Part of a jaw bone that could be human. Photo by Dexter Philip.

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The "exorcist" priest

...Work of late archaeologist priest Fr Neil Rodriguez

By Richard Charan rcharan@trinidadexpress.com

EXORCIST priest Fr Neil Rodriguez, who was appointed by former archbishop Anthony Pantin, an official demon slayer of the local Roman Catholic Church, died a year ago at the age of 81.
How many evil spirits he evicted from the bodies of the possessed people living in jumbie-filled Trinidad and Tobago is not publicly known, but was probably written and is filed somewhere. The Church keeps meticulous records.
At his funeral at the St Theresa’s RC Church, Woodbrook, last February, no mention was made of the exorcisms. However, much was said of the span of his service – ordained in 1962, ministering for years in Paraguay (and being imprisoned for it) before returning home, and with a sibling (Sr Ann-Marie Rodriguez) devoting his life to the Church.
Fr Rodriguez took the details of these exorcisms to his grave —located at the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, Port of Spain — in the burial plot of the Holy Ghost Fathers. The Holy Ghost Fathers, an order also known as the Spiritans, administers St Mary’s College (CIC), Fatima College, and St Anthony’s College.
But there were other curious things about Fr Rodriguez not widely known to his parishioners. Among his belongings at the office he kept at St Mary’s College, (a school that he also attended and taught A-Level Chemistry), were things totally unconnected to his godly affairs — rusted Crix tins and oil buckets, and cardboard boxes filled with zip-locked bags, and Three Plumes matchboxes (made from real wood). They, containing human and animal bones, rocks, and shells, all carefully labelled.
It turns out that buried in the records of St Mary’s College (which celebrated its 150th anniversary last year) are school magazine articles dating back to the mid-60s, which detailed the activity of the college’s Archaeological Society, formed in 1963 by Fr Rodriguez and considered then the first and only in the country.
The society’s president was student Charles De Gannes, who became a State veterinarian, now in private practice. The society went on tours of St Lucia, Martinique and Barbados and conducted excavations in several parts of Trinidad and Tobago, including Mayaro, Manzanilla, Moruga, and Mt Irvine, Tobago, areas originally settled by the Amerindians before the arrival of the Europeans wiped them out.
Using the correct methods to process and record, Fr Rodriguez, who was known back then by some as the “scientist priest”, excavated hundreds of stone axes “of Arawak manufacture” during a dig