were getting funds for the restoration of our schools and churches but little for helping the poor people. That is where the project of the Dominica Infirmary came in handy. In August 1979 a representative of "Withuis", Mr. Hendricks, was in Dominica to review a project for the old Dominica Infirmary. During that visit Hurricane David struck blowing away the existing infirmary. Mr. Hendricks then became a very good advocate for Dominica, at the headquarters of the European Community in Brussels. They eventually funded the construction of the new Infirmary that is, the present Dominica Infirmary. This project itself became a great job for which I had the full responsibility, from the buying of the land on which the Infirmary would be built to the supervising of construction.
I returned from Belgium on 26th January 1980 and the reconstruction works began in earnest. The volunteers, Bernard Lauwyck and Guy Steenput arrived on 2nd March 1980. Fr. Jacobs arrived on 5th April to help in reconstruction of Roseau Cathedral. My efforts in Belgium, Germany and Europe bore fruits.
Whole shiploads of lumber would arrive here for our re-building. I helped many individuals who had the money but could not get the materials... merchants were afraid of ordering materials for fear that it would be stolen. I spent hours on the port to make sure that the materials went to their proper destination. Among the many buildings we repaired, rebuilt and/or built were:
·The Bishop's House
·The Roseau Presbytery
·St Gerard's Hall
·The Roseau Convent and Covent High School
·St Martin's School buildings
·The Pastoral Centre, Morne Bruce (most of the money I got from one individual)
·The old Infirmary which was again damaged by hurricane shortly after it was repaired.
·The new Infirmary - a big project. Fatima Church
·St. Mary's Academy
·Most Presbyteries in the Diocese
·St. Luke's School; St. Luke's library
·All Chapels in the Roseau Valley, Morne Prosper, Wotten Waven, Laudat and Trafalgar.
·Giraudel Chapel, Belle Vue Chapel, etc.
- Roseau Health Centre (repaired with money from Belgium), Mahaut Credit Union Building, Massacre Church, Mahaut Church and you go on naming.
We also took on the building of the St. Mary's Primary (SMP), a new School with twenty classrooms, offices, toilet facilities, etc. Much more could be said about each building individually and the ones in charge, but that would require an extensive book!
God blessed this period of my life with strength, courage and a pair of broad shoulders to bear criticism and approval with the same equilibrium. I was happy in achieving our goals to bring back the church to its feet and even happier that we had made big progress in adverse circumstances. Isn't that what Christianity is all about?
Dean of the Cathedral and Religious Superior-1982 to1986 In September 1982 with reconstruction still in progress, I once again became Dean of the Cathedral. At that time, I employed Miss Noeliva Le Blanc, mentioned earlier, as the first full time lay pastoral worker in the Diocese, with responsibility for the Religious Education Programme in the parish, recruiting and training of catechists, office work, the preparation of ARISE the parish bulletin, etc.
The official opening of the new Dominica Infirmary was held on 25th May 1983. I gave a report on the works done. This project gave me much pleasure in that it was really destined to serve the poorest of the society.
On 3rd November 1983 I had the honour to be present at the official opening, and I did the blessing of the new Roseau Primary Health Care Centre. The premises which were first used to house the Dominica Grammar School, was later used as the Roseau Boys' School, and following the hurricanes David & Allen as the Dominica Infirmary; the building was reconstructed and adapted with funds from the Belgian Government. I gave a report on the occasion of the official opening, of the contributions made by the Church in the development and re-building of Dominica since hurricane David: (2 credit union centres: Mahaut and Vieille Case, the new Dominica Infirmary, Eggleston Housing Scheme, Sanitary Facilities, the new Boys' Primary School - St. Mary's Primary, etc.)
It was also the time during which I introduced Engagement Encounter in Dominica together with Mr. & Mrs. Brian Alleyne and Mr. and Mrs. Ian Monroe. The first encounters were held at the Convent High School in very trying circumstances. This would lead to the building of the Holy Redeemer Retreat House.
