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Tributes pour in for Fr de Verteuil
Challenging, influential and communal were the words used to describe Fr Michel de Verteuil, who died in his sleep early on Sunday at the Priests’ Residence at Fatima College, Mucurapo. De Verteuil, 84, a former managing editor of the Catholic News, was the first local rector of the regional seminary at Mt St Benedict. He became a member of the Holy Ghost Fathers (HGF) in 1950 and was ordained in 1959. He was a priest for 53 years, and held the provincial position of the HGF from 1980 to 1992.
Vicar for Clergy Fr Clyde Harvey, who knew de Verteuil for almost 45 years, said de Verteuil’s role as the first local rector of the seminary came at a time when the seminary itself was changing. “He brought with it a concern for the total formation for the priest—as a spiritual leader and a community leader,” Harvey said, explaining that de Verteuil stressed the importance of priests embodying those traits.
“It changed one’s views about what church leadership was about,” Harvey said by phone on Monday. “It was about enabling people to develop and use their gifts, so that from the leader in the smallest parish to the archbishop in Port-of-Spain, he sought to encourage that style of leadership.” He said de Verteuil also fought hard to include women as leaders of parishes and the diocese. Fr Gregory Augustine, now provincial for the HGF, said when he entered for training in 1982, de Verteuil was the provincial.
“I didn’t particularly like him, he was very challenging,” Augustine recalled with a laugh, saying de Verteuil pushed him and the seven other men out of their comfort zone when he was their mentor. “It wasn’t easy, as a young person, to be pushed. But then you realised how necessary it was. It was for my growth. That’s why he pushed you.” Augustine and de Verteuil grew to be close friends over the last 30-plus years, and lived as neighbours in the priests’ residence. De Verteuil moved there in 2002.
When asked what would be his legacy, Augustine said his first teacher had a knack for counselling. “Many people cherished his counsel and friendship. He was more than a priest to you, he was a good friend. His style was to challenge you...That stands out for me,” Augustine said. He said de Verteuil’s influence reached nuns, priests and laypeople, as he was a “communal” man. “He was deep-rooted in the life of the church, people and society. That distinguished him.”
Augustine, who discovered de Verteuil had died on Sunday morning, said there was always a sadness in parting. “But he lived a full life. So there is contentment. I am comforted. He lived well and he died well.” Harvey said the combined work of Archbishop Anthony Pantin and de Verteuil “made the church what it is today ” and de Verteuil’s legacy would be twofold. “It would be the priests he mentored across the region, and the laity whom he empowered.”
Harvey said as de Verteuil deteriorated, he was a courageous figure in the last few years of his life. De Verteuil’s funeral will be held tomorrow at the St Theresa’s RC Church in Woodbrook at 9.30 am. There will also be a vigil for him at Fatima College from 6 pm today.