By Kaelanne Jordan
“Thanks for the support!”
This was the response from Fr Garfield Rochard to faithful who sent their greetings/well wishes as he celebrated 50 years of priestly ministry Sunday, July 12.
According to Fr Rochard, it was a love for people and Church that drew him to the priesthood.
“…I never liked a desk job. So, I love to be with people and working with people, building people, building confidence in young people. So, I would have spent much of my time teaching the faith in the catechesis and with liturgical formation. Those are two of my rich contributions,” Fr Rochard told Catholic News via phone on Monday.
The 77-year-old retired priest has been based at St Peter’s Home Mt St Benedict since 2016.
Growing up, he recalled, while people may have “seen something” in him, it was when he left for Tobago to teach at the Assumption College in Scarborough that cemented his decision on priesthood.
After a year and a half of mission work there, Fr Rochard returned home and signalled his intention to enter the seminary.
“…. it was plain sailing right there,” he said.
He was 27 years old when he became a priest. His family and peers were all “very supportive” of his decision.
Fr Rochard was ordained to the priesthood in 1970, the year of the Black Power Revolution. He remembered that he had to get police permission for a reception as the country was under a State of Emergency. Fifty years later, Fr Rochard celebrated his golden jubilee under a similar restriction: COVID-19. Nevertheless, the beginning of his golden jubilee began “very excitedly” he said.
“Because with the State of Emergency, the Dutch Benedictine priests in San Fernando resigned and went back home. And the Archbishop then [Anthony Pantin] had to appoint local diocesan priests to take over the parish of Sando, ending a Benedictine administration of 40 years.”
Fr Rochard was appointed to the San Fernando parish to join two other priests Frs John Mendes and Rudolph Mohammed.
“What we had to do in Sando was to implement the Second Vatical Council Decree in renewing parish life…. then eventually I was put on the Liturgical Commission, which was another assignment,” he added.
After his post at San Fernando, Fr Rochard moved to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain in 1979 as administrator. It was here he experienced the “highlight” of his ministry: preparing for the visit of Pope John Paul 2 on February 5, 1985.
At the end of 1985, he was assigned to the Sangre Grande parish, his first “large country parish” which comprised eight communities, a contrast to the two urban settings he experienced.
“But I did that well,” he quipped.
“If that wasn’t enough, in 1992, the former financial administrator Fr Malcom de Verteuil resigned after 22 years in that job and I had to take over,” he said.
Fr Rochard saw his latest assignment as a two-pronged task: holding responsibility for the finances at the Chancery and parish priest at Mayaro “for half a week”.
Of his duties at Mayaro, Fr Rochard was tasked to “building back” the parish, which was in need of repairs. He remained in Mayaro till 2001.
When Archbishop Edward Gilbert was appointed Archbishop in 2001, Fr Rochard asked to be removed as finance officer after 14 years. He, however, continued to serve at the Assumption Parish, Port of Spain till October 2015.
Of the question of any major challenges he faced over the years, Fr Rochard said “not really”.
“I survived every situation,” he said.
His advice to the young man who is contemplating a vocation to the priesthood is simple: Ask yourself this question—’If you saw yourself as a priest, what would you offer people that you have to serve and care for?’.
“If they don’t have a vision of what priesthood is about, then the idea is crazy. You can’t only have a dream, you must have a sense of fulfilment,” Fr Rochard said.