Friday June 24th: Celebrating the return!
June 24, 2022
Saturday June 25th: Their pain is Mary’s pain
June 25, 2022

A priest’s golden jubilee: Fr Herbert Charles

On June 25, 1972 Rev Herbert Charles of Mt Lambert, Rev Franklyn Andrews and Rev Brian de Freitas were ordained by Archbishop Anthony Pantin. Charles, this year celebrates his 50 years of priesthood. He spoke to Catholic News about this milestone.

Fr Herbert Charles CSSp, 77, has not lost his zest for priesthood. Fifty years later, he is “overwhelmed with gratitude”. Thankful to his parents, Leo and Dica Charles (deceased) and family members who supported him and journeyed with him through the years. He thanked the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, with which he has been a professed member since 1965 and the Holy Ghost Fathers in Trinidad, Harlem New York and Pennsylvania. He also thanked the people of the parishes and high schools he taught. “I am grateful for what they have done for me, the friendships I have fostered and the tremendous goodwill and cooperation,” he told the Catholic News in a telephone interview on June 17.

Fr Charles, the current parish priest of St Patrick’s Newtown, is happy with his life and grateful to God for all He has given and continues to give.

Family foundation

Fr Charles said his parents sang in the choir at Santa Cruz and that was how they met. The family resided at Don Miguel Road, San Juan and walked to the chapel in El Socorro in the 1960s.

“We were brought up with the understanding that all of us must be active in the Church, apart from attending Mass …I was very much interested in joining the choir,” Fr Charles said. At the age of 17 or 18, he remembers as a civil servant working in the general post office, Port of Spain, he would leave office early in the afternoons and hurry to Fifth Street Barataria to sing at funerals. He sang at weddings on weekends and at the Christmas Mass which was at midnight in those days.

“It was a happy experience for me,” he said. “I was also an altar server at San Juan RC Church for a few years, so was my brother Henry, my brother Oswald, he was very much involved in CYO (Catholic Youth Organisation) and football and so on, and my sister joined the St Maria Goretti Club. There were two clubs there St Dominic Savio and St Maria Goretti.”

Fr Charles said he grew up in a Catholic home and his aunt, uncles and cousins were also Catholic. Friends and neighbours were also of the faith.

“It was natural. Everybody went to church and on Sunday afternoon sometimes, we had to go up to San Juan for Benediction 3 p.m. and we enjoyed it. It was part of our Church life. All of that fostered in me a sense of vocation”.

Choosing a vocation

Charles one day went see Fr Anthony Pantin, who was at Fatima College then, about his interest in doing missionary work, although he had no idea where he wanted to go. He was given reading material about the Holy Ghost Fathers.

“Fast forward early 1964 around Easter Sunday, I went to see him and I told him I would like to join the Holy Ghost Fathers, so they accepted me. I left Trinidad the second of August 1964, Fr Anton Dick was at St Mary’s College, we travelled together.”

Fr Charles went to Ireland 1964-1965 to do his novitiate, returned to Trinidad to do Philosophy, and after two years, taught as a Holy Ghost seminarian at St Joseph College for two years. He returned to Dublin to finish Theology. In 1970, when he was back home, he was assigned to go to Paraguay, where the Holy Ghost Fathers had a mission. Fr Charles said, “those first appointments usually came from the Superior General in Rome…about a month after that, I got a notice that I had been assigned to Fatima College”. He taught at the Catholic secondary school for five years.

Fr Charles went to New York and completed a Master’s of Arts degree with honours in Religious Education from Fordham University in 1979. He was a teacher at a Catholic high school in New York until 1995. “I was very happy there…I lived in the Holy Ghost Fathers community in Harlem where I did ministry to Harlem hospital and the wider parish.” The Superior asked him to return to Trinidad in 1995 and he became the Director of Formation for the Holy Ghost Fathers house of studies in Arouca and Parish Priest of Holy Trinity RC church, Arouca. He was assigned to St Francis of Assisi church Belmont, 2003-2011 and after to St Patrick’s.

How has 50 years shaped his priesthood?

“You learn as you grow. One of the things the priests don’t realise is, you will not always please all the people. That is not possible,” he replied. Fr Charles said some people have difficulty understanding this and get annoyed with the priest. “I take that in stride; that is par for the course. You begin to understand ministry is sometimes not as rosy as people make it out to be”. He laughed and commented, “no matter what the priest do they will always complain”. He would joke and say “I can consecrate the bread and wine; I can’t walk on water”.

Asked to share his setbacks or disappoints during his service, he said it was the unrealistic expectations people have of their clergy.

He said he has had a nice life “Thank God for that”, and always enjoyed his priesthood and for the people who have been part of his life. “I keep in touch with them all the time and bless God for all of them, being part of my life”.

Asked what he recalled of the advice given by the late Archbishop Anthony Pantin, he related: “there is something written on the back of the priest’s chasuble, IHS. He said, ‘you know what that stands for? I have suffered’.” Charles laughed heartily recalling the archbishop’s humour.

On the day he was ordained, at the Cathedral in 1972, he recalled Archbishop Pantin did say in his sermon the priest must suffer. At the time, he thought, “I spent seven years of my life hoping for this? To suffer? Then I realised, he was right!”

He explains that part of the suffering was the different expectations— realistic and unrealistic, that people had, or misunderstanding the priest’s words or actions. “We are called upon to bear the cross and cope with it as best as we can,” he said. He added, “I don’t think any priest is immune from that. Life does not work that way”.

What advice would he give a young person discerning a vocation to the priesthood?

“If you sense there is an interest there, you will discuss it with your parents and with your parish or any priest whom you… and your family know quite well…always make sure you talk to the right person, not just someone who will probably discourage you.”

He said the person approached should be someone who will have an understanding of what “you are saying to them…what you have been called for and they will direct you in the right way”.

Mass to celebrate Fr Charles’ golden anniversary takes place tomorrow (June 25) at St Patrick’s, Newtown, 6 p.m.