By Dr. Charles Keffer

Feb. 3, 2000

Hello from St. Vincent,

Barb and I are now into our second month here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We are busy and happy. We are meeting more and more people and getting into more and more projects and activities.

The weather continues to be a little unusual for this part of the world during January. We have been having a fair amount of rain and wind the last week or so, mostly in the evenings. It makes for cool sleeping. When we went to Union Island (more about that later) it was really windy most of the time we were there.

Our living accommodations are working out very well. I forgot to mention that we have a dog, Toby, who is a good companion and good watchdog. We also have a housekeeper, Helen Laidlow, who has been working here for many years (previously with the Christian Brothers). We have become friendly with her youngest daughter who is in secondary school. Helen was a godsend the other day when the plumber came to fix our toilet and somehow the water overflowed the toilet after he left and flooded our room. She was around the house to notice it and to clean up the mess as well.

We now have our car, a Daihatsu Jeep, in good working order. Shortly after we got it from another part of the diocese, it was determined that it needed a new clutch. That took about two weeks to get fixed (the part had to come from Barbados). It is a stick shift (using your left hand) with the steering wheel on the right side (of course!). Barb had her first go at driving last Sunday when we ventured up the windward (east) side of the island for Mass and a harvest festival. I drove back and have driven on other roads in the country as well. Roads are very windy, narrow and seemingly covered with potholes. Since St. Vincent is mountainous there are many places where the passenger is looking over the edge of a cliff as well. But it is almost becoming second nature by now. Nighttime driving will take us a little longer to get used to.

We were involved in a number of ways in the 10th anniversary celebration for the Diocese of Kingstown. We hosted three priests and a reporter from the Trinidad Catholic News at our house for the weekend of the celebration. They were interesting people.

Barb and I participated, with about 125 people from various parts of the Diocese, in a day of prayer, recollection and discussion on Saturday, Jan. 22. Bishop Roger Schwietz, O.M.I., currently bishop of Duluth (but recently named as coadjutor archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska) was the celebrant for Mass and gave a nice homily. There were small group discussions, a presentation by Bishop Rivas on the diocesan pastoral plan, a good lunch of rice and chicken and three presentations by lay people on stewardship and commitment (all impressively done).

That evening we were invited to a dinner at the Pastoral Center with many of the people who attended the day’s activities, visiting guests and relatives of the Bishop. Raymond, the reporter from Trinidad, hung out with us through the cocktail time and sat with us at dinner. We had arrived around 7 since we had been told the cocktails would be served starting at 6:30 and we aren’t really into cocktail parties. Everyone else seemed to get there around 7:30 p.m. so we didn’t miss much! Before dessert, Raymond and Barb and I decided to leave since we were tired and we knew we had lots of work to do the next day. We managed to miss all the speeches because of that decision!

Barb and I had volunteered to assist with the really big celebration planned for Sunday evening after the commemorative Mass at 3:30 p.m. at the cathedral. Our first responsibility was to prepare a tossed salad for 200 people. Our second responsibility was to prepare 200 cooked salmon appetizers for the event as well. We picked up our provisions the night before and staked out space at home to do our work — the pastoral center was crowded with other preparations for the evening. It seemed like we were working all day!

Each piece of salmon was rolled around a quarter slice of pickle and capped with a slice of olive. We used toothpicks to hold this together and stacked the salmon on trays. That evening we placed the salmon on a slice of lettuce alongside a small slice of artichoke heart and used a dash of zesty Italian salad dressing. I did the salmon preparation, while Barb tried to find about 200 nice looking pieces of lettuce and clean them. We managed to prepare most of the fixings for the salad as well before we had to take some of our guests to the Mass and get there ourselves.

We couldn’t get a seat so we stayed with others in an adjacent courtyard where we participated as best we could. The music at the Mass was very good and the bishop gave a long but inspiring homily. We had to leave before the service was over in order to get back to the house and complete our preparations and get our material over to the pastoral center for the actual event. We set ourselves up outside of our office there and prepared the appetizers. Once again the dinner was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m. but the appetizers were not served until almost 8:20 p.m. Barb mixed the salad ingredients. We then changed into our good clothes and joined in the actual dinner. This time we stayed for the whole thing and listened to lots of speeches! We have concluded that we do not wish to enter the catering business in our next life!

On Monday we traveled to Union Island at the invitation of Father Andrew the parish priest there. Union Island is one of the most southern of the Grenadine islands. We took the ferryboat there — four and a half hours on a choppy sea (remember the wind!). The view from the youth center that the diocese has constructed there was outstanding — overlooking a coral reef with multi shades of green and blue, breaking waves further out and several other islands nearby.

The center is currently being used as the parish church (Father Andrew is rebuilding the regular church), the presbytery, a place for guests (it has two small but comfortable apartments), and the place of operation of several small businesses that Father Andrew is developing to help the church financially and to enhance the local community and its population. He has acquired silk-screening equipment and has started a training program to train local people in art, design, production techniques, small business and self-development skills. He also operates Erika’s Laundry, which provides lau
ndry service to the yachts in the harbor. He is developing a hydroponics operation to grow and sell tomatoes and he hopes to start a training program in computers as well.

We spent some good time talking with Father Andrew about his work, the people of Union Island, and his vision for the center and his businesses. We also talked about some of our work. He invited Barb to be a part of the training program for the silk-screening enterprise focusing on self-development skills. She will be going down each Friday for the next month to do that. We will both spend a week there later this month meeting with families in the parish as a way to get to know them better and to help me with my work in stewardship. We never did see “Erika” but while we were there both Barb and I stood in her stead and helped with the laundry operation — business was booming!

While there, we also spent some time with Father Mark, another native priest who works on Canouan and Mayreau, two other islands of the Grenadines. We are likely to be spending some time with him and his parishioners sometime in the next month also.

We decided to fly back on Wednesday. The flight took 25 minutes! Needless to say, Barb decided to fly down for her Friday activities.

When we returned we were exhausted, mostly from the somewhat frenetic pace of activity at the parish on Union Island. We were able to travel up the windward side of the island on the next Sunday to participate in a Mass at Bellevue and then continue on much further north to Sandy Bay, where the indigenous people live, for their annual Harvest Festival. It began with an hourlong cantata composed of musical performances and recitations by students. Then they had a barbecue and games and other food. We left before it ended because we were not excited about traveling on the roads after dark. As it was it took us an hour and a half to return home the 45 miles.

This week I began some work helping the diocese and Sister Patricia Douglas establish a home for girls in Layou on the leeward (west) side of the island. A Peace Corps worker had been working with Sister Pat for the last year or so to develop a proposal to establish such a facility for girls between 7 and 18 who have been abused and/or abandoned. The Peace Corps worker will be leaving in two weeks so I will be trying to help with the work that still needs to be done. There are no such facilities for girls anywhere in the country. The diocese just recently decided to make available a building that can be remodeled for this purpose. So it’s full steam ahead.

Our e-mail communication system seems to be working well. So if you feel the urge, write us at Take care.


  Dr. Charles Keffer, St. Thomas’ longtime provost who retired in 1998, and his wife, Barb, are volunteering in St. Vincent, an island in the West Indies. This is not their first trip to St. Vincent, but this time they have planned an extended stay. They will return home this summer and then head back to St. Vincent. Keffer will send Bulletin Today periodic updates about their experiences. For more information on volunteering, please click here. — Editors

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