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God really knows best

Over a cup of coffee at Rituals, Maraval, senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon sat down for an interview with then Rev Kenneth ‘Ken’ Vieira, two days before his ordination to the priesthood.

It’s no secret that Rev Kenneth Vieira is a senior citizen. And at the age when most persons falling within this demographic are thinking of ‘taking it easy’, at 78 years he became the oldest diocesan priest ordained.

It was at St Mary’s College that the seed was planted and Rev Vieira was adamant he wanted to be a missionary priest with the Holy Ghost Fathers but his journey to holy orders was circuitous. Now he laughs heartily recognising decades later, “God knows best”.

“I believe He knew my path before I entered the path.  I believe God knows in advance all the twists and turns because He knows us through and through, and He knows all the rounds that we will take and He knows how He will counteract those rounds to keep us going right,” Rev Vieira said August 2.

Convert Class at CIC

Kenneth Vieira was born January 19, 1940 to Sydney and Edwina ‘Ena’ Vieira, one of five. The family lived at de Verteuil Street, Woodbrook. His parents were “staunch” in their faith; his father was Anglican and mother, Catholic. He attended St Theresa’s Girls—at that time males were allowed to attend up to Standard One—then went to Belmont Intermediate School.

Vieira won a government scholarship or ‘exhibition’ to secondary school. Although his three older brothers attended Queen’s Royal College, he chose St Mary’s because of his mother’s prompting. At CIC he was involved in the Legion of Mary, visiting the sick, and the Sea Scouts. He attended Fr Michael Harkins CSSp ‘Convert Class’ which gave instruction on Catholic Church doctrine.

At 18 years, Vieira told his father he wanted to be a Catholic to which his father agreed. In December 1959, Vieira sat the scholarship exam, placing fourth in the island, and also in that month was baptised by Fr Harkins at Holy Rosary; it was called a “conditional baptism”.

Vieira remembers having good relationships with the priests at St Mary’s from the time he entered the school when Fr Finnegan CSSp offered to be of assistance. He said Fr Finnegan was a mentor and “strong support” from whom he learnt kindness, charity, “the virtues”.

The Irish priest had been a missionary in Kenya working with the Kikuyu tribe but fled during the uprising against the British. Fr Finnegan’s photos on his office wall fired Vieria’s imagination to be a missionary on the African continent.

“I felt I was being called to be a missionary; I really wanted to join the Holy Ghost Fathers because they were missionaries in Africa and that’s where I wanted to go,” he said.

St Mary’s had a retreat one day and two T&T missionaries gave a presentation on their experience in Africa. Vieira said, “…that made a very deep, deep impression on me. I did not have a thought of staying in Trinidad to be a priest; the diocesan priesthood was not for me!”

Vieira expressed his wish to be a priest to Frs Harkins and Finnegan.  The superior of the Spiritans, Fr Byrne, recommended he teach for two years then go to Ireland. The path to joining the Spiritans was to go to the novitiate, study philosophy and then a degree which would enable them to teach. “Holy Ghost Fathers were missionaries but very much involved in education,” he said.

Vieira said he was advised if he stayed and taught for two years he could pursue the studies required without having to return as a prefect to teach. He taught for one and a half years then entered the novitiate in Kilshane, County Tipperary.

After a year, he took vows for a three-year period upon entering the seminary Kimmage Manor, Dublin to study philosophy for three years. He also pursued a degree in Latin, Greek and French on his own and sat the London exams.

A different path

Everything was on course and Vieira expected to go on to do theology but much to his disappointment was advised to take a year off. In Trinidad, he joined the Holy Ghost Fathers at their house in Arima and studied theology at the monastery, Mt St Benedict.

He looked forward to returning to Ireland but after one year and then a second was told this would not happen. Vieria said, “I know when you take vows you have to obey and the rest of it but I didn’t think that was the life for me. I saw myself being stuck in Trinidad…”

After seven years, December 1967, he parted with the Spiritans. He returned to teaching at St Mary’s and considered another missionary order but his heart was not in it. After leaving the seminary, he felt “like a ship that lost its moorings”.

In the years that followed, Vieira emigrated to Australia where he hoped to attend university but after one year returned home and to teaching, which he says he loved and was “a natural”.

He moved to England where he was introduced to his future wife, Margarida da Silva whom he married December 1971. He studied law and was due to write final exams at the end of January 1972 but news that his mother was dying brought him home.

He secured a job with JD Sellier and Co doing an apprenticeship under Anthony Sellier. He secured a job with JD Sellier and Co doing an apprenticeship under Anthony Sellier. In 1972, Vieira went back to England to write his final exams and subsequently returned home with his wife. He was admitted to practice as a solicitor years later and settled simultaneously into the legal profession and his married life for over 40 years. He has two daughters and four grandchildren.

Vieira had told his wife if she died before him he would become a monk. When Margarida passed February 2014, he shared his plan with spiritual director Fr Anthony de Verteuil CSSp who advised him to become a diocesan priest.

It took some time but Vieira met with Archbishop Joseph Harris who agreed. He entered the formation house in St Joseph September 2016 while still working as a senior partner at the law firm.

He completed four semesters of theology, getting credit for his earlier preparation. Vieira was ordained to the diaconate on May 21 and posted in Maraval. He thanks Fr Emmanuel Pierre for the guidance and “positive experience” while there; Rev Vieira was given the opportunity to preach the homily on Trinity Sunday and do a baptism.

Rev Vieira says that he brings to his vocation two things that are “dear” to his heart. “I want to preach the gospel, that is what I dearly want to do; and the second things is, I want to be an ecumenist, because it’s 500 years since the Christian Church has been broken into pieces.”

Rev Vieira continued, “Jesus Christ who is divine is head of the Church, who started the Church but the Church is always going to be an imperfect thing because it is a human community and how does this Church get broken up?”

Days before being ordained, Rev Vieira says he felt he was finally reaching his destination.