The following tribute to Fr Benedict Hilaire was submitted by Mark Mungal on behalf of the 1st Presentation Sea Scouts troop. It appeared in their 60th anniversary magazine in 2017. ‘Fr Bunty’ served as their Chaplain in the late 70s to early 80s during his time as parish priest in San Fernando. It has been edited for length.
Fr Benedict Hilaire, aka Fr Bunty, Uncle Bunty and Rasta priest (without the dreadlocks, but with the soul bounce) … brought with him a bit of a different approach to his pastoral service that saw him take on many different roles as the true grassroots servant leader.
The Storyteller—Bunty enjoyed sharing stories with the scouts during our camps, often taking us way back to his own childhood days. In one story, he tells of my grandmother (Mama Dorothy) doing the necessary medical procedure on his injured foot after his brother miscalculated a game of ‘pass near’ with a garden fork… yes, it’s a true story and thankfully, Bunty lived to tell it.
The Comedian—Bunty had a wide repertoire of jokes that often-included foreign accents (usually Chinese) and the accompanying facial and hand gestures. Many times he would insert the appropriate joke in the middle of his homily… and of course, being a polite congregation we always acknowledged his jokes with a controlled giggle and a look around to see if anybody else was as confused as we were. The good news is that even when his comedic renditions were less than humorous, he still managed to evoke a happy response—keep telling your jokes Bunty!
The Footballer/Dancer—Bunty often shared stories about his speed and skill and how he would have tormented his fellow seminarians back in the days at Mount St Benedict football grounds… and how a certain senior clergy would have resorted to very unchristian-like tackles. On one of our camps in Venezuela, Bunty was also on the receiving end of one such tackle from an over-exuberant (read ‘unskilful’) young scout —the result of which was a severely injured knee that put an end to Bunty’s football career… and added an extra bounce to the already well-established Rasta swagger. For the rest of that camp Bunty was forced to walk with a stick… but that didn’t stop him from participating and eventually winning a dance competition organised by our Venezuelan hosts before the camp was done—luckily for Bunty, we did not have camera phones back in those days!
The Protector—If nothing else Bunty made it his business to protect the younger scouts from the usual intimidation and terrorisation by the older scouts that had been for many years a part of the culture of the troop.
In one camp in Barbados, after witnessing the unacceptable behaviour of the older boys, Bunty intervened and since then, although there is still a lively level of playful and healthy recreational combat among the boys, the troop no longer tolerates any forms of bullying under the guise of tradition. Sincerest thanks to Bunty the Protector on behalf of all those young scouts who may have endured those unacceptable ‘traditions’.
The Priest—1st Pres Sea Scouts has always had a strong culture of faith and worship that is usually heightened when we attend camps. When Bunty accompanied us to camps we were really fortunate to have him guide our prayer sessions in his own unique and warm-spirited way and to offer Holy Mass for us within the sanctuary of our campsite. Those spiritual experiences will remain with us throughout our lives and we are eternally grateful to Bunty for his kindness, generosity and spiritual guidance that he provided during his stint as our Chaplain—God Bless You, Father Bunty—our Chaplain for Life!