Monsignor Michael Stewart
Monsignor Claudius St. Michael Stewart, still referred to as Fr. Mike, was born April 13, 1954 in Kingstown, St. Vincent. He was the first-born of Calvin and Eugenia Stewart of Sion Hill and was followed by Amos, Joel, Dallis, Raphael, Petrona, Michelle and Indra. Two other sisters (not his mother’s) were born before the marriage: Mrs. Louvena Davis (deceased) and Mrs. Princess Hamilton who resides in the US.
Sion Hill was, and still is, a close-knit village community where Fr. Mike enjoyed his childhood and youth. He got involved in all community activities at the proper time. He played cricket, football and engaged in kite flying with his buddies in the neighbourhood. Later on as young men, they formed themselves into a village group participating in fun activities such as home parties, cooks, and fishing in Sion Hill Bay, Cane Garden Point and Great Head Bay. This group of young men were founding members of the Sion Hill United Sports Organisation.
Fr. Mike attended the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic School from 1959 to 1966, the St. Martin’s Secondary School from 1966 to 1970 then two years from 1970 to 1972 in the 6th form at the St. Vincent Grammar School. Upon leaving school, he worked at the Government’s Audit Department for three months then taught for one year at St. Martin’s Secondary School. In 1973 he began work at the Customs and Excise Department until 1979 when he entered seminary. Fr. Mike wanted to study medicine and his dream was to offer free medical attention but life took a different path. During his years at the Grammar School, a teacher asked him what would he do if he does not become a doctor, his answer was that if he did not become a doctor of the body, he would become a doctor of the soul. That was the path he would later follow.
The decision to become a priest was influenced by early childhood and youth experiences. Fr. Mike’s maternal grandmother, who was Methodist, encouraged her grandchildren to pray and read the bible thus he grew up knowing about prayer and scripture. He remembers memorizing Psalm 19 and remembers her introducing him to Romans 8, the last verse of which is on his ordination card. His attendance at Catholic schools was also a major influence on his journey to the priesthood, particularly the influence of Sr. Catherine Monteille, SJC, at St. Mary’s, the Scarboro Foreign Mission Fathers of Canada, and the La Salle Brothers, also of Canada, at the St. Martin’s Secondary School.
Fr. Mike’s father had been Anglican and converted to Catholicism in 1964. He and his wife ensured that their children attended Mass regularly. Walking from Sion Hill to the Cathedral in Kingstown was a walk in the park. Fr. Mike was a member of the CYO and CYM, Cathedral youth groups in his day. He was also involved in a vocations committee between the ages of 16 and 18 years and it was while he was in this circle that the idea of the priesthood was broached. He attributes this inspiration to Sr. Sylvia Toulon and Mrs. Vernalyn Blencowe. Work at the Customs and Excise Department likewise contributed likewise to the pondering of the idea and that period became a bridge in the transition between the thought and the reality. In 1979, Fr. Mike left the Customs and Excise Department (like Matthew, the tax-collector) as Junior Officer in charge of the Queen’s Warehouse #2 to join the Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs.
The year 1979 was an eventful year in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The volcano erupted (Fr. Mike’s birthday), there was an uprising in Union Island, the state gained independence, and the church convened Assembly 79 in the October of that same year. Nonetheless Fr. Mike joined the Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Ugandan Martyrs in Trinidad along with nine other young men, the biggest group then. He enjoyed his five years there in the companionship of fellow seminarians some of whom would become prominent names later on, Bishop Malzaire of Dominica and President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), Fr. John Persaud – former AEC secretary, Fr. Stephen Geofroy, former formator and lecturer at the Regional Seminary. Fr. Cyril Ross (deceased), the Rector when Fr. Mike and companions entered the Seminary, led the men through the a few months of their first year before he fell ill. Fr. Henry Charles (now deceased) became Rector and guided six of these young men to ordination.
The Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Ugandan Martyrs is located close to the Benedictine monastery and Fr. Mike became acquainted with the monks, some of whom he had known since 1976, his first visit to Trinidad and Tobago and having had the opportunity then to spend a few days within the monastic enclave. In fact, Br. Paschal Jordon, OSB, became his spiritual director. During his seminary years, he made good use of the library at the monastery and it became his sanctuary while he worked on his thesis in the peace and quiet it offered.
Pastoral work as a seminarian took him to the parish of St. John the Baptist which was close to the Seminary and cared for by the Benedictine priests. Br. Mike, then, spent four years of ministry in this parish where Christine Walcott was a member of the Junior St. Vincent de Paul.
During his final year at the Seminary, he assisted in the parish of St. Michael’s, Maracas Valley. Like other seminarians, he got involved in COR, Charismatic Prayer Groups and the Cursillo Movement. Other activities such as ordinations, religious professions and visits to various convents made for contact with persons who would become friends and acquaintances. Among them is Sr. Ivy Pacheco, SJC, former principal of St. Mary’s R C School, Kingstown.
The Seminarians, as part of the Theological Faculty of the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, developed a close relationship with the other students, so much so that they stood in solidarity with the students during protest action on campus. This was a time when the seminarians were very socially conscious and some even became involved in the Grenada revolution in 1982. So life for Fr. Mike was very interesting. He remarked that the times challenged the social conscience of the seminarians. It even affected our meals. They dispensed with the three-course meal and settled for two. No more first-course soup came to the table.
Fr. Mike holds a BA (Hons) in Theology from UWI, a license in Theology from Leuven in Belgium, a license in Biblical Theology from Rome and a Doctorate in Biblical Theology from Rome. During the years 1987 to 1991 he was associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Assumption when Fr. Renison Howell was administrator. When Fr. Renison become ill in 1989/1990 and had to leave the diocese for medical attention, Fr. Mike assisted with preparations for the ordination of the first bishop of Kingstown, Robert Rivas (now Archbishop Rivas). Later he was made vicar general and spent the years 1991 to 1998 as pastor of St. John’s Parish, Mesopotamia, where he introduced the local conference of St. Vincent de Paul Society. He returned to the Cathedral as administrator in 1998 and at the turn of the millennium in the year 2000 he became Monsignor Michael Stewart. In the year 2002, he left for Rome where he furthered his studies. On the completion of his studies in 2008, he became Rector of the Regional Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs from 2008 to 2010 where he was once a student. When the Seminary was closed in 2010, Fr. Mike became parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima in Curepe with further responsibility for the care of Fr. Alando Williams and Fr. Cleophas Joseph who were still seminarians.
Fr. Mike returned to the Cathedral of the Assumption in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2011 as administrator and vicar general where he remains at present.
During Fr Mike’s pastorship, he assisted in other parishes when there was no priest available.
Though he would have had contact with all the parishes, most of his pastorship was at the Cathedral of the Assumption. Along with a United Kingdom Methodist agency based in Barbados, he was instrumental in founding Marion House to respond to local community needs, he initiated the radio programme Catholic Forum, was spiritual director for the Cursillo and Charismatic Renewal movements and, along with Sr. Maureen, Fr. Callistus and Sr. Ivy created the local Choice retreat which yielded well molded young adults who can make mature decisions. He was also involved in the Christian Council since the 1970’s even before he started serving on that body. He remains a serving member at present.
Fr. Mike has “a passion for the things of God and Catholics who are living their faith.” It is distressing to him “especially as a local to see us treat things of the faith so trivially.” His desire is for a strong local church where Catholics stand out and share the treasure of the Catholic faith with other Vincentians. He laments that what we do not know, we can’t appreciate and value. He reminds us that as social issues emerge; we have a body of teachings that speaks to these issues – Catholic Social Teaching. He added that we should be able to share our faith integrally with others. But this would only happen if we believe that we are a church on mission and with a mission – to evangelise, to form disciples and to bear witness – in his words “I would promote mission, evangelization, formation and witness.”
This is Msgr. Mike. His life. His dedication. His stewardship.