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Church History: Smallest Chapel in the Archdiocese

Where St John’s Village in St Augustine ends is where St Michael’s Village begins. There’s a road sign that welcomes you to the village, but it’s easy to miss if you’re not observant.

Less than a five-minute drive after the turnoff to Mt St Benedict, around a bend in the narrow, winding road, is a simple structure painted in white, with a large black cross on the front wall. There’s no signage but that’s St Michael’s RC Chapel, possibly the smallest chapel in the Archdiocese.

It’s roughly 14 feet across, 24 feet in length, and about 45 persons can be accommodated inside. Shaped like a semi-circle, the curved section of the chapel was dug out from the adjoining hillside. On that stone wall hang framed photographs of Pope Francis and Archbishop Joseph Harris, and one of St Michael the Archangel, after whom the village and the chapel have been named.

The chapel is a reminder of the villagers’ desire for a space to worship. It was in the 1970s and with a growing Catholic community, prayer meetings began “under a resident’s house”. Priests from the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile “up the hill” would come down to celebrate Mass, recalled the late Violet Alleyne-Walcott in an interview with the Catholic News in 2015.

Her son Cecil Walcott excavated a part of the hill near the family home for a garage in 1992, but Alleyne-Walcott asked if the site of the partially built garage could instead be used as a prayer room. He agreed and the prayer meetings and recitation of the rosary had a new location. Walcott-Alleyne sought the assistance for the construction of a chapel from the then Prime Minister Patrick Manning whom she wrote requesting help for building materials and subsequently received a hardware voucher. Abbott Hilderbrand Greene OSB of the Abbey provided transport for the materials and villagers gave their labour towards the project. It was completed in a few weeks.

The chapel has been the site for baptisms, First Communion and Confirmation ceremonies. Various priests have celebrated Mass there including Fr Vincent Compton, Fr Gerard Farfan CSSp and Fr Michael ‘Mike’ Stewart. When she spoke to Catholic News Walcott-Alleyne was saddened that it became “hard to get a priest”.

When the chapel first opened the community was mainly Catholic, but this is no longer the case as the residents comprise other Christian denominations.

This story was written by Editor Raymond Syms who paid a visit to St Michael’s Chapel, St Augustine in 2015. There have been no services at St Michael’s village chapel during the pandemic but the faithful of the Chapel can access Mass Sundays at 10 a.m. at St John’s. Walcott-Alleyne died in 201. Children and grandchildren gather with other members of the community to pray the rosary on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. virtually. Her granddaughter Joy Pierre told the Catholic News October 22, 2021, “The Chapel was a gateway for granny’s love in getting people closer to God, it meant everything to her and by all means we are proud to

continue her tradition of that love for God and getting others closer to Him. We are thankful for her guidance and we miss her dearly”.

St Michael’s may be small compared with other chapels, but those who worship there are big on their Catholic faith.

Violet merely had to point to the receptacle of blessed water when a boy entered the chapel and forgot to bless himself, and he immediately did the needful. Violet couldn’t remember the year the chapel was built, but she and 75-year -old Francis Pereira are the only two remaining founding members.

Originally from Toco, she came in 1972 to Tunapuna to sell groceries. The (then) mother of 12 said when her family settled on the abandoned estate owned by the nearby Benedictine monastery, there were “two, maybe three houses”. As more people moved into the area, a small Catholic community began meeting on Sunday evenings for prayer “under a res- ident’s house”. Priests from “up the hill” would come down to celebrate Mass, she recalled.

Looking for space to build a garage, Violet’s son one day excavated part of a hill near the family’s home – but she asked him to build a prayer room instead of on the site and he agreed.

She wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Patrick Manning requesting help with building material and received a hardware voucher. The Abbot of the monastery was at that time Fr Hildebrand Greene and he sent a van to collect the material. The chapel was built by the villagers in a few weeks.

It has been used for baptisms, and First Communion and Confirmation ceremonies. A number of priests have celebrated Mass there – “Fr Compton, Fr Farfan, Fr Mike Stewart…Now, it hard to get a priest,” Violet lamented.

When the chapel first opened, the community was mainly Catholic, but today there are residents of other Christian denominations.

As they waited on the lay minister to get there for the service that Sunday morning, Violet’s daughter, Cynthia Pierre, led the praying of the rosary, while one of her grandchildren distributed rosaries. At the end of the five Glorious Mysteries, they said the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel three times.

While content with their homely chapel, they wish it could be air-conditioned and better lit. There’s also the need to install some PVC guttering.
They’d also prefer that a catechist come to the chapel to instruct the children so the children wouldn’t have to journey to St John’s RC Church.
In addition to Sunday services, the chapel offers Eucharistic Adoration on Tuesday evenings with the support of Rev Murchison Sylvester. They’re thankful to him and all the lay ministers who contribute to the life of the chapel.
With donations from various organisations, St Michael’s is able to share foodstuff and other items with villagers once per month.

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