For Father Mikkel Trestrail, his journey to the priesthood has literally been the scripture of 2 Corinthians 5:7, a walk by faith and not by sight. One of four Roman Catholic priests to be ordained this month, Father Trestrail lost his sight at the age of 11.
“I made a journey with God, at first, just really wanting to be healed and to see again,” he told us in a one-on-one interview. The faith of his family and those close to him would guide his life in those early months following blindness. Still, he struggled to come to terms with this new impediment. “I was depressed and I wanted to die,” he said.
But as Father Trestrail got deeper in his Catholic faith, he was building a strong foundation that would one day make him the first blind priest to be ordained in the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain. He recalled how at Diego Martin Secondary School, Jehovah Witness students, Muslims and Hindus were curious to find out about his Catholic faith. This, he said, caused him to dig deeper and discover things he never knew about his religion.
By age 16, he began hearing “whispers” from God about what his future would look like. Five years after going blind, the young man’s perspective on his life had changed. “I had a little encounter and movement in my heart where it was no longer about healing and what God could do for me but about the relationship I wanted to have with God,” Father Trestrail said. A year later he got the calling for the priesthood.
In the first five years of his visual disability, Father Trestrail had moved from down and out to standing on the brink of a journey no other priest had travelled to ordination in this archdiocese. He says praying the rosary was a major part of maintaining and strengthening his faith in God. He explained, “One of my favourite movies is the Lord of the Rings and in the Return of the King, there is a point where Frodo falls and he can’t go anymore and Sam says I cannot carry your burden for you but I can carry you, and for me, that was my experience at age 11 where I couldn’t carry it.”
Now, in 2009, Father Trestrail wasn’t only carrying the burden of blindness, but also blazing a new trail as he entered the Seminary of St John Vianney & the Uganda Martyrs on Mount St Benedict. If God had guided him to the obstacle, He was certainly helping him to get over it. As he began studies to be a priest, the Ministry of Education provided Father Trestrail with a scholarship that would assist in the resources he needed as a blind man to successfully complete the courses at the seminary.
Walking a path no other priest had in this country
While Father Trestrail began walking a path no other priest had in this country, he found inspiration in knowing that it was done before. “From very early, I started Googling blind priests and making contact with blind priests throughout the world. They gave me a lot of help, support and encouragement and so it helped me to know that this is very possible.”
Yet, while many doors were opening for the new seminarian, the challenges never stopped coming. “The only real struggle came when I had just joined the seminary, I thought I met the person I may have wanted to marry, and I had to deal with that and face that and pray that through.” He admits he never asked her to marry him. “My discussions with other consecrated people, it’s something that you have to face at some point in the journey where you face a major decision like that, so I realized when talking to others, it’s a normal part of making this journey.”
Ten years later, at 36-years-old, Father Trestrail’s walk by faith and not by sight took him to the priesthood where he was ordained on September 14 along with Father Stephan Alexander, Father Kwesi Alleyne and Father Kenwin Sylvester, starting another chapter in his storied life. Only he was a member of the Companions of the Transfigured Christ Community and not an order.
Earlier this year, he gave the Catholic church a glimpse of what was to come when he was ordained a deacon in San Fernando. Many are still confused as to how he recites the gospel and other scriptures on the pulpit, with one person even asking if the Roman Missals are printed in braille. He said, “I use an app on my phone that provides both the prayers for the Mass and also the readings for the Mass and I basically listen to them in my headset and I repeat as it goes along.”
His blindness may be the first thing laypeople see, but Father Trestrail is determined that it will not derail him from achieving his destiny. “My focus on life wasn’t so much on what I couldn’t do but the things that I could do in a different way,” he said. “I don’t identify myself firstly as a blind and disabled person. I am a person. I happen to have a disability, but I am a person at the same time so therefore I have gifts, talents and abilities.”
Father Trestrail admits it concerned him what laypeople would think of a blind priest ministering to them. But even in the midst of his cross examination, he finds joy in his job. “There are people who say they are happy about a blind priest because they know that I’ll never see them in confession,” Father Trestrail laughingly said. “With time, the church will accept and learn.”
He’s one of the youngest priests in the archdiocese, based at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Port-of-Spain, but the next few decades will define his life. “I don’t want anybody to say I lived my priesthood, it’s really the priesthood of Christ so when I retire, I hope that people would be able to look at my life and say he was really a priest that tried to be like Christ,” he said.