Half-century's service to Jamaica after lessons at Upholland

Archbishop Emeritus Charles Henry Dufour

By Simon Hart

‘The farthest I’d been was Montego Bay,’ says Charles Henry Dufour, the Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston, Jamaica, as he remembers the shock of arriving in Britain in August 1966. ‘I went to my aunt’s house in London and said to her, “I’m freezing, turn on the heat”. And she said, “It’s summer!”.’ With a chuckle, he adds: ‘The first time I saw snow in my life I was so excited I ran out and ate  it!’

The reminiscing of the Archbishop Emeritus – also the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Mandeville – comes during a summer reunion at Upholland where he spent three years as a seminarian in the 1960s, sent over with fellow students George Bardowell and Ken Mock Yen by Archbishop John McEleney.

He reflects that he arrived with ‘preconceived notions’ yet, despite the cool weather, he found warmth and lasting friendships. ‘When I came to the College I found a family and I’ve maintained contact with that family until today. Many of the students whom I met – those that left, those that are priests – have come to visit me in Jamaica. The friendships have gone on over half a century.’

He remains grateful too for the support of lecturers such as Father Kevin Kelly – ‘If I needed help, I could go to the lecturers and sit down with them’ – and those lessons served him well following his ordination in August 1970 and later appointments as Bishop of Montego Bay and then Archbishop of Kingston. ‘Coming here consolidated all that I had in mind for priesthood,’ he says, adding: ‘Sometimes as a priest I felt like running fast like Usain Bolt away from the Church. But I realise I’m serving God, not man, so I don’t let man interfere with my ministry.’

Though retired as Archbishop, he remains an authoritative voice on the Church’s challenges in Jamaica where, by his estimate, two per cent of the 2.8million population are Catholics. ‘We’ve been working on training people to reach out to the 600,000 Jamaicans who have no religious affiliation,’ he says. ‘Some years ago I was in the States speaking to a group of Franciscans and I told them if they had an interest in working in Jamaica, the best vehicle to use to evangelise was a “foot-mobile” not an automobile. Later I went to a missionary centre in Montego Bay and there was a young Franciscan there. He had got all the age groups attending Mass. He’d used his “foot-mobile”. The car can’t evangelise. Comfortable shoes, strong legs, and a strong determination – that’s what you need.’

That, and time. ‘In a rural area you have to walk to come to church and you get there and want to spend the day there. When Mass is finished, I’m available to talk to people individually. I’m in no hurry. If Mass is at ten o’clock, we finish at 12 and have something to eat and sometimes I leave at five. My motto is “Sent to serve”. I’m not doing a favour – I am here to serve.’

The Archbishop Emeritus has served God in this way for 49 years now and will turn 80 next year, when he celebrates his Golden Jubilee. He does not expect to return to Upholland again yet will take back to Jamaica the memories stirred by his attendance at the reunion organised by the St Joseph’s Society for former students. ‘I wanted to come here and trace my steps,’ he notes. ‘Today I was walking down the road alone, looking at the lake where I’d go boating. My memories just came back.’