By Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Archbishop Jason Gordon affirmed the hope and trust in God which led to the establishment of the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs, Tunapuna; and Kenneth Reginald Vieira, 78 years, and Lindsay Robert John, 43 years, to commit to the diaconate, their first step towards the priesthood.
As the Archdiocese of Port of Spain celebrated the ordinations of Vieira and John at the Abbey Church, Mt St Benedict and the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the seminary, the phrase “It can be done” was used repeatedly during the homily.
Archbishop Gordon was the main celebrant at the Mass with President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica, Bishop Emeritus Malcolm Galt, Abbot John Pereira OSB and local and visiting priests concelebrating. Among the visiting clergy were Fr Emmanuel Chaulvet and Deacon Kerry Moran who are based in Martinique.
Archbishop Gordon outlined the first attempt in the 19th century to establish a seminary, when a bishop mandated with the task reported to the Propaganda Fide (later Congregation for Evangelisation of Peoples) that resources were lacking and the men incapable of ecclesial state.
Archbishop Gordon said, “It took a very long time to move from that not understanding of the Caribbean person to a time when we will open a seminary here and allow something new to emerge and develop.”
Through a conversation with the late Fr Henry Charles, he learnt Archbishop Finbar Ryan had been asked by three popes to open the seminary. It was following the ordination of three Benedictine monks at the Abbey Church that Archbishop Ryan asked the then Prior Dom Hugh van der Sanden to assist, and his response was: ‘it can be done’. The seminary was blessed and opened January 20, 1943.
“We are here today because one man saw through the challenges to the hope that God gives to us when God asks of us what is possible that many others at that time could not see,” Archbishop Gordon commented.
He said the Benedictines opened “a new stream of grace” for the Caribbean Church with five young men being the first seminarians at the monastery. In its history, the seminary had “birthed” many priests and bishops and also contributed to the theological training of religious sisters and lay people.
The Theology faculty provided the opportunity to ponder the mysteries of Church and reflect on the mystery of faith from the lived Caribbean experience while “holding true to the universal Church and her teaching”.
The seminary had “fearsome” female lecturers like the late Sr Diane Jagdeo OP, he noted, adding that one never understands the force unleashed from saying ‘yes’ to God. The archbishop said he was tired of people thinking God’s favours have come to an end in T&T. “To all of them I want to say one little phrase: it can be done”.
Archbishop Gordon observed that John said ‘no’ to the seminary for a very long time before eventually saying ‘it can be done’, and Vieira left and returned because he too believed ‘it can be done’.
As the ordinations were being celebrated on the Church’s new Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, he instructed the two men to keep their eyes on the image of Mary and keep a sense of hope, regardless of how daunting ministry becomes or negativity from others.
Archbishop Gordon gave thanks to Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris who reopened the seminary (January 2017). He could not be present as he was conducting a retreat in Puerto Rico.
At the end of Mass, John offered the thanks, first to God for the gift entrusted to himself and Vieira through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He expressed confidence God would bring it to completion.
He thanked their families, seminary formators and the Benedictines for establishing the seminary. He concluded with the request that the congregation continue praying for them.
Seated in a front pew were John’s parents Selwyn and Diane, sister Rhonda Joseph and brother-in-law Nigel Joseph and niece. Diane said she was very proud and acknowledged “the big responsibility” her son was taking on. She thanked the Holy Spirit and the grace of God for his continuing and remaining focused.
Selwyn said words could not express his feelings but as he said at his daughter’s wedding, his children did not belong to him, “They are God’s children; they are a blessing. I think we did a good job.”
Vieira’s brothers Alan and Clive were in attendance along with other family members. One of his great-nieces said, “I am very proud. We love him deeply and we are very proud.”
The liturgy entailed the Liturgy of the Word, Rite of Ordination and Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the rite, the archbishop lays hands and the Prayer of Ordination is recited. The investiture with stole and dalmatic followed in which the new deacons were clothed in the vestments of their new office. John’s parents assisted him while Vieira was clothed by Spiritian deacons Rev Gabriel Yao Nyamah and Rev Clifford Mainooh.
Rhonda Joseph gave the first reading, Numbers 3:5–9 and Mario Burton, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica the second reading, Corinthians 5:14–20. Deacon Jeffrey Supersad proclaimed the Gospel, Luke 10:1–9. Hymns were led by members of the Abbey choir and Chaguanas youth choir.
A graduation ceremony from the BA Theology programme followed at the seminary grounds.