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Monsignor Stewart – a life of service to God

Monsignor Stewart – a life of service to God

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If he did not become a doctor of the body, he would become a doctor of the soul.

This decision was made by the young Michael Stewart, who, as a sixth form student of the St Vincent Grammar School, was considering his career options.

Almost four decades later, on July 21, 2015, Monsignor Michael Stewart celebrated his 30th year as a priest.{{more}}

Stewart sat down with SEARCHLIGHT one afternoon at the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Kingstown to reflect on his journey to priesthood, some of the memorable moments in the last 30 years and his hope for the future of priests in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

After working for seven years at the audit department, the St Martin’s Secondary School and the Customs and Excise Department, a 25-year-old Stewart, in 1979, journeyed to the St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs seminary in Trinidad and Tobago to begin his passage to priesthood.

“At that time, there were two others in the seminary who preceded me: Fr Rennison Howell, now deceased and Fr Mark daSilva. 1979 was an interesting year, because it was the year when the volcano erupted; it was the year of …our first assembly as church – the Roman Catholic Church; it was the year of our Independence; and it was the year of the Union Island uprising; so, it was for me, a critical and also I would say, very significant and historical moment,” the Cathedral administrator said.

Stewart, who is affectionately referred to as “Father Mike”, was born on April 13, 1954 to Eugenia and Calvin Stewart of Sion Hill. He explained that in the 1970s, the then bishop, Bishop Anthony Dixon, along with the Scarboro Mission Fathers, was promoting local vocation to the priesthood. He noted, however, that his decision to become a priest also stemmed from his love for people.

“I believe that I was called by the Lord to serve these people in St Vincent and the Grenadines and to do so as a Catholic priest and at a time when we really did not have any local priests here in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Stewart, who was ordained in 1985, said.

“As a child, I always wanted to be a medical doctor and I remember when I was in Grammar School sixth form… I said that if I don’t become a doctor of the body, I’ll become a doctor of the soul. So, I think God must have picked me up on that, so here I am. I think I have been responding to grace to be a doctor of the soul, but it’s also because I love people and I wanted to do something for people. The dream of being a doctor was so that I could give free medical attention.”

The Cathedral administrator opined that his ordination was a special and spiritual moment, not only for him, but for the church and the people. He noted that becoming a priest was less about himself and more about what he was to do for God’s people.

Additionally, Stewart expressed that being a priest is a challenging responsibility, as they are responsible for caring for an individual with respect to their spiritual, emotional and physical needs.

“Time has gone quickly. I realize too that with time, one ages and I am not as, I suppose, energetic and sometimes I wish it would come back. But for me, what is important is that I can do what God is asking of me and I know that on my ordination day, I said to the people, I do not want to do what you want to do, which is your will; I do not want to do what I want to do, which is my will; but I want to do what God wants me to do, which is God’s will. I still hold on to that. I know in the 30 years, I would not have always done God’s will. I would have done my will, I would have done the people’s will too, but I still hold on to the ideal that I would love to do God’s will and what is pleasing to God,” he said.

In 2000, Stewart was bestowed with the honorary title of Monsignor and since his ordination, he has served as a parish priest at St John’s, Marriaqua, as rector of the seminary in Trinidad and vicar general and administrator of the Cathedral in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The priest has also ministered in countries across the Caribbean, North America and Europe, and he revealed that some of his most memorable moments in the last 30 years stem from the opportunity to pursue studies in theology at two of the world’s prominent Catholic universities: Catholic University of Luven (KUL), from 1984 to 1987 and the Gregorian University in Rome, from 2002 to 2008.

On both occasions, Stewart pursued a licentiate in theology and in Rome, he completed a doctorate in Theology, with emphasis on biblical theology.

Working with people in St Vincent and the Grenadines is also a part of what the Sion Hill native holds dear to his heart and this is evident in his involvement in the formation and the continued support of the Marion House, which offers counselling services to youths in the country.

“God will always be calling men to the priesthood and I count myself privileged to have had God call me and also the grace to respond ‘Yes, here I am,’” he said.

“Of course, my desire would be that more Vincentian men would say yes. I would not live forever, so there would have to be others to respond to God in this way and I think God is calling men, whether they are young or not so young, to the priesthood and also want us to respond and to let go of what one is holding on to in order to follow Jesus. I think it’s by following Jesus and giving of one’s life like Jesus did, that we would be responding to the call to the vocation to priesthood.”

The Catholic priest expressed hope that he would see more Vincentian priests emerging. He revealed that his prayer is for Vincentians to be more generous and that parents would not hold their children back from serving and committing themselves to the Lord.

Furthermore, he conveyed thanks to persons who supported him throughout the years and expressed hope that he “would be able to give my best for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines” and “remain open to God and be a good doctor of the soul for people’s well-being and for the glory of God.”