Ducking the light*
March 12, 2018
Diocesan clergy remember Archbishop Pantin*
March 16, 2018

Our Lady Star of the Sea

By Simone Delochan

A cool evening breeze wafts through the open space, and softly, behind the voice at the altar, you can hear the rustling of leaves just outside the room, as though echoing the solemn words.  Occasional boats race past in the distance, adding to the layers of sound.

The setting is the Star of the Sea, a small chapel located on Gasparee Island, one of the string of islands along the north-west coast of Trinidad, off Chaguaramas. The chapel is simple, the downstairs of a pre-fabricated house bought at the end of World War II from the Americans at Wallerfield by the Spiritan priests. The pillars of the house were later reinforced with concrete. Three sides of the chapel are open, so should a congregant turn around, back to the altar, he sees before him the large expanse of blue which separates the island from the mainland.

Fr Anthony Michael de Verteuil CSSp, has been making the ten-minute sail for 50 years. He was one of a triad who decided to hold Masses at the island chapel for the public, as previously it had only been used by seminarians and priests during their retreats.   He is the only one who remains as both Frs Claude Montes De Oca and Martin O’Dwyer have passed on.

At 85, he walks with a cane and has difficulty getting on and off the pirogue, but his humour, warmth and humility have not been quelled. There are two flights of steps which lead to the chapel, and he takes each step painstakingly. On this particular Saturday, March 10, one of the regular members of the congregation walks behind him, to ensure that he does not “fall back”. Fr de Verteuil laughs and comments that one always falls back but one has to keep on going. Turns out that Fr de Verteuil taught this ‘regular’ at St Mary’s College, Port of Spain, forty years prior. He remembers being caned.

At the top of the steps is a large well-manicured lawn dotted with small trees, and to the right is where the chapel is located. It is an unassuming building at first glance, somewhat weather beaten, but the chapel itself is cozy. Some of the pews were built by the lepers of Chacachacare in 1930 and rescued from the chapel there. They give a glimpse of past austerity: the wooden kneelers are not padded.

The congregation is small, about thirty people, made up of residents of the near-by islands primarily, and all of whom seemed to have arrived by boat. There is a quiet familiarity as they greet each other with nods, kisses and raised hands, but they have come there to worship. A deep peace reigns throughout the Mass.

At the end of Mass, as Father wends his way down the steps, a few congregants hover protectively around him, ensuring that, at least in their care, he’ll safely board the boat to return the following week.