I met Fr. Herman Van De Walle, a secular priest of the Diocese of Gent on a trip to the Holy Land celebrating my silver jubilee of priesthood in 1982. When I learned from him that he could repair organs, I invited him to come to Dominica to repair the Cathedral organ which had been damaged by Hurricane David and had not been used since. Fr. Van de Walle accepted and first came here for a short visit in April 1983 to assess the damage. He returned that summer and again in 1984 to work on restoring the organ. He completed the repairs in early August 1984. He did a great job and was a great companion. He worked hard, but there was some fun too, and his stay here was very pleasant. The Cathedral organ is over 100 years old.
The repairs done on the Cathedral organ gave me the opportunity to engage the services of an accomplished organist, Miss Nancy Folkerts, a Peace Corps volunteer, in Dominica on two years assignment, in exchange for the use of the organ for her private practice sessions. A very committed person, Miss Folkerts would sometimes walk from Loubiere where she lived, to be at the Cathedral for the 7.00a.m. Mass on Sundays. She also gave time for practice with the choir. Once her Peace Corps tour of duty was over I invited her to remain in Dominica to be organist at the Cathedral.
Although she did not take up that offer immediately, she would return to Dominica in 1987 and serve two years as organist and choir Mistress, among other things, in the Cathedral of our Lady of Fair Haven. Miss Folkerts was a Lutheran, she left here in January 1990.
During that time the refurbishing of the Cathedral in the post hurricane David period continued. Among the works carried out were the restoring and repairing of the stain glass windows damaged by David; although Bishop Boghaert had initiated the discussion with a firm I pursued the matter and was responsible to see it to completion; the cleaning and restoration of painting, statues and the stations of the Cross in the Cathedral as well as replacing the termite eaten and infested, and water logged wooden floor of the Cathedral with a concrete floor which could be later tiled and which would be long lasting. The new concrete floor was done in stages - not once did we miss Sunday Mass in the Cathedral on account of the ongoing works.
Two other major decisions which would greatly benefit the Diocese were also initiated by me during this period; one was the baking of altar bread. Up to now all of the altar bread we used in the Diocese had been imported from Holland. Through my personal negotiations, I got the necessary machinery: one unit from the Poor Clares in Belgium and another including a machine for cutting the hosts, from Germany, and trained Miss Nazarine George, to do the baking. Through this venture the Cathedral Parish came to be the sole supplier of altar bread for the Diocese. When the Redemptorists left the Cathedral Parish in February 1990 the responsibility to produce and supply the altar bread was handed over to the Diocese. Today this venture has become ecumenical for the Diocese also supplies our Anglican brethren with altar bread
The second venture was the introduction of the votive lights. This was foreseen as a source of income for the Diocese for the education of seminarians. Despite the initial resistance from some priests the venture went ahead and continues to this day. That too, was handed over to the administration of the Diocese after the Redemptorists left the Cathedral Parish.
Vice Provincial- 1986 to 1989 We had a visit of the Belgian Provincial, Very Rev Fr. De Smyter, in 1983 or thereabout and after his visit he wrote a letter in which he said that from now on the Vice Province of Roseau would have to look for another Mother Province. That stirred us on to proceed with the plans for the retreat house. I went to the Chapter in Rome in 1985 and there I let it be known that we were searching for a new mother province and that we were soliciting funds for a new retreat house.
Construction of the Retreat House- 1986 to1989
Not to have to repeat many things I include here a short history of the Holy Redeemer Retreat House.
The late Bishop Arnold Boghaert more than once expressed the wish to have a retreat house in the Diocese of Roseau. He was very much interested in having the members of the "Foyer de Charite" a lay organization with retreat houses in France, Belgium and other countries, including Martinique, bring their ministry here. To this end a delegation from Martinique came here to investigate the possibility of beginning a "Foyer" in Dominica. Unfortunately this project did not come off the ground due to lack of funds and personnel.
