By Simone Delochan, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the space of about a week in the first half of December, three books were released by the local Catholic community. On December 7, the coffee table book, Extracts from the Archives of the Irish Dominicans in Trinidad and Tobago 1895-2018 was launched, and the day after, December 8, Called to Serve by Sr Marie Thérèse Rétout OP on the Dominican nuns. Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris’ biography, God’s Will was launched at NALIS, Wednesday 12.
To what Earl Best, journalist and educator, dubbed a “mature audience” in the packed AV room, the book on the Archbishop’s life and the process of its being written were detailed.
Best’s was the first presentation on the author Valentino Singh, renowned for his journalistic career in sports which spanned over four decades and ended with his retirement from the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian two years ago. Singh began as his student in Queen’s Royal College, became his mentee and ultimately his friend.
Best traced the Seven Cs which marked the growth and development of ‘Tino’, as he is familiarly called, throughout his life—Candida, his wife, and his children; Church; Cricket/Cricket captaincy; The Challenge Trevor Smith’s weekly newspaper; Calypso; the College: Queen’s Royal College; and finally Corruption/Controversy emerging from Jack Warner’s ascendancy to FIFA following Trinidad and Tobago’s defeat in 1989 in a qualifying match for Word Cup, Italy.
Louis Lee Sing, former Mayor of Port of Spain did a review of the book, describing it as “The story of one of the Caribbean’s and Roman Catholic Church’s forceful apostles”.
In his review he remarked on the areas of inspiration and direction in Archbishop Harris’ life, starting with the loving and structured homelife. Both his parents were deeply religious Catholics and it was well-known in the household that the mother prayed for one of her children to join religious life. Her prayers were answered when two did, as Archbishop Harris’ sister joined the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny. Sr Ann Claire read an excerpt from Chapter 9 at the launch.
The book, says Lee Sing, underscored that this was “an account of one who truly lived his life in service of the greatest of all powers” even while experiencing at first a normal life of a young man experiencing conflict that any teenager would have in deciding to become a priest.
“We also learn with some detail, of his early years…his fears of his perceived weaknesses of his afflictions” and how these influenced the man of the cloth which he would later become.
Archbishop Harris in his own response at the launch noted with humour that he was called ‘machine gun’ because of his stammer, and ‘Shakespeare’ as a result of his tremors.
Many amazing details on his life emerged as detailed in the book: the religious persecution he underwent in Paraguay where his safety was under threat. He had arrived at the parish of San Jose Obrero, to find both church building and community in a state of disrepair and began the God-willed task of rebuilding. Said Archbishop Harris later that morning: “Paraguay made me a priest. I learnt there what was essential to priesthood…to faith. The vocation of every baptised person is in fact, to be a martyr.”
He spent vacations at the family home in Lopinot sharpening his skills as a hunter (and cook); and pursued a Master’s degree in Chicago, where he experienced racism but which led to his realising that he was not typical in his outlooks—he “marched to a tune different”—out of which academic confidence was instilled.
The rich and fascinating narrative that emerges in God’s Will was one that the author himself did not expect, highlighting his own doubt when the “simple, laid-back, humble” priest first expressed the desire to have his story told, this before he became archbishop.
“I said to myself, ‘What wrong with this man, boy?’.” As the interviews with ‘Fr Joe’, his family, and friends progressed, he acknowledged his mistake: “I met a man whose faith was unbelievable…nothing has provided me with more satisfaction that putting together God’s Will”.
He averred that this, however, was his last book. “I never really had to work a day in my life because I enjoyed it so, BUT that stopped when I had to work on this work!”, evoking laughter in the audience.
Singh has also authored Legacy of The Soca Warriors, Upwards Through the Night, Zero to Hero (Jack Warner’s biography), co-authored Above and Beyond The Crossbar with Lincoln Phillips, History of T&T at the Olympics and 100 years of Football in T&T.
Archbishop Jason Gordon was presented with a copy of the limited edition of God’s Will, and in his thanks and congratulations, commented that this was the first time a local archbishop had produced a biography. To his predecessor he said, “I want to thank you for the work you have done in the Archdiocese, not just as Archbishop of Port of Spain but as a priest who has contributed credibly to the life and vitality of the Archdiocese.”
The book launch very much reflected the character of Archbishop Joseph Harris himself: warm, simple, witty and heartfelt, all of which carried through the presentations and ably continued by the Master of Ceremonies Fr Robert Christo, Vicar for Communications.
Two inmates, Alladin Mohammed and Leslie Huggins who had painted the cover portrait of the limited edition were present, as well as members of the clergy and media.