“Catholic News? Catholic News?” This was the chorus that any passer-by in front of the Pro-Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH), San Fernando would hear during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when churches were closed. The dedication of our dear sacristan, Selwyn Toney would see that every paper was sold.
‘Uncle Selwyn’ as he is fondly called, has been a parishioner of OLPH for many years and has served the church in different aspects.
It was under the stewardship of then parish priest Msgr Christian Pereira, that Uncle Selwyn was asked to fill the post of sacristan for “just a little while”. That little while turned into more than ten years of meticulously catering to the requirements of the different liturgies at OLPH, from Mass at 6 a.m., a funeral or two during the morning, a wedding at 3 p.m. and even a Baptism a little later on any given day. Bear in mind that each of these celebrations may very well have their own celebrant whose requirements are as distinct as the different liturgies themselves.
Despite these demands, Uncle Selwyn met every last one, while still fulfilling his passion of visiting the sick at the nearby San Fernando General Hospital and other medical institutions, as well as the many shut-ins, in and around the city.
It was during the years when Fr Seamus Maguire was hospital chaplain that Uncle Selwyn followed the calling to care for the spiritual welfare of people in the hospital, many of whom were close to meeting the Lord of life and was able to do so with someone to comfort them in their last moments.
In these present times, where many demands on our few priests are made, Uncle Selwyn remains the face of the Catholic Church to the desperately sick, and the liaison between the priests and the patients when anointing is needed.
The centrality of OLPH, as well as being the only Christian church that is open at least 12 hours a day, means the church has become an oasis of peace to the many destitute an weary souls coming from the courts and the hospital. Uncle Selwyn has been, for so many, an ear to listen to and someone to pray with.
Among the street dwellers, Uncle Selwyn is respected as “the man who rings the bell”. By its tolling at a funeral, pealing at a wedding, or for the Angelus three times a day, Uncle Selwyn ensures that the rich legacy of the parish in its 200 plus year history continues to remind the burgesses of San Fernando that God is present among us.
On the feast of the birthday of Our Lady this year (September 8), Uncle Selwyn celebrated his 80th birthday. The parish owes him a debt of gratitude, as we contemplate with awe the calling God had for him when in the latter years of his life, he took care of the church dedicated to the Queen whose birthday he shares. Ad multos annos! – Justin Ragoonanan