By Simone Delochan
Fr Michael Makhan spent 20 years as Vice Principal of the Spiritan-run St Joseph College and a quick perusal of comments left on video of Fr Makhan on the Archdiocese’s Facebook page, would show the love and respect his students had for him. One female student stated: “My vice principal whose watchwords was: Break it up. Boys and books do not mix.”
While still a student at St Mary’s College, he had harboured a desire to be a teaching priest, so moved was he by the examples set by then Frs Anthony Pantin and Malcolm Galt among others. He describes his teachers as gentlemanly.
Fr James Brett, principal at the time, was a “gentleman of the first order. He had a fantastic memory and would ask after all your siblings when he met you.” They were above all, humble and compassionate men.
Fr Makhan taught Latin, French, Spanish and Literature, and devised a course called Ethics, in classes from Form One right up to Form Five. He still had responsibility for Cathedral Masses, and after his work day, celebrated the evening Mass.
His learning on appropriate behaviour and ways to treat with people, also derived from home and seminary training, he brought to bear during his tenure at the college.
Teaching, he says is a profession of healing and is one of the professions he feels is a calling as is the priesthood. It is in that sacred privilege children can be encouraged and trained to be their best.
He had meetings with the female and male teachers separately reiterating proper dress, correct speech and importantly, that the children should not be shouted at. He recalls one incident which left him deeply pained.
“I heard a teacher shouting at a student who was drinking from the tap in the courtyard: ‘Aye, what you doing? You supposed to be in class. Get to class now!’ I said, ‘Oh God, Sir. The boy must be hungry. He came from El Dorado and probably had nothing to eat. His father sells in the market. He must be hungry and drinking water! Have you no compassion?” Fr Makhan wept in the telling of this anecdote. “People are people. It doesn’t matter look or faith.”
The priestly way
One of the many things he remembers from his seminary days is the Latin phrase: bonum est diffusivum sui, goodness spreads out itself and that is true witness to the Church as was the example of deceased Archbishop Pantin.
“When Archbishop Pantin died, Trinidad was in grief. I remember people walking up Charlotte Street in silence to view the body at the Cathedral. He was a witness. He was always cracking jokes and making people feel good.”
There are specific things he feels priests must remember in their service to God, His Church and people: “…not to raise your voice, to have a good standard of conduct…the way how you greet people…There are a lot of lonely people in the world, you know, and it is really sad. It doesn’t take much to greet people and say hello to them.”
The advice is not just for priests but for everyone to live daily and it is a particular peeve to him on how uncouth the society seems to have become. Bus drivers he has spoken to have recounted how difficult it can be, with passengers “not even saying thank you”.
The call to serve the Church requires courage, determination, humility, willpower and trust in God. He describes priesthood as an “awe-inspiring adventure” which human terms cannot really explain, but complete trust in God is necessary, especially during the rough times, to maintain focus.
Fr Makhan says he has been cursed at, beaten and insulted but “What I go do? I take my licks for the Lord…It’s not our work, you know. It’s God’s work and He just calls us to be instruments. Gold is tested in the fire and priests will be tested.”
Integration into the community is powerful outreach for the faith. He often took walks in John John, Laventille, where the men gambling would greet him with “Rev, wha happenin”. “I cool, man,” was his response. Or the women outside washing: “Fadoi!”. “Yes, darling. You good?”.
An indictment of the Church is to hear a priest described as ‘hoggish’ because “the personality of the priest is very important to reach out to people who are in pain”.
He recalls another incident inviting the garbage collectors to join him for breakfast one Christmas morning. They were hesitant. It was a “priest house”. Fr Makhan replied: “Man, stop yuh stupidness. Come and have a little breakfast, man. Is Christmas.” Priests, he says, are not a class apart.
In his 55 years of loving and committed service to Church and community, he has not a single regret and maintains a humble demeanour, still greeting people warmly and proffering encouraging words.
He misses active ministry and because of breathing problems cannot venture as far as he used to and spends his days reading and listening to BBC on the radio. There is so much love expressed for him however, by so many people he has encountered, he certainly exemplifies bonum est diffusivum sui. His goodness has spread.
As a thank you for her work, Fr Makhan gave Simone a magnet with a message that we can all live by.
“People are people. It doesn’t matter look or faith.”
Teaching, he says, is a profession of healing and is one of the professions he feels is a calling as is the priesthood.