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Remembering a good ‘St Josephian’, Fr Hugh

Fr Hugh celebrates Mass in his home parish, St Joseph. Photo courtesy Anthony Aqui

Three weeks ago, we buried one of our favourite, homegrown priests. Fr Hugh Joyeau was born in Trinidad’s first capital of St Joseph almost 70 years ago.

As a boy who grew up in that town and who knew the Joyeau family, it would be remiss of me to allow Fr Hugh to leave this world and be absolutely silent about it. It just could not happen. Fr Joyeau was too much of a good man and a better man of the cloth not to pay him some sort of tribute.

My relationship with Fr Hugh goes way back to when he was just a little boy growing up in the community with his many siblings. His family home was at the corner of Market and Charlotte Streets.

Strangely, my visits to the home were to chat with his eldest brother, the late Clyde. We belonged to the same football team. Clyde was the goalkeeper and Hugh at the time was just a toddler running around the yard. Teenage years and college arrived and with my move to nearby St John Village, where I was born, I lost touch with the family except Clyde.

I heard afterwards that Hugh, who attended the nearby St Joseph’s College, had grown up and become a regular young man in St Joseph. A little ditty I heard was every day after work at WASA he would stop off at his favourite watering hole and have himself a cold beer all by himself, testimony to the fact that he was an ordinary dude.

Hugh was a normal young man doing the things that young men of that age do.  His decision to become a priest took everybody by surprise. By that time my profession took me to the United States Virgin Islands of St Thomas, St Croix and San Juan in Puerto Rico and all connection with St Joseph was lost.

Hugh’s call to the priesthood and eventual ordination, together with his many parish assignments all over the country, occurred without my knowledge. What I now know is that he was loved everywhere he went.

We reunited in 2003 when he became parish priest of St John the Baptist on St John Road, St Augustine, the smallest parish in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.

We reconnected firmly when he spoke to me about initiating a St Joseph’s Day (March 19) celebrations every year with the old boys of St Joseph. Using the chat group for communication, we gathered every St Joseph Day at my home and Fr Hugh was a regular attendee despite his disability. It was a gathering of St Joseph boys with food and drink and stories galore. He would remind me every year in January that the day was fast approaching.

His eternal love for anthurium flowers came to the fore when he was our parish priest because for Sunday Mass the altar would be beautifully decorated, emblazoned with a variety of the flowers. It was a tradition with him always to have an array of very red anthuriums.

Another little anecdote: He loved a hymn composed and played by guitarist Stephan Khelawan (my cousin) titled ‘Because of My Love’ and continuously told people he was a priest because of their love.

He was known for sitting around after Sunday morning Mass and regaling his small audience with all kinds of stories and experiences. He was full of compassion, piety, kindness and most of all love for his fellow man regardless of life status.

One thing about Fr Hugh was his ability to beg for donations, especially for harvest festivals in his various parishes. If UWI was awarding such a degree, he would get his Masters!

I recall him doing a funeral service for a young barber in St John. When it came to collection time Fr Hugh said he knew there were funeral attendees who owed the deceased for their haircuts but said they could still make things right with the deceased by ensuring that they make generous contributions!

Another well-known fact about Fr Hugh is that he loved his stomach and many things that were not good for him, given his situation. He always wanted coke and although he was warned about the dangers of the drink would retort, “My mother drank coke and it didn’t kill her. So I want my coke.”

So, our friend, our former ‘St Josephian’, our favourite priest has left us and while we could shower him with all kinds of adjectives, he was a compassionate, loving, jovial and very faithful to his vocation. May he be cradled in God’s arms.