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October 9, 2019

A “Benedictine” welcome on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Dom Odo van der Heijdt, O.S.B., the archivist of the monastery, in the year 1937

October 6 marked the 107th anniversary of the coming of the first monks from Brazil to Mount St Benedict in Tunapuna.

The mountains encircle her.” (Psalm 125:2)

In the morning of October 6, 1912, three missionaries are on the bridge of the good ship “Vauban” to get a first glimpse of the Promised Land.  A short blast, and the vessel enters the “Bocca dos Navios” between the islands Chacachacare and Huevos, and passes into the harbour of Port of Spain.

The sun is just rising above the smaller islands Gasparee and Carrera.  The ship’s entry into the Gulf of Paria is like a triumphal march; nature welcomes the travellers with a wealth of flowers, carelessly thrown away and scattered all around.  Baskets full of them are lying in the sea.  Bundles of golden rays light up the undulating mountain ranges in a wonderful effect of colour, light and semi-dark.  Charming little houses line the shores, and numbers of rowing boats are moving swiftly over the placid waters.  Here is the Riviera of the West Indies, the recreation grounds of the people of Trinidad.  Strange that old maps of the West Indies call this gulf: “Golfo Triste” (Printed by Jan Baret Elwe, Amsterdam, 1792).

The Customs Officers make little formalities; they are courteous and obliging; no need of opening cumbersome luggage; you are believed on your word: no contraband.

Soon the three newcomers are on their way to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  A sudden shower of rain gave the town a rather gloomy appearance, more so as on Sundays there is little traffic.  However, there was more brightness inside the Cathedral, for the great High Altar was ablaze with a multitude of candles amidst a lavish decoration of flowers.

It is Rosary Sunday and the Fathers in charge of the Cathedral would not be Dominicans if the feast of the Holy Rosary were not kept with befitting splendour.

But not only is there light in the sacred sacrifice, nay, there is also warmth, and the warmest of welcomes is accorded the three unexpected missionaries in the sacristy by Fr Vicar Provincial, Henry Vincent Casey, OP and his companions.  Dom Ambrose was almost overcome with emotion when old Father Matthew Vanderycken greeted him in his own native tongue.  That little attention made them intimate friends for the rest of their lives.

Really it was Sunday, Rosary Sunday, and there was joy, and gladness, and the three Benedictines received a truly “Benedictine” hospitality from their Dominican hosts.

In the afternoon, the weather cleared up once more, and by four o’clock crowds of children were assembling in the Cathedral, for it was their feast, their Mother’s Feast, and there was grand procession around Marine Square; there was music, and singing of hymns, glorious hymns, to the heart’s content.

At the end of the procession walked His Grace the Archbishop in mitre and cope, and the Very Rev Dom Ambrose Vinckier was to his right, and to his left Fr Paul Dobbert, the two Benedictine Fathers who had arrived in the morning.  Bro Anthony too walked in the procession, with his great beads in his hands, collected as ever, just as if he were not in a strange place, but in his own far-away Austria.

Were the two Benedictine Fathers the Deacons of Honour to His Grace or was the Archbishop leading them by the hand to introduce them to all his flock as new co-workers in his diocese?

Surely there was a poetical touch about the whole proceeding.  But then: it was Rosary Sunday!  Charming attention of the Queen of Heaven to make such a present of Her own Feast day, to the Archdiocese, to Trinidad, to the West Indies.