In the year 1985 I was appointed Vice-Provincial of the Vice-Province of Roseau which was then part of the Belgian Province. At the time of my appointment I was given the mandate to look for another mother Province which would be responsible to continue the apostolate of the Redemptorists here. We had at the time three young Redemptorists from the Caribbean and one more candidate in training.
At that time, too Bishop Boghaert was considering having the local diocesan clergy take charge of the Cathedral parish which had been administered by the Redemptorists since 1902. To facilitate the Bishop's desire, the Redemptorists donated the presbytery of Roseau to the Diocese thus giving the Bishop free hand to appoint whomever he wanted as dean of the Cathedral parish. In the second half of 1989 it was announced that the Diocese would take responsibility for the Cathedral parish. That changeover took place in February 1990.
The above developments gave a new impetus to our small group of Redemptorists. We met regularly to plan the future of our apostolic work. At every meeting the need for a retreat house was acutely felt. The Engaged Encounter weekends, introduced to the Diocese in 1983, were held at the Convent High School and this was most inconvenient. The Marriage Encounter team was preparing to begin their weekend ministry as well. So the Redemptorists decided to build a retreat house, and agreed to raise funds. Every Redemptorist would contribute to this fund. Bishop Boghaert granted permission to go ahead with the planning.
In 1985 as Vice-Provincial, I attended the General Chapter in Rome. There I contacted several Provincials asking them to make a contribution to the building of a new retreat house. Many responded favorably. Generous contributions were promised by the Baltimore, Toronto, Edmonton, the Dutch and Swiss Provinces. The Belgian Province allowed the existing funds of the Roseau Vice-Province to be used for the same purpose.
I then began the search for a suitable location. Sometimes Bishop Boghaert would ac-company me showing his deep interest in the project. Fr. Werner also went along to give his opinion.
Several places in Soufriere, Scotts Head, Salisbury, Layou River Hotel, Rosalie were investigated. Finally, Fr. Werner and I had an eye on Ridgefield Estate. Mr. Clem Dupigny graciously consented to give us, at a very reasonable price, (a donation practically) a portion of his estate where the retreat house now stands. It included a tarish pit and a warehouse. Initially, it was felt that the warehouse could be used as a chapel. But Divine Providence had even better in store. The tarish pit turned out to be a little gold mine. The tarish was pure and could be used to make all the concrete blocks and even for masonry. Thousands of concrete blocks were made with the tarish which was available on the spot opposite where the garage is now situated.
The work started in earnest in 1986
I explained to Mr. Bernard Lauwyck what I wanted as a retreat house and Bernard, an engineer also took on the task of architect, made all the designs and plans and supervised the structural work as buildings went up. I would purchase all the materials needed for the project.
At the time, there was a building boom going on in Dominica. Remember, we had had hurricane David a few years earlier in 1979. It was very difficult to get a builder since they all had so much work to do. Mr. Hubert Joseph was the first to lend a hand. In the end, Mr. Elliot Rolle from Laudat who was then a beginner, accepted a labour contract. He turned out to be an excellent choice.
Mr. Charlie Winston brought his bulldozer over the mountains to the spot and did the necessary leveling. Things progressed satisfactorily. The first buildings were the two wings, each with eight rooms for the retreatants. Then followed the large and small conference rooms.
Meanwhile the search for a new mother Province for the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Roseau continued. The Vice-Province began negotiations with the Baltimore Province. As Vice-Provincial I negotiated all transactions with very Reverend Edward Gilbert, Provincial of the Baltimore Province since the Very Reverend Fr. De Smyter, Provincial, had delegated me to do so, and by 1987 these negotiations were as good as concluded. The Baltimore Province would make the Roseau Vice-Province part of their Province and the Vice-Province of Roseau would cease to be.
The incorporation of the Vice-Province of Roseau into the Baltimore Province was officially completed on January 21, 1988 [February 1988]. I was the last Vice-Provincial of Roseau.
By this transaction the future of the retreat house looked much brighter. The Baltimore Province would now take responsibility for the further development and funding of the retreat house. From now on the retreat house would be financially secure. God works in wonderful ways.
