Fr. Frank Power, SVD
Fr. Frank Power, SVD, wanted to go to Africa. Newly ordained in December 1973, and with his opportunity to name three places where he would like to serve as a Divine Word missionary, he knew where he wanted to go. Ghana called him. It was the only place he wanted to go, though the Divine Word Generalate preferred that SVDs avoid requesting the same place for each of their choices for first assignment. As it happened, around the time of his ordination, a friend had contacted him about going to West Indies.
“So, I put it this way—First choice, Ghana. Second choice, West Indies. Third choice, Ghana—thinking the General would get the message, ‘I want to go to Ghana,’” Fr. Frank said. “Then I got the call from my provincial, ‘Guess where you’re going?’ I said, ‘Ghana?’ He said, ‘No, you’re going to the West Indies.’”
The Lord moves in mysterious ways, and that pivotal decision has lead to a missionary career in the Caribbean that holds no regrets for the Irish-born member of the SVD. Though people have a perception that life in the islands is all sunshine, sandy beaches and rum-and-cokes—which is true for the tourist areas—in truth, there is significant poverty and very high unemployment there. Couple this with the fact that only about 1-percent to 4-percent of the people call themselves Catholic, there’s plenty to do for a Divine Word missionary.
“God chose the West Indies for me, not totally my first choice, but God was right,” Fr. Frank said. “What God does is well done and I am content.”
Born on May 16, 1950, in the City of Cork, the oldest of three boys, Fr. Frank attended Catholic schools in his early years. Clergy from various orders were welcome to promote their vocations and he started thinking about religious life.
“I was never really interested in diocesan clergy, not really interested in monastic life, but the missionaries attracted to me. I have an uncle who was a missionary priest in Africa,” he said. “Did he have an influence on me? By process of osmosis, he probably did.”
A visit to SVD house at Donamon Castle in County Roscommon—built in the 12th Century—was a game changer.
“There was something about it that hit me and I said, ‘Wow. I think this is it,’” he said.
He entered the seminary in September 1967. After a two-year novitiate and the completion of his philosophy requirements, he graduated in the summer of 1970, and went on to study theology at the national seminary in Maynooth, which had just begun to receive students from missionary and religious orders. Fr. Frank professed his final vows in March, 1973, was ordained a priest that December and then appointed to the West Indies.
“I had to take out a map just to see where it was. At that time, the SVD were in the diocese of St. John’s Antigua,” he said. “So I got this appointment and I started writing these letter, ‘What is this place? Where am I going?’”
He and a fellow SVD arrived at the island of Montserrat in October, 1974. Six months later, Fr. Frank was sent to the cathedral parish in Antigua, where he stayed for four years. It wasn’t long before he fell in love with the people, the islands and his ministry. Then he got a call to return to Ireland to do formation work. Reluctantly, he returned and served as Prefect of Scholastics and Prefect of Theologians at the SVD house at Maynooth. After his six- year commitment was up, he thought he’d be going back to the islands, when he was elected rector of the SVD house at Maynooth, which was a four year term. Finally, after ten years working in Ireland, he was headed back to the Caribbean.
“I ended up in St. Kitts for a wonderful 9 years, and then I was called to Antigua for another 10 years,” Fr. Frank said. “Then 3½ years ago, I was asked to go to Jamaica, and as I say, the rest is history.”
A great deal of his ministry relates to helping his parishioners deepen their faith as well as reach out to the huge number of the so-called “unchurched,” encouraging them to try the Catholic faith. Much of his work is done through Bible sharing, where he reviews the readings in the coming Mass then invites the people to that Mass.
“For many of them, our worship is very strange,” Fr. Frank said. “They ask a lot of question. ‘What are the candles for? What’s the cross for? Why do you wear all them funny clothes?’ So then you begin to teach a little bit. That’s when the teaching begins.”
But the missionary has to meet the people and their culture half way, something that the SVD has always done—go to where the people are at and respecting their culture. So, the liturgical music there is more upbeat with a lot of Caribbean rhythms and lots of singing. They incorporate Jamaican symbols in terms of colors. Jamaicans are very colorful people, so there are lots flowers and the decorations are vibrant. The Mass is truly a celebration and can last two hours—the Sign of Peace can take 15 minutes alone.
“You are trying to engage people in the ritual, have the symbols speak to them and make it a celebration,” said Fr. Frank, noting the difference compared to liturgies in North America, Northern Europe and his native Ireland, which tend to be more stiff and staid. “We try not to lose the solemnity; we try to keep that sense of sacredness, but with vibrancy, with life.”
Mission work in Jamaica and the West Indies isn’t Ghana, but things have worked out very well for Fr. Frank. His work is fulfilling.
“Oh yes. I’m happy. I feel like I’m doing something. I feel the Lord is reasonably happy with what I’m doing. I have no wish to change and I have no regrets. I’d do it all over again,” he said. “Not that it doesn’t have its frustrations. It’s had its bad moments, but I am content. God chose me and I chose him and we made a good choice.”