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Testaments of Faith and Miracles in the Tortuga Community

By Kaelanne Jordan

Derek Telfer admits he’d be lying if there was not a moment during his membership with the Shrine Committee of Our Lady of Montserrat, Tortuga where he reconsidered his decision when faced with various complexities and challenges that come with being involved in the restoration of a church.

“But with a little prayer you get back your focus and keep plodding along because one thing I’ve learned in my 68 years on this earth is that just when you about to give up, the next step is what takes you over,” Telfer asserted.

Telfer was born in Woodbrook and baptised at St Theresa’s. He recalled when he was around five years old, his family moved to St James and were parishioners of the St Mary’s community until his young adult years. The family later moved to St Ann’s, Chaguanas, and Preysal.

Derek Telfer

It was while a member of the rally club, “we passed in front of the Tortuga church which at the time was disused, it wasn’t restored yet. And even though we were flying through, I took a look to the left and right and said I have to come back.”

He explained he immediately fell in love with the beauty of the church and the location. Even though it was “rundown” and hadn’t been in use at the time, “something about it just struck me and it remained with me all those years…”

This was in the ‘80s. It was not until the 2000s when he moved to Preysal, he enquired about a church on a hill.

Telfer shared he would sit behind Diane Bertrand every Sunday at Mass, and they soon became friends. “She realised I was a stranger, so she welcomed me. And the Sunday when Fr Steve [Duncan] spoke about starting the Shrine Committee I touched on her shoulder and said ‘D, I could join?’ [laughing]. And she said, ‘of course’.”

He commented at that time it was just something special that he wanted to be part of. “I just couldn’t go to that church and just walk out and say that’s somebody else’s problem. I’m not that way. I’m glad I did it,” he said.

Telfer joked he doesn’t have the “hardest job” on the committee. He then paid homage to the Committee’s President, Bertrand, Secretary Antoinette Valentine-Lewis, and former Treasurer Suzette Whiteway.

“Those three are the glue that holds us together. They do phenomenal work and it’s a good thing they live in the area too,” Telfer said.

He told The Catholic News he remains an active committee member even though he now resides in D’Abadie.

Telfer explained his area of expertise is the ability to look at things from multiple perspectives. He has a business in logistics and expertise in transport and construction.

“I’m able to look at things with a jaundice eye. For instance, right now when we have to have quotations to get certain work done. I can look at these quotations and look at the people who are attempting to get the job and shake my head yes or no. It leads to a debate amongst the Shrine Committee members, but nothing is easily rubberstamped with us. You have to go through a process,” Telfer said.

He acknowledged the Committee knew the restoration involved a lot of work, but “we didn’t know it was going to cost four million.”

The Committee meets once a month. During Covid, meetings were Zoomed. Depending on upcoming projects, the group meets once a week.

Meanwhile First Communion Catechist and Shrine Committee Secretary Antoinette Valentine-Lewis continues to thank God for “planting” her in the community.

Her family moved to the community in 2001 when restoration work commenced.

“The church is exceptionally beautiful but there’s so much that is spirit-filled in that place. I remember standing in the yard of the church looking around and seeing the panoramic views and Our Lady being present and I just kind of looked up to God and said thank you for planting my family here.”

Valentine-Lewis shared with The Catholic News an experience her family faced in 2018. At that time, she travelled to the US to help her daughter move to another state.

Her daughter’s possessions were packed in a U-Haul truck and parked on the street. The next day, the truck was missing.

“It was so surreal. We just looked at the spot where you knew it was and …my daughter got out and she just started walking the length of the building …. she looked real dejected. And she was crying and said, ‘mommy all of my papers, my passport, my documents were in a trunk in the U-Haul’.”

Valentine-Lewis began to pray to the hearts of the thieves, and asked Mary’s intercession. The following morning the container was found.

“…she went straight to the trunk and found her passport and every single document. That is not by chance. And that’s just one, I have so many experiences. It was God,” Valentine-Lewis declared.