Be ignited by the flame
February 2, 2023
Is abortion the new ‘miscarriage’?
February 2, 2023

Reaching the soul of the nation

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The resumption of parish visits came out of necessity. A board of management meeting discussed the urgency of boosting circulation. Sr Marie-Thérèse suggested to Editor Fr Peter Nicholson CSSp that someone visit the parishes to find out why people were not buying the paper. He thought during these visits she should write stories.

Although she did not know about the country, Fr Nicholson voiced confidence she would get to know the country. Archbishop Anthony Pantin CSSp wrote to clergy informing of her visits and asked for their cooperation. Sr Marie-Thérèse was undeterred, and the visits resumed in 1974. The title of the series ‘Parish Beat’ came from Lance Baptiste.

A routine developed, “From Monday was writing my story; Tuesday was the deadline; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I am to write stories and research for the parish I was going to visit. Then on Saturday, going to wherever the parish priest has accepted to have me…I had asked if they could receive me, to give at least a meal and a bed somewhere.”

She stayed with families who gave lodging and a meal. “I had to speak in every church at the end of Mass. I had to talk to the people and tell them the purpose for which I came and also, I had to meet them at the door of the church to ask questions. I had to write everything, pen and paper, nothing to record.”


The trials and joy

The series, which would last two years, began in Port of Spain with Holy Rosary RC parish then St Francis of Assisi, Belmont followed. These articles led to an invitation from the parish priest of Manzanilla, Fr Stephen Doyle OP.

Sr Marie-Thérèse did not have a motor car, so she travelled. She says of her Manzanilla outing: “Risking my life on the roads every weekend has had its rewards, as there are situations that can only be appreciated on the spot. I have on mind the joy of bringing Christ in Holy Communion to lonely, and sick people living in remote areas as was the case when I accompanied Fr Doyle. The destitution of these poor people is indescribable” (140, Parish Beat).

She described her joy meeting the worshipping community at Manzanilla and Biche calling them “a truly live community of Christians”.

Sr Marie-Thérèse realised photographs were needed to enhance the stories she wrote. In the interim, through Archbishop Pantin, arrangements were made to get a rental car after the risks of travelling to Manzanilla.

Her first-time driving was to Moruga. It was not an easy journey with large potholes causing motorists to zig-zag to avoid them. Unfortunately, for Sr Marie-Thérèse, the back tyre of the car did not avoid one and blew out.

She lost control of the car and ended up down a ravine. She rolled along with the car and avoided serious injury but was frightened and bruised. She knocked out a window and called for help.

Some men from the community saw the accident. One of them commented she must have said her prayers well that morning. Though a bit awkward to touch a “nun”, they pulled her out to safety.

The parish priest Fr Robert Rivas OP was quickly on the scene. Despite this episode, Sr Marie-Thérèse fulfilled her assignment that weekend (80-81, Sr Marie-Thérèse Rétout OP, 2019).

Eventually photographer Neil Hokan was hired and drove them around. “Only God knows the hardships we had and the car breaking down” (11, May 14, 2017, CN).

When his car was down and they were scheduled to visit Erin, they took a Public Transport Service Corporation bus to San Fernando then the Palo Seco to Erin bus. Unfortunately, the bus broke down and they had to walk the rest to Erin in “torrid noon heat!” (62, Parish Beat, 1976).


The Soul of Trinidad

Sr Marie-Thérèse said travelling around the country, she saw “the soul of Trinidad, the beautiful people in the rural areas”. Her experience in the city areas was different as the “parishioners on wheels” left before she could ask questions. She joked that when she went to where they lived, she was welcomed with barking dogs.

The details of visits now elude the grasp of memory however, Sr Marie-Thérèse is enlivened mentioning the people in the communities who welcomed her. “I got to know the people. I wrote the ‘Parish Beat’ and discovered the soul of the people, most precious people…They gave me a bouquet of flowers to thank me.”

She looks back on the visits to parishes as a “mission” for the whole Church. The people in communities were appreciative and the sale of the paper increased. “That was our only income, the sale of the paper in the parishes, that went on until I said I had enough.”

Coming soon: PARISH BEAT 2.0