The St. Alphonsus House, where the Redemptorist Fathers now live, was already under construction but the then Provincial, Fr. Edward Gilbert, urged that the house be enlarged to consist of eight bedrooms instead of the planned four, and the Baltimore Province would pay for the entire house. The Province generously donated $250,000.00.
In May 1989, when the construction was in full swing, I became ill and had to leave for medical attention in Belgium where I had heart surgery with quadruple by-passes in June 1989. Fortunately, throughout the construction I had shared all details with Fr. Werner who was well informed about the retreat house project and what was to happen next. Therefore, Fr. Werner took over the leadership from here and finished the job.
On 2nd February 1990 Frs. Werner and Stoeckel began to live in the newly built St. Alphonsus House.
In June 1990 the Holy Redeemer Retreat House welcomed its first group of retreatants ¬the I.C.M sisters. Even so, it would still take another full year to get all finishing touches done. On May 1, 1991 the Holy Redeemer Retreat House was solemnly blessed by Bishop Arnold Boghaert.
Much work has been done since the solemn blessing.
Fr. John Michael Hamrogue, C.S.s.R. installed a proper system to pump water from the source to a newly built cistern on a high level. This proved to be a real blessing.
The existing road from the Giraudel/Eggleston main road to the Retreat House was in disrepair and the Baltimore Province again provided the necessary funds to build the beautiful concrete road now in use.
Since the Retreat House proved to be a success, facilities needed to be extended and so the old warehouse was transformed into a dormitory with toilet and shower facilities.
Despite this addition, Fr. Werner and his team felt the need for more rooms and a new wing with fifteen rooms was erected. The work started in September 1996. Again the Redemptorists of Baltimore Province paid the bill. The blessing of the new wing took place on 16th February 1998.
On 1st May 2001 we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Holy Redeemer Retreat House because we believe that God's hand is in the realization of the Retreat House. We remember how our trust in Divine Providence has been greatly rewarded. We remember the tremendous generosity of all the Redemptorists, especially those of the Baltimore Province.
A dark period
After my heart operation in June 1989, and on my return to Dominica I was appointed Parish Priest of Wesley. For some reason I have never understood I was after three months there called to Brooklyn - Provincial House of the Baltimore Province - for a rest. It became clear after a while what I was no longer a persona grata. I attended the program "Ministry to Ministers" in San Antonia, Texas.
On my return, I was appointed to Frederiksted, St. Croix. On my attempt to return to Dominica I was refused work in the Diocese of Roseau.
Parish Priest at St. Louis, Marie Galante- 1991 to 1994
I returned to the Belgian Province and with permission of my Provincial and Most Reverend Ernest Cabo, Bishop of Basseterre, Guadeloupe, I started to work in Marie Galante. For three years I was Parish Priest of St. Louis. The people were very nice to me and they healed some of the open wounds.
Parish Priest of Soufriere- 1991 to 1994
Fr. Edward Gilbert was no longer Provincial and Bishop Boghaert had died. I applied to Fr. George Keaveney, Provincial, to return to the Baltimore Province and to return to Dominica. He agreed immediately and afterwards told me how happy he was that I had returned because he was convinced that I had had a raw deal. I was sent to Soufriere for nine months and then I was appointed Parish Priest of St. Ann, Massacre/Mahaut.
Parish Priest of St Ann- 1995 to 1999
For two years I was the only priest in the parish with four communities to serve. I immediately asked Mr. John Jno. Baptist, a retired Social Worker and lay minister to work full time together with me and he accepted.
I placed emphasis on training of lay men and women for ministry. I formed a group that met every Tuesday evening to pray, read, study and reflect on the Sunday readings, in preparation for their leading of the Sunday services of the Word. This did a lot to each one of them and they still continue to have these regular meetings. That group of men and women became the first appointees as Lay Associates in Pastoral Care in the Parish.
