At 82 years old and one of T&T's most avid and prolific historians, Fr Michael Anthony de Verteuil CSSp, former principal (1978-1992) of his alma mater of St Mary's College in Port-of-Spain, still teaches at the college, conducts televised masses at Trinity TV, and of course, he researches, writes and produces historical publications.
In fact, Fr de Verteuil excitedly talks about his latest work (his 38th book, 32 of which are on Trinidad's history), titled The Great Eight, about the magnificent houses around the Queen's Park Savannah, to be released in May, around his 83rd birthday.
As I caught up with my former A-level geography teacher at Spiritan House on Oxford Street, Port-of-Spain (which adjoins the college), Fr de Verteuil showed no signs of letting up.
Ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1962, he has taught at CIC since returning to T&T in 1963. His term at St Mary's was interrupted briefly from 1966-68 when he served as vice-principal at Fatima College. He received the T&T national award, Humming Bird Gold medal in 1993, and an Honorary LLD degree from the University of the West Indies in 2004...both for his work as an educator, author/historian and his commitment to the church and service to his fellow human beings.
His publications include: The Living Rosary 1968; O-Level French for West Indian Students/1971; Field Studies for O-Level Geography Students/1972; Life Lines�Poem for Junior Secondary Students/1972; Changing Reality�A Catechetical Book for Form 5/1973; Facing Reality�A Catechetical Book for Form 4/1973; Sir Louis de Verteuil, his Life and Times/1973; And Then There Were None, a history of the Le Cadre Family/ 1974; Trinidad's French Verse 1850-1900/1978; The Years Before, Trinidad 1829-1833/1981; The Story of Gene Smile and the Gas Station Racket/1981; The Years of Revolt, Trinidad 1881�1888/1984; Sylvester Devenish and the Irish in 190 century Trinidad/1986; A History of Diego Martin�Begorrat and Brunton 1784-1884/1987; Eight East Indian Immigrants/1989; Seven Slaves and Slavery, Trinidad 1777-1838/1992; Scientific Sorties/1993; The Germans in Trinidad/1994; Martyrs and Murderers/1995; History of Surgery in Trinidad/1996; Holy Ghost Fathers of Trinidad/1996; The de Verteuils of Trinidad/1997; To Find Freedom/1998; Great Estates of Trinidad/2000; Shepherds of God/2001; Western Isles of Trinidad/2002; Temples of Trinidad/2004; The Corsicans in Trinidad/2005; The McShines of Trinidad/2006; Sylvester Devenish, Trinidad's Poet/2007; Leon de Gannes, Trinidad's Raconteur/2008; The Black Earth of South Naparima/2009; Trinidad's French Legacy/2010; Governor Grant/2011; Charles Le Cadre/2012; Murder Most Foul/2013.
He offered some Lenten perspectives for reflection during our interview.
Q: At this post-Carnival Lenten time what message would you like to give to T&T? What does Easter mean to you?
A: Enjoy Lent–experience the happiness of getting closer to God. Easter means "resurrection," putting aside my sins and failures of the past and with the help of Jesus, beginning a new life of generosity, compassion and joy.
Who were the people who have influenced you the most?
My parents and my older twin brother, Eric, who all provided in their own special ways a constant incentive as well as a sense of togetherness.
What does it mean to be Catholic?
A follower of Christ, a member of a church community which is open to all and follows the successor of St Peter.
What are your essential duties as a priest?
My opinion of my essential duties was reflected in the commemorative card I had printed for my priestly ordination: At the back: 'Every priest taken from among men is ordained to serve men in the things that appertain to God.'
At the front: A picture of a priest celebrating mass–and below: 'Purify my heart and my lips O Lord that I may worthily announce the gospel.'
Tell us about your inspiration to join the priesthood...at what age did you have your calling?
I stayed an extra year at St Mary's to study A-Level Science in view of entering Bangor University, Wales, to do a degree in Forestry and during the course of that year, I became convinced–after much prayer and deliberation–that God wanted me to be a priest in the Holy Ghost Fathers. I left the next year for the Novitiate in Quebec, Canada. I was then 20 years old and working with an accounting firm.
What advice would you give to a young man who is wondering about a vocation such as yours?
Make sure that in your life you are serving others and becoming less self-centred. Pray about it and consult a priest about it. Remember that no one is really worthy to be called to the priesthood, so don't let your weakness hold you back.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
From age ten months to 20 years I spent all my life in Trinidad. I was born in London where my father, a doctor, was doing a postgraduate degree. My mother was then aged 46 and in poor health and
was diagnosed with a tumour of the womb, which later turned out to be twins! (Two more not tumour, according to my brother Eric). Thank God, as a good Catholic she refused the doctor's advice to have an abortion!
What educational institutions did you attend?
I was home schooled and then spent 11 years at St Mary's College from prep to Upper Six; Novitiate of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Lac-au-Saumon, Quebec, Canada; Kimmage Manor Scholasticate, Dublin, Ireland; University College, Dublin, Ireland.
Teaching at St Mary's College...
I taught A-Level English literature, history, geography and religion. Still teach Upper and Lower Six religion. At St Mary's I was involved in playing and coaching hockey and tennis for the college, organising camps, field trips and retreats, concerts, wrote and produced three 'Modifications' of Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas. At one time or another was dean of Form Four, Five, Six, and games master. Oh, and principal from 1978-1992.
Research and writing of books related to T&T's history...which was the most challenging and which was the most satisfying?
I have now completed 32 books on Trinidad's history. The most challenging was Seven Slaves and Slavery, Trinidad–1777-1838, because nothing substantial had been written about slavery in Trinidad and there was a great deal of prejudice and attributing to Trinidad, the treatment that was meted out to slaves in the other islands–and this even at university level. The most satisfying book (which will be published this May) was The Great Eight about the magnificent houses around the Queen's Park Savannah and the life and psychology of their owners as reflected in these buildings.
What is your greatest fear in life?
That something I did or didn't do may cause discouragement to others or lead them astray.
What would you say is your greatest virtue?
What daily motto do you live by?
God is good.
Describe yourself in two words–one beginning with A, the other with D?
Actually, Nasser, my twin brother, Eric, always reminds me that my full name is Michael Anthony De Verteuil, so my initials are really MAD, which I'm sure he would say is the appropriate answer (laughing).