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BIOGRAPHY OF MOST REV. DONALD JAMES REECE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born into a Protestant family of no strong Church affiliation, the newly-appointed Archbishop, whose navel string is buried in St. Andrew, was baptized an Anglican by virtue of friendly association of the family with godparents who were members of the St. Luke’s Anglican Church at Cross Roads.

How, then, did Donald James Reece end up being a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church? From earliest years the Franciscan Missionary Sisters (Blue Nuns) helped to implant and nurture the Catholic Christian faith imparted to those privileged to have attended Sts. Peter and Paul School. “Donald,” would bellow Sr. Margaret Mary, FMS, “I shall see you in Church on Sunday!”

Those were the days when Headmistress and teachers were looked up to with admiration, and one dared not incur the wrath of a holy nun who disciplined religiously with a cane and with these accompanying the words, “Nothing but leaves; the spirit grieves.”

If the holy fear (read reverence) of God did not get to you by the constant catechizing by the Blues, Fr. Edward Scollen, S.J., made sure to complement with manly vigilance by means of altar serving picnics; crowding into his Model Ford for football games away from “home;” serving funerals at Gordon Town (with a reward of a skinny dip in the Hope River on the way back to School); and above all, tough love correction. Much good resulted from those experiences!

However, Liguanea, [also known as Matilda’s Corner or “Toll Gate”] did not determine totally the upbringing of this future prelate of the Catholic Church who has been serving in the Eastern Caribbean for the last twenty-six years. No! Every summer holiday was the occasion for greater excursion into the Garden Parish, specifically Alexandria, the origin of his mother, Alva R. Wisdom. With his father, Alexander, dying when our future prelate was quite young, the extended family pattern of those coveted days added to the stable inculturation of a Jamaican not spoilt totally by the sophistication of city living. The hair-raising “Duppy stories” regaled with conviction around the fire at nights introduced one to a spirit-world kind of existence. The Anancy stories also furthered the maturation process of a childhood whose naivete would have been certainly challenged. And so it was!

But it was his 1950’s trip to Los Angeles which proved to be the turning point for Archbishop Reece in respect of his vocation. Badgered by his lukewarm Catholic sister turned Pentecostal and her anti-Catholic husband, that Catholics would not be saved, but would go to hell, was a challenge. Who wanted to go to hell? Hence a quest was on to investigate the truth of the Church’s position regarding Christ’s salvific act, the Bible and the role of the Church. This led to a deepening of faith and the probing of a way of life that would give meaning to human existence. Thus, the allurement of the Franciscan way of life, a way of life that led a seventeen year old youth to become a Friar of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in upstate New York. Quite a journey: Kingston to California to New York! And it wasn’t quite finished!

The allurement of a Religious and priestly vocation is not totally understood in human terms. Yet, it was the human call of West Indians frequenting the Friars’ place of pilgrimage that prompted our Archbishop to go on to study for the priesthood at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Finally, on 3 January 1971 he was ordained priest by his mentor and friend, the Most Rev. Samuel Emmanuel Carter, of blessed memory, in the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The priestly and Religious vocation is a mystery defying all human explanation, for our Archbishop Reece once thought of becoming a farmer, then a pilot, and finally a married man with children. True is the saying “Man proposes, but God disposes!”

Archbishop Reece served in many capacities in the Archdiocese of Kingston: Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish (cum the Gordon Town community), week-end supply to priest-less Parishes as far away as Chapelton and Fairburn; Rector of St. Michael’s Seminary, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Kingston; and Chaplain to the University of the West Indies (Mona) and the UWI Hospital. It was in these latter posts that his Grace’s former Headmistress, Sr. Margaret Mary, warned him sternly after ordination: “Donald, you just beware of those wenches!” Needless to say he escaped such clutches, though some would say in passing, “What a waste!” Never would they give pause to reflect that God’s cause and purpose do transcend purely human fulfillment!

As we celebrate the mystery of yet another vocation for the building up of the Body of Christ, it might be good for all to say: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad therein!” Alleluia!

 
 
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