The other face of mental illness
July 19, 2019
Sacred Heart Girls’ receive First Holy Communion
July 19, 2019

The measure of a man ‘off the streets’

Street dwellers often seek help from the church. Merlin Boyce of Word and Deed prayer group shares their experience of Mervyn Vincent.

Former San Fernando street dweller, Mervyn Vincent was a daily visitor to Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) RC Church, Harris Promenade, San Fernando. He was among those whose photographs appeared in OLPH’s 225th Commemorative Magazine published in 2012.

Parishioners admired his reverent and devout manner in church. On every visit, he made it a point of going all the way to the front to give an offering from “his pittance” as he so described the money that he received from the State.

He grew particularly fond of our then parish priest Msgr Christian Pereira and our sacristan Selwyn Toney. He often brought breakfast for them.

On his birthday one year, Msgr Christian reciprocated and invited Mervyn for breakfast at the presbytery. His offer of a small “payment” afterwards to Monsignor is an indication of the measure of the man who maintained his pride and dignity, once he took his medication for his illness.

His usual greeting and blessing to those whom he encountered was “a word of prayer”. He seldom asked anyone for money and if he did so more often than not, it was to deepen a bond between them. He usually added that he did not want it now, he was going to collect it later. However, that seldom happened.

On the odd occasion that he accepted money from well-wishers, he did not take it in his hand but often opened his pocket for the money to be placed in it.

He spoke often of his days of working at Sa Gomes in Port of Spain. We heard a lot also about when he worked in Bermuda. He seemed to have been an electronic technician.

At times we heard him speaking of his constitutional rights as well as current events. He certainly had an impact on our lives at OLPH and on the western part of Harris Promenade, where he made his home near our offices.

He took pride in his appearance. He had his baths daily near the San Fernando Wharf. Almost every week he had a new outfit proudly naming the well-known store that he shopped at!

A few years ago, his behaviour became erratic due to a lack of medication, according to him. His appearance was not the same and we were very concerned that he was not himself.

Then he went missing for a while. Everyone wondered what had become of him and feared the worst. Enquiries were made and it was with great relief we received news that he is a resident of the Couva Extended Care Centre, which is under the remit of the South-West Regional Authority. This is an institution that provides care for mental health patients.

Last January, Irma Dyer and I paid a surprise visit to Mervyn. He looked very well. He had a low haircut. He was dressed in blue short pants with matching top. Of course, blue slippers added to his well-coordinated appearance.

He was so elated to see us. He asked immediately about “Reverend Pereira, Mr Toney and Mrs Joseph”. The other residents looked on with curiosity and admiration as they saw Mervyn looking so happy to be in our company.

He took the opportunity to inform us that he was going to be 70 on June 3. We passed on this information to Msgr Christian whose immediate response was that we must have birthday celebrations. We informed also the members of our prayer group, Word and Deed which is attached to OLPH. Members agreed readily that we should celebrate our brother in Christ.

So it was that having been given appropriately six months’ notice by him, we gathered at the Centre to celebrate his birthday. His guests included residents and staff of the centre. Also in attendance were some members of Valiants Sports and Cultural Club of San Fernando, who provided yeoman assistance with our preparations, transportation and the like.

It was a truly spiritual and rewarding exercise. Mervyn appeared to be very appreciative of our having his party. Selwyn Toney shared some early memories of his first encounters with Mervyn. Msgr Christian relished interacting with all the residents as he conducted a very simple service.

Mervyn looked so touched when Msgr Christian prayed for and blessed him. Mervyn’s “thank you” was uncharacteristically brief as he seemed overcome with emotion.

It was certainly a joyous occasion not only for Mervyn but for all of us who were privileged to have attended. As a longstanding friend whose birthday was two days after, I had the honour of cutting the birthday cake with him.

When we were about to leave, typically, Mervyn asked us not to forget him and that we should visit again. This brought tears to our eyes.