Sunday, December 27, 2009

Year of the Priest - Fr. Arthur Eugene Lai Fook


In dedication to the Year of the Priest, I will be submitting blogs on some of the priests in my country, many are retired, but I admire them dearly for their witness to the Lord, dedication and hard work. They are truly our Lady's Beloved Sons. 

Fr. Arthur Eugene Lai Fook CSSp was ordained priest on July 20, 1947, in Switzerland.

He is the youngest of eight children, born in Penal, to Joseph (a Chinese immigrant from British Guiana) and his Guianese wife Jessie. Arthur Lai Fook’s association with St Mary’s College, where he still lives in Spiritan House for retired priests, goes back to 1930, when he entered the Frederick Street school on a private school exhibition, with no thought whatever of becoming a priest; and in 1937 won one of two open scholarships.

Fr.Lai Fook then taught Mathematics for one year at his alma mater and having decided that he wanted to be a priest, spent one year with the Holy Ghost Fathers in Orly, France, as a novitiate. In 1939, he entered Dublin University College, Dublin National University in Ireland, and in five years completed a BSc and MSc in Mathematics, a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Higher Diploma in Education, while living at the Holy Ghost Seminary. Lai Fook started to study Theology in Dublin and continued at Fribourg in Switzerland towards the Baccalaureate in Theology.

He returned to teach up to A level math at St Mary’s. However from 1962, he carried out stints of two years each at the University of Nigeria and the University of the West Indies at St Augustine, before returning to his beloved St Mary’s College in 1966 where he has taught the sixth form scholarship from up to this time. “This will probably be my last year,” says the educator who has been fondly referred to as “Jap”, “Chin” and “the Fook” by his students.

During his lifetime, Lai Fook has tutored 91 winners of National Scholarships in Trinidad and Tobago, boys and girls, some from St Joseph’s Convent Port-of-Spain and St Joseph, and St Augustine Girls’ High School. With a remarkable memory, he recalls his first scholarship student in 1950 was gold medallist Harry Schachter. Four others who also won Gold Medals were Godfrey Mungal (1971), Ian Adam (1986), Christine Manickchand (1988) and Karen De Freitas (1991). He also still coaches students for the Math Olympiad.

A now mellow Lai Fook says “my health is good as can be expected at this age.” He dispels rumours that he recently collapsed on the altar: “It’s just that I am not too strong on my legs and going upstairs if I do not lift my feet sufficiently, will stumble and naturally fall.” He still says Holy Mass on weekdays at the College Chapel, and at other places including the Convent Chapel, and the Belmont L’Hospice for the Carmelites; and accompanies the Cluny Nuns on their annual holiday to Cumana to say Mass for them. He still drives himself.

Fr.Lai Fook views on what he considers “correct positions” held by the Roman Catholic Church on some controversial subjects. One of them that only practising Roman Catholics come to communion, “is the rule of the church.” “Abortion,” says Lai Fook “ is the killing of an innocent baby therefore it is murder.” While celibacy for priests “is the law of the church for centuries and from the Catholic point of view there is good reason for it.” And whether lifting of celibacy will help to stop rampant sexual abuse by priests which has only this week cost the Los Angeles Diocese settlement payments of four billion dollars, he was clear: “It is surely wrong for the priests to act in that way, but it happens outside as well. However priests should know better.”

As to recent reports of a possible return of the Latin Mass, Lai Fook says “the Pope has always given permission for priests who want to say the Latin Mass, and if there are enough people asking for it they should supply it. I seem to remember Fr. de Verteuil was asked to say a Latin Mass a number of years ago.” In his 60 years as a priest, in a country of countless annual retreats, Lai Fook, could only explain having never been asked to preach at retreats, with a wry smile: “They probably think as a teacher of math I would not be able to come down to the level.”

The oldest of the 12 priests in residence at Spiritan House: “It could only be the Holy Ghost Fathers, it was the natural thing to think of joining when you went to school with them...I have never said I do not want to be a priest. I enjoy the quiet life”

No comments: