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 plan to stay for 18 months (with a brief return to the Twin Cities in the summer). Keffer will send Bulletin Today periodic updates about their experiences. For more information on volunteering, see http://department.stthomas.edu/cmin/vision.htm.
By Dr. Charles Keffer
Jan. 20, 2000
Hello from St. Vincent.
Barb and I have been here over two weeks now. Bishop Robert Rivas, his staff, the local clergy and other missionaries have all welcomed us warmly. It seems like we have settled in.
Our living situation is working out well. We are living at St. Martin’s House on a hill above Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent. This was formerly the residence of the Christian Brothers who for many years operated St. Martin’s Secondary School down the road apiece. It is now used as a convent for two Corpus Christi Carmelite sisters and our home. There are also three currently unoccupied living places (rooms with bed, dresser, desk and bath/shower). Our space is on the second floor, on the Kingstown (and sea) side of the building. We have windows on two sides and catch the breeze from two directions. Outside our room is our own (well not quite!) porch with a great view of the harbor, the city of Kingstown and its surrounding hills.
We live with Sister Carmencita (from Guyana) and Sister Juanita (from St. Lucia). Sister Carmencita runs the Pastoral Center for the Diocese. She is 70 years old, is very personable and is a great cook (so we have been eating well). Sister Juanita is teaching English and Biology (seven classes) at St. Martin’s Secondary School.
Barb is working in the area of spiritual direction and lay leadership training. She spoke at all the Masses at the cathedral parish the weekend of Jan. 8 about her work as a spiritual director and, as a result, she saw two people this past week. So she’s on her way with that work.
I am working on stewardship in the diocese and on fund raising. I will be making presentations on stewardship at each of the parishes in the diocese during February and March. It will be interesting to see how they go.
Barb and I also will be doing some work with youth starting with post-confirmation young people from three parishes/missions on the northeastern part of the island (some of the poorest areas). We attended a parish team meeting with representatives from those parishes/missions with the bishop (who is serving as parish priest there) on Jan. 7. It was a good meeting and a good chance to meet and interact with some of the local people.
We have both survived time on the road driving on the left side. It is not as bad as I expected (as long as one is careful). We haven’t driven much into the countryside yet nor much at night.
The people we have met have all been very welcoming. We expect to be fully involved in a short time. Mary Schmitz is another lay volunteer from Minnesota who arrived several days after we did. She is very energetic and has been good to work with and interact with. She is living in Kingstown at St. Joseph’s Convent.
The weather has been warm (what did we expect, huh!). We have had regular, intermittent showers almost since we have arrived. None has lasted more than a few minutes no matter how hard the rain comes down. The land is covered with lush green vegetation, beautiful, colorful flowers and other plants and trees.
St. Vincent is a developing country. It is dependent on agriculture (mostly bananas) and has an unemployment rate estimated to be as high as 40 percent. One of its challenges is keeping its intellectual capital since there are few jobs for people with higher education and enhanced skills. Its population has remained relatively steady for a number of years (around 110,000) in some measure because of this emigration. They are attempting to enhance their tourism industry but a cruise ship dock that was to be opened in October was damaged extensively by Hurricane Lennie four days before it was to open. We have noticed many more cruise ships coming to port this time than on our earlier visits here.
At the moment, everyone is preparing for the 10th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Diocese of Kingstown and the ordination of Bishop Rivas as its first bishop. This will take place on Jan. 23 (although the actual anniversary is Jan. 22). Lots of visitors are coming, some of whom will be staying at our house.