Diary: Meeting St. Lucia's Archbishop Kelvin Felix, by Jeevak Lal, MD

In 1992 I was on a flight from Detroit to San Juan. The flight was only a third full.  Everybody had a row of three seats.   Everybody.  Except me.  I was seated in 28E and next to me was a guy in 28D.  He wore black pants, black shirt and black shoes.  We talked.  He asked me how good an ophthalmologist I was.  Told him I was the best, there was no one better.  He smiled.  I asked what he did.  Said, "Oh, I'm just a priest."  I asked where.  He said in St. Lucia.  I asked where on the island was his parish.  He said the whole island was his parish.  I asked, "how so?"  Said he was the island's catholic bishop.  Well he was, indeed.  Archbishop Kelvin Felix!

We talked more.  He told me about St. Jude Hospital.  Asked me to come across and help.  To quieten him, I lied and said "sure".  Had no intention of going.  None.  

Well, few weeks later phone rang in my Michigan office.  Secretary said there was a call from some place called "St. Lucy!"  It was the bishop. Reminded me I had promised to come to St. Jude.  I hemmed and hawed.  And then he levelled the big artillery at me- and fired.  You know, stuff about pleasing Jesus, the suffering of the poor, moral duties, God's wrath and how I would sizzle on a roasting pit for eternity if I broke my promise.  

So, I went.  And fell in love with St. Jude.  Just completed the 34th trip!  It's been a privilege. 

Anyway, I kept in touch with Fr. Felix and would pop into his office when in St. Lucia. 

At the age of 70 he was informed by the Church that he had "reached the age of senility" and was packed off to retirement.  He went home to the island of Dominica and lived quietly as a parish priest. 

Picture was taken when he came to Trinidad a few years ago.  Soon after taking the picture, he told me the papal nuncio (ambassador of the Holy See) in Trinidad had invited him for lunch and to meet some big-wigs who had come down from the Vatican.  Said he had no idea why they'd want to see a senile priest.  He went and chatted with them. 

Well, a few weeks later, Pope Francis elevated Fr. Felix to the College of Cardinals!   He's the first prelate from the English speaking islands of the Caribbean to be so honored. 

And it's because of him that we have a bond with St. Jude.  And I made another promise to him, that I would serve St. Jude as long as I was able or so long as St. Jude had need of me. 

I'm sharing this email with friends at St. Jude.  It's widely and openly said down there that I'm "crazy."  But they need to know it's not my fault. It's Fr. Felix's fault.  And I've told him as much. 

Dr. Lal with then-Archbishop Kelvin Felix

Dr. Lal with then-Archbishop Kelvin Felix

Patrick Commiskey