Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Richard Albert a servant of the people

Published:Sunday | December 20, 2015 | 12:00 AMJoseph Matalon, Contributor
Joseph M. Matalon
Father Joseph Burg sings at the Mass of Christian burial for the late Rt Rev Dr Monsignor Richard Albert at Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church last Wednesday.
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I first met Monsignor Richard Albert in 1989 when he was pastor of St Patrick's Church in Waterhouse. I toured the operations of a number of centres that Richard had established, including St Monica's Home, a soup kitchen, and several vocational training centres.

Richard also toured me through Riverton City and the basic school that he founded in the community and supported for many years. We broke off that tour so that he could minister to the wife of a parishioner whose husband had only just passed away.

Like so many of you sitting in the congregation today, I felt inspired by the man: his passion, commitment and compassion for a community suffering from a grinding poverty, and in the face of which lesser individuals would have simply despaired. Not so, Richard Albert.

Several days later, we sat for an entire evening in the front room of his small home in Waterhouse, the obligatory whisky bottle standing between us as we discussed his work in the community.

Richard had a marvellous, mischievous sense of humour. When I joked with him about the irony of his having a Jew as the first chairman of St Patrick's, a Catholic charity, he reminded me of his own Jewish heritage and quipped, "My dear, Joseph, the Jews were the chosen people, and anyway, I prefer to overlook the fact that you went astray."

Referring to the many occasions when he would join us at home for dinner, he used to joke that that he "lived with the poor but ate with the rich". And this, in fact, was an important part of his success in garnering material support for his ministry. For while his friendship was entirely genuine, it also allowed him to bring me and my colleagues in the private sector face to face with the poverty and suffering that surrounded us and to inspire us to help in whatever way we could in his ministry.

Energy and optimism were characteristics that Richard possessed in seemingly limitless quantity. "Good morning and God bless you" was the cheerful way he would always greet me on answering his ever present mobile phone. There was always something that needed to be done, a wrong to be righted, an improvement to be made.

Whatever it was, he threw himself into the task with an unswerving commitment in the face of which no obstacle could long survive. Richard saw a problem and immediately sought to correct, it irrespective of cost, personal or material. The Lord will provide, he would say. And so he did.

He came to love his adopted homeland with the the fervour of the most ardent nationalist, beaming with pride on the occasion of being granted Jamaican citizenship. I can vividly recall the joyful delight with which he showed me his first Jamaican passport, declaring in his half-Brooklyn, half-Jamaican cadence that he was now "one of oonu!"

I cannot remember Richard without remembering his deep commitment to his faith. For it was through the prism of that faith that he saw the world. No person was better or worse in his eyes; no person demanded more of his respect than another; each was a child of God deserving of his time and attention, and if need be, his help and counsel.

His reassignment to Stella Maris Church provided the opportunity for Richard to extend his mission of development and empowerment with the establishment of the Stella Maris Foundation in support of the Grants Pen community.

And, indeed, the church community of Stella Maris can attest to the mission, zeal and spirit of this man of compassion. He championed the cause of the marginalised and voiceless and often observed that "dependency is just another form of slavery" and that "educational empowerment is the vehicle for the achievement of self-sufficiency and independence".

Whether it was his walks to the gallows with the condemned, listening to their final resolve, or facing off with notorious gunmen, or tackling issues of national interest with CAFFE or Jamaicans for Justice, Richard Albert stood tall, despite his stature, as a force to be reckoned with.

Monsignor Albert gave sterling service to his first love, the Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica and in the Caribbean. He served well, with a deep and abiding faith, the pontifical mission society, the propagation of the faith society, the origins of Catholic communications - radio, television and catholic opinion, as well as through his ability to mobilise resources. These are but only the tip of the iceberg when one reflects on his contribution to the mission of the church.

Bridgeport, St Monica's, Riverton, Callaloo Mews, Waterhouse, Olympic Gardens, Seaview Gardens, Grants Pen, Sligoville, Spanish Town, Church of the Reconciliation, St Patrick's, St Jude's, Christ the Redeemer, Stella Maris and the list goes on.

All of us can attest to the fact that we have lost a true Jamaican nationalist, a missionary and one who lived the life of a good steward. His mantra lives on in the lives of all he touched: Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.

Let us each ensure, in whatever small way we are able, that Richard's mission continues and that his main instruments, the St Patrick's and Stella Maris foundations, are enabled to continue to champion the cause of the poor and marginalised, the cause to which he dedicated his life and all of his labours.

- Joseph M. Matalon is chairman of the ICD Group. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.