By Kaelanne Jordan
Peter Clinton St Hillaire recalls that he has always felt a close connection and a desire for God; albeit it was something he discerned quietly and secretly. He remembers he was 13 years when he first considered the priesthood. It would take him 37 years, at age 50, to make his first step in his journey to the priesthood.
Growing up in a Catholic home, St Hillaire, the eldest sibling at home with his parents at the time, attended church frequently. While he would talk to God quietly, he always felt a “tugging” in his heart. One, he shared, he just did not understand or could explain.
It was at a men’s retreat at Assumption Church, Maraval, the then 28-year-old St Hillaire spoke to then parish priest Fr Reginald Hezekiah of his “strange dreams” of God calling him and of a desire to lead the Life in the Spirit Seminar.
“After doing the seminar I knew that I wanted to really follow God but yet still I was apprehensive about following that call…” St Hillaire told Catholic News via phone interview.
Around age 30, St Hillaire decided to “quietly” apply to the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs, not mentioning anything to his family. After going through the interviews, he was told he was unsuccessful.
“One of the things they told me [was] I wasn’t grounded in my faith. I had too much of a charismatic spirituality [and] I need to go back to church….” St Hillaire was dejected.
“And I said ‘God when you ready for me, you come and get me.’”
St Hillaire continued his involvement with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal doing retreats with Assumption parish. He revealed although he “tried” a few romantic relationships, he felt in his heart that God called him to be a single man.
He shared a story of being introduced to a young lady for relationship.
“… and as soon as we met, we clicked. After one hour the young lady hit me on the hand and said ‘God wants you for Himself…’.”
By now St Hillaire was growing frustrated of “fighting” against God’s call upon his life.
It wasn’t until he was almost involved in a car accident that he cried out to God.
“I said ‘Lord, You are in charge. I told You to be gentle with me but now it’s time to shake up the waters a little bit.’”
It was during a meeting with Fr Dwight Merrick, St Hillaire was told it’s time to join the seminary. He was 44.
“I said ‘Father I think I’m expired and too old…I not able with that. That for them young boys.’”
He continued, “And as he prayed with me, I just felt fire coming down …and I wept for an hour and a half. At that moment everything felt like a light bulb came on.”
Under Fr Merrick’s guidance, St Hillaire joined the pre-seminary in Carapichaima, October 12, 2014 under the direction Fr Matthew d’Hereaux, director of the Archdiocesan Pre-Seminary Programme.
St Hillaire quit his job as a sales and marketing representative for Anthony P Scott.
He credits his Spiritual Director Lee Birmingham and wife Peggy for journeying with him for a number of years.
“When I told him (Lee) I’m joining the seminary, he said ‘It’s time.’ I was waiting for this man to tell me something else,” St Hillaire joked.
The hardest task, according to St Hillaire was to now share the news with his parents.
“They were cool with it. My family was my main concern. And that is when I realised I really needed my father’s blessing. He said, ‘You are a big man and you know what will make you happy’.”
The reality of living on hisr own and going into a system of structure soon posed a challenge for St Hillaire. He however persevered and joined the seminary in August 2016.
He is the eldest of the current seminarians.
It was there he met then seminarians, Kwesi Alleyne, Lindsay John, Kenwyn Sylvester and Stephan Alexander. He described them as “big brothers” who guided him along. Of his time at the seminary, St Hillaire said it was “easy”.
“Because we were real and I realise in the seminary you think everybody holy, holy … you realise it’s real men…we had that close-knit relationship.”
St Hillaire faced some challenges during his six years there as he had to navigate the stresses of studies, and hospital and prison ministry.
He summed up seminary life: “It’s just like living at home but instead of going to work you go to class and do assignments. “
St Hillaire will be ordained to the transitional diaconate Saturday, December 12 at St Francis of Assisi, Sangre Grande. Archbishop Jason Gordon will be the main celebrant. His brother seminarians Omaris Jenner Valmond and Moses Kabuga Gikandi will also be ordained to the diaconate for the Diocese of Bridgetown, Barbados. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions the ordination will be BY INVITATION ONLY.
Of the work of the seminary, St Hillaire stressed that seminarians are in need of prayer and financial support. He reminded faithful that support can be in the form of ‘adopting a seminarian’ and encouraging and praying for men who desire religious life.
To support the work of the seminary the public can make donations or cheques payable to RC Archbishop of POS via catholictt.org.