Nine months ago I woke up before the sun and began my journey from the US to Jamaica. Since then, I have worked with many fantastic people in numerous ministries, including teaching, tutoring, youth outreach, hospital, home and infirmary visits. Although I enjoy all my work, I truly cherish my time at the Manchester Infirmary. I will always fondly remember the many hours I have spent at the infirmary, as I listened, laughed, empathized, attempted to advise and formed friendships with the patients. However, I cannot talk about the Manchester Infirmary without mentioning the man who has dedicated years of his life to the people who reside in those wards.
Brother Mike is a man of small stature. So I don’t know where a heart the size of his fits. In his younger years, Brother Mike exercised his artistic side by wood carving. He also partook in scuba diving, and found numerous historical artifacts from shipwrecks, some of which have found their way into museums. Oh, and he flew planes he built with his own hands. However, Brother Mike’s primary interest now rests with the patients at the Manchester Infirmary. Although Brother Mike’s adventure on this earth now spans nearly 87 years, he still manages to journey to the Manchester Infirmary to visit his friends every Sunday and holds a prayer service every other Saturday.
A trip to the infirmary would reveal that virtually every patient (numbering nearly 100), knows Brother Mike (although most call him “father,” or in patois, “fadda,” believing him to be a priest). A conversation with nearly any patient reveals the impact Brother Mike has had on their life. Some happily show a radio he gave them years ago that still picks up Gospel or Reggae tunes, which carries them to a happier time and place. Others will tell you he gave them hope; some say he restored their faith; others say he saved their life. In a place where many struggle to stay optimistic and happy, Brother Mike’s presence lets them know that there is always someone that cares: someone who will listen to their needs and help them; someone that will be at their funeral (even if he is the only one), and pray for their souls after they pass.
In addition to visiting the infirmary, Brother Mike orchestrated a means for a group of men to attend church. Every Sunday, the PVIs use his vehicle to pick up eight or so excited men to bring to St. Paul’s for Mass, a task he used to carry out in his younger days. Since this is typically the only time these men are able and allowed to leave the infirmary (besides rare doctor appointments), they look forward to the chance to get fresh air, hear the Good News, partake in the Eucharist, and socialize with other parishioners. While I sometimes find myself going to Mass grudgingly, these men put me to shame with their consistent enthusiasm for an event which revitalizes them and gives them hope and joy.
Brother Mike shows the same care for the patients in death as he does in life. The cemetery is situated on a beautiful hilltop overlooking a lush, green valley surrounded by rolling hills. When a patient at the Manchester Infirmary passes, Brother Mike attends the funeral if possible. Sometimes no family members claim the body, leaving the state to absorb the cost of the burial. Consequently, a burial place off the beaten path is selected, and a simple coffin is lowered into an unmarked grave surrounded by tall grass. Sometimes Brother Mike is the only person present to pay final respects, giving a final prayer and blessing to an unmarked grave.
Despite the difficult nature of infirmary work, Brother Mike manages to remain upbeat in his own way. Every time he gives me the keys to his car to drive to the infirmary, he says, “Well, have fun.” He also challenges me. After a patient passed whom I had never spoken to, he asked me to try to know every patient, so that no one should pass without us having made an effort to hear their story. While I still have a group of patients I know best, I now say at least a few words to individuals I usually do not talk to, especially those whom I feel most uncomfortable around, such as the man who shouts incoherently to himself all day long.
I find Brother Mike a model for simplicity: he eats inexpensively, dresses humbly, and lives a life void of extravagant material possessions. He is a man of great faith. He lives for others. He often regrets his lack of energy to assist at the infirmary as he used to, and typically makes a remark about passing the torch to “you young people.” And that is yet another great gift he has given the people at the Manchester Infirmary: introducing PVIs to the infirmary. One of my infirmary friends once said, “If it wasn’t for you young people visiting, I would have no reason to keep living.” And while, I may be tempted to take credit for being such an important presence to this man, I know the real credit belongs to the modest Brother who introduced PVI to the infirmary. Each year, he inspires the new volunteers to follow in his simple footsteps, offering a model to accompany the patients, and also a simple path for living out the Christian faith.
Editors Note: Pictured above is Mikey, the author of the article and current volunteer at the Manchester Infirmary, alongside his friend Ms. Rachel, a long-term resident of the infirmary. The Manchester Infirmary has been a very special place for PVI over the last five years and has affected volunteers deeply and profoundly in their years of service. PVI attributes this special ministry to Bro Mike and his humble and determined servant heart. Thank you Bro Mike for all that you do!