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Launching into the written word with God’s help

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

During her two decades with The Catholic News, she wrote on a range of issues and topics. There were series from her attendance at events such as the World Council of Churches (November 1974); history pieces e.g. historical accounts of religious orders (1977); articles to edify e.g., the administration of the Holy See in the Vatican (1978); about places: a series on Grenada (1978) and Venezuela (1979); social issues: on the ageing world with a focus on T&T, the life of a vagrant, state of the nation’s housing.

She was a roving reporter visiting parishes across the country, telling the history and stories of churches and the people.

She began as a freelance writer and then Editor Owen Baptiste was candid about her first effort at a story. In an interview with The Catholic News on the paper’s 125th anniversary in 2017 she had recounted, “He said, ‘so you wrote for your priest and nuns, go back, and write it again’.”

She had to do three re-writes. On the second occasion he commented to her, “Sister, you must write in a way that galvanises your readers.”  True to her commitment to the Lord she prepared a series about Jesus.

“I started writing, I don’t know how many pages. I could write and write.” She had a column titled ‘The Sister Marie-Thérèse Column’.

The Catholic News had a small staff comprising the editor, layout artist, secretary, and writer. In 1974, Sr Marie-Thérèse became a full-time writer. According to a report in The Catholic News, July 7, 1974, Arthur Mc Shine, Managing Director of Printing Services Ltd, which printed the paper, offered her a job.

By this time, Baptiste had moved on, but she acknowledged his “vision, perspicuity and courage” as she launched into “the adventure with God’s help”.

She knew going into journalism did not fit the perception people had of nuns –prayerful, working for the Church and with educating children. She had spent 25 years serving underprivileged children and believed “the time has come to work with and for adults”.

Permission was granted by Vicaress Sr Rose de Verteuil OP who said, “Sister, we trust you; go ahead.”

Sr Marie-Thérèse’s first article was on the change in clothing worn by the Dominican Sisters. That page 3 story was headlined ‘Nuns Model 100 years of fashion’.

As Prioress of the St Dominic’s Children’s Home, she wrote a story close to her heart, ‘The Child Nobody Wants’ about the reality of the child abandoned by family.

Sr Marie-Thérèse saw her role in fulfilling the call heeded by her Order coming out of Vatican II to announce the Good News of salvation to the present generation using the world’s mass communications.

She was also following in the path of those early Dominican Sisters in Trinidad who were involved along with senior boys and girls of the children’s Home, in printing The Catholic News from 1892. The first printery was established at the site of the St Dominic’s Home in Belmont.

Sr Marie-Thérèse said of continuity in 1974, “I will only continue in a new capacity the link of the Dominican Sisters with the printed word.” Eight Dominican Fathers served as Editors of the paper between 1897 and 1972.


Parish Beat

It was under Baptiste that a series called ‘Parish Profile’ began in 1972. As Baptiste states in the foreword of Parish Beat (1976), the intent was “to present readers with a living account of the parishes all over the islands…There was indeed, a shocking ignorance of the work of the Church outside of their districts except for the occasional harvest. We dared to believe that this exposure of the problems of people in Blanchisseuse, Coryal and Point Fortin would awaken the whole Church—priests and laity—to a better understanding of their role as Christians.”

He noted there was the opposite effect with clergy at the time being hostile, she belonged to ‘the press’, although she was a member of the Dominican Sisters. ‘Parish Profile’ was stopped.

Sr Marie-Thérèse said, “I got a lot of criticism and when the book came out it made it worse.” She is resolute that she did not depend on unreceptive priests to get her stories. “They were not in favour of me, because who was I for them? I was first of all a migrant from France, a foreigner; I was white; I spoke with an accent.”

She described the reaction of the laity, “some people said, this is strange when this nun writes something. She is one of us and when she speaks, she speaks with an accent, where does she come from?”