It is with the deepest sense of loss that the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain mourns the death of Fr. Henry Charles, PhD, parish priest of St. Mary’s, Mucurapo. He died suddenly on the morning of January 15th 2013 of a heart attack at the presbytery of St. Mary’s RC Church, Mucurapo. He was discovered in his study after he did not come to the church for a scheduled funeral.
James Adrian Henry Charles was born on 9th January 1944 in Santa Cruz, Trinidad, the son of Leo and Dica Charles. He attended Eastern Boys’ Government and St. Mary’s College where he won an Island Scholarship in 1963. He did his undergraduate work with honours in classics, his first love, at the University College, Dublin, Ireland. He returned to Trinidad in 1967 for theological studies at the Seminary of St. John Vianney where he was prefect of students in the tumultuous years just after the Second Vatican Council. During the years at St. John Vianney, he developed a reputation as a playwright, theatre director and budding violinist. He completed his theological studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained priest by Archbishop Anthony Pantin at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on 27th June 1971. He taught at the local seminary from 1972-76 before going to the USA for postgraduate studies in ethics. He gained an MA in Ethics from Harvard University, PhD in Ethics from Yale Graduate School.
From September 1980 to June 1989, he was Rector of the Regional Seminary. Succeeding Fr. Michel de Verteuil, he faced the challenge of making the seminary a house of formation according to the vision of the Council. His own teaching of Christian Ethics was legendary and he was deeply concerned that the seminary should offer the best academic programme possible, while facing all the challenges of forming Caribbean men for priestly ministry as a community of brothers in the seminary and after. During his tenure as Rector, the Seminary took responsibility for St. Michael’s parish, Maracas Valley, where he honed his own appreciation for the life of a parish priest. Even after his three terms as Rector, he continued to be a much-valued mentor and friend to younger clergy across the Caribbean and to many who did not go on to ordination. His sense of humour and body-shaking chuckles enlivened or relieved many a conversation.
After a stint of teaching in the USA, he studied civil law earning the JD(Doctor of Law) degree from George Washington Law School in Washington DC. He was called to the New York State Bar in 1997 and returned home in 2000 to be admitted to practice at the local bar on 13th June 2001, after the required period of study at Hugh Wooding Law School. He had a brief stint as Director of the Pastoral Centre in September 2002. He decided to combine his legal practice with parish work. He served as parish priest of St. Patrick’s, Newtown from December 2003 to August 2007. A sabbatical in England for research on law and human rights was followed by his appointment as parish priest of St. Mary’s, Mucurapo, in September 2008 from where he was called to his eternal reward. On May 1st 2009, he was appointed Chairman of the Integrity Commission, a position for which he was eminently qualified, but from which he resigned one week later. On March 8, 2012, he launched his first book, Forgiveness Considered. He has published numerous articles in the Catholic and Secular media and was working on two books at the time of his death. He also served on the selection panel for the ANSA-McCAL Caribbean Excellence Awards.
One of the finest minds in the Caribbean Church today, he had a unique gift for friendship and used his wide-ranging talents to explore critically many aspects of life which made his homilies and lectures life-giving experiences for those who listened. In the weeks before his death, he had remarked on how much he enjoyed facilitating his courses at the Foundation for Human Development. Fr. Henry was steeped in the best of the Catholic tradition which made him an excellent vanguard and stimulating resource for the local church as it faced the challenge of these times. He was widely respected in church and civic life as a unique human being, a comprehensive mind and a great friend. This shy man, often speaking from his intellectual depth, could engage and nourish many a young person, especially those who were privileged to be his altar servers in the parishes where he served. He was also a gourmet cook.
He is survived by a priest-brother, Herbert Charles CSSp, a Holy Ghost Father and parish priest of St. Patrick’s Church, Newtown, an older brother, Oswald, his sister, Laura and brother-in-law, Lloyd Joseph and his niece, Lorraine Joseph.
Statement on the death of Fr. Henry Charles
by Michael K. Mansoor, Chair of the Regional Eminent Persons Selection Panel
The Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards For Excellence
A profoundly sad day and an incalculable loss for his family and friends, the confreres in his ministry , his parish community, and indeed the country and the Caribbean.
He probably was the most incisive homilist in Trinidad and Tobago and a large number of us received his homily each Sunday by email and missed them when he was on holiday. The last such was on the Baptism of Jesus by John last weekend and like all others revealed his unique insights as a theologian and his understanding of the human condition.
Henry was a great man and a towering intellect. In recent times I read his book on Forgiveness, which shows how innately gifted and capable he was. The book reflected his ability to look at life through several lenses and describe a composite that was at once inspired and practical.
Even as a high school student at St. Mary’s college in the mid-sixties it was clear to us that Henry was an especially gifted academic and none of us was surprised by his choice of vocation, his scholarly achievements and his prolific writings.
His contributions on our selection panel at Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence were always precise, original and rigorously logical. We shall all miss the intellectual discipline he brought to the selection process, his penchant for spotting inconsistencies while maintaining a dry but compassionate sense of humor.
We are all shocked today at his sudden passing and we will need time to understand. He was a great and good man and he will rest in peace.
[Fr. Henry Charles was a member of the Panel since 2009].