I repaired the chapel in Warner. I also started a separate account for each community, completed and paid a great deal for the Canefield Church which was under construction when I was appointed. I initiated the sale of Church property destined for the erection of a chapel in Campbell - that property being too far removed from the people - to buy a new property closer to the people. The chapel is now near completion.
Fr. Clement Jolly was appointed as Assistant Parish Priest during the last two years of my term in the Parish.
Director of the Holy Redeemer Retreat House- July 1999 to August 2002
I would emphasize that my main contribution as Director to the Retreat House lies in the regular service provided by the Institution and my availability to those who came there.
I brought a lot of people to the retreat house and provided them with the spiritual nourishment they needed with the help of Sr. Loraine Royer, I.C.M. who became a member of the staff very early after I was appointed Director.
We were able to attend to the many Martiniquans who came on retreats, truly making the Retreat House not only more Caribbean, but also bi-lingual and available to our French-speaking neighbors.
My role as Director included not only the welfare of the retreatants who came to us, but also the welfare of the persons who worked at the Retreat House caring for the needs of the retreatants, as well as the maintenance of the buildings and other infrastructure.
During my tenure there, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the formal opening and blessing of the Retreat House. A special commemorative booklet was produced for the occasion.
Parish Priest of Fatima Church Community- August 2002 to July 21, 2008
New appointments always carry with them new challenges and one of the big challenges will be to bring more of the inhabitants of Newtown to the practice of their faith. My early observation is that the people who practice at Fatima Church are Sunday visitors, from other parishes, not really parishioners who live in the area. My goal is to make the people of Newtown aware of their Christian duties. It also appears that many of the young people of this area are suffering from all sorts of dependencies such as alcohol and drug abuse. Some attempt needs to be made to rehabilitate our young people. The success of this will depend on the cooperation I can muster from people of the area.
My initial observation was that the congregation at the main parish church was very fluid since many of the people who worshipped there were from outside of the parish. My first concern therefore was to bring the local community in the Parish church together and truly form community.
The training and formation of men and women who would assist in ministry was there-fore paramount. This included Lay Associates in Pastoral Care (LAPC); even though they were commissioned there was need to assist and encourage them in their immediate preparation for the Sunday Liturgy of the Word which they would lead in the absence of the Priest. We met on Thursday evenings to study the Scripture texts for Sunday, frequently using Lectio divina, inspired by Fr. Michel de Verteuil, C.S.Sp., and his commentary on the Readings using this method. As time passed these meetings became not just work, but a form of social gathering to strengthen these men and women, and was extended to other interested parishioners. The first group of persons (LAPC) included Davis Letang, Ronald Charles, Gregory (Greg) Thomas, Reginald Thomas, Maureen Blackmore, Claudia Bellot, Petronel Green and Randolph Felix.
There was also the promotion of the general faith formation of the laity by providing, with the assistance of Miss Noeliva Le Blanc, ongoing formation sessions in Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Liturgy and Church. These sessions were open to catechists, those involved in liturgical ministry, the youth and the general church population from all the chapel communities.
I worked in close collaboration with the catechists not just in recruitment and their ongoing formation, but also by facilitating their accommodation for teaching, by creating as much as possible, individual classroom space in the Church basement and the Ginger School Hall as well as providing the teaching materials. During my ministry there, the Bible Quiz for the children in the Catechetical programme was inaugurated. That created and facilitated a healthy competitiveness among the youth of the different communities in the parish, increasing their knowledge of their faith and of the Catholic Church, while simultaneously building community.
Youth groups, mixed boys and girls, were encouraged throughout the parish and we managed to work in close collaboration with the Diocesan Secretariat of Youth.
The elderly, sick and the poor were as much part of the life of the parish as the children, youth and able bodied adults. There was close collaboration with REACH in this, sharing with Day Care facilities for the elderly and in visiting the sick, poor and housebound. There was also, at least twice a year, a gathering of the elderly and housebound, brought to the church basement by parishioners with vehicles, for Mass and anointing of the sick followed by a festival meal and/or refreshments. In addition at Christmas, they would all go home with their gifts. This generated a community spirit, and was truly a community effort, since the parishioners were called upon to play their part in this.
Besides the building of classrooms for catechists, other structural improvements and/or building maintenance or new building were also undertaken.
In the main parish Church, there was a general improvement of the worship space. In the sanctuary two stained glass windows were installed. To bring more focus on the Blessed Sacrament a new reservation altar was built on the southern part outside the sanctuary and a wooden baptismal font erected. Also on the southern side of the Church, a ramp was built to facilitate easy access to the Church for parishioners in wheel chairs or who had great difficulty in using the steps.
The building improvements extended also to a completely new office section as well as improvements on the Parish Priest's car port and the building of the parish parking lot — car park — was undertaken and completed, to facilitate easy parking for parishioners during Mass.
The building which housed the Newtown Health Centre was renovated and improved; the rental paid for its use reviewed and a more just rent set. This meant more income for the parish to foster its apostolic and social work.
In the other communities, regular maintenance work was carried out. In the Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, land adjoining the Chapel was purchased with the intention of building classroom space for religious education both of children and ongoing formation for the community.
What began as a renewal of the roof structure of the Chapel of St. Gerard in Belle Vue Chopin ended in a completely new chapel — and really initiated a renewal of the Chapel community, with more attention given to the members in this section of the parish. The community spirit has considerably improved since.
While the community at Loubiere was "self-sufficient" in the maintenance of their Chapel, I was in constant contact with them. There too, it was considered important to secure the chapel by shoring up some of the river bank as well as securing the general surrounding.
My ministerial efforts were not just in the faith formation, community building and maintaining the structural integrity of the parish properties. Several things happened during my tenure as parish priest that kept us firmly focused on the overall Diocesan plan and works and the need for collaboration in ministry.
One was the preparation work for and actual Pastoral Visitation of the Parish in September 2005. We had a very successful Visitation and were able to bring all aspects of the parish together, since the Visitation provided an opportunity to review the state of the parish 3 years into my administration.
Another was the need to create the awareness among parishioners that we are an integral part of the diocese and that we had a joint responsibility to build up and assist in the work of rebuilding the Cathedral Church. Concern was not just to build up the parish, but also to contribute in the building up of the wider diocesan community. To that end the parish held two fund-raising dinners for the Cathedral renovation fund.
During my ministry as Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima, we hosted the celebration of the annual World Youth Day on Saturday before Palm Sunday.
I also worked along with parishioners in the promotion and execution of the Diocese's overall pastoral plans, and began the early preparatory work necessary for the celebration of the upcoming Diocesan Synod in 2009-2010.
Service Action/Apostolic Groups - Legion of Mary and one Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society - were in existence in the Parish and attempts were made to integrate them into the overall parish life.
Working with families and the development of children was important if we wanted to continue to build community. To this end we not only promoted the parish religious education programme, but also highlighted their overall education by holding at the start of the academic year, a service to which all school children and their parents were invited. Children were allowed to bring their books and stationery for blessing. This special School gathering at the beginning of the school year was meant for children of the parish but it apparently made such an impact and became so well attended that it grew to include students with their families from outside of the parish and from as far as Canefield.
Celebration of Family life was also promoted. Families, and on special occasions such as Valentine's Day, couples were invited not only to celebrations of Mass but also to table fellowship as well.
For several years after my departure from the Holy Redeemer Retreat House, from 2002 until 2010, after I was transferred to St. Clement's, I continued the extraordinary ministry to a Martiniquan group of lay persons, "Vie et Partage", when they came for weekend retreats at the Retreat House.
In July 2008 my ministry as a Parish Priest came to an end. I was transferred to St. Clements' House, Belfast. There I served as House Superior with the normal responsibilities, from 2011 until August 2015.
Periodically, when it was necessary, I assisted in the Parish of St. Joseph and still continue to assist in the Parish of St. Ann on Sundays. I also do some pastoral counseling with those who seek my assistance. For the rest I share community life at St. Clements' the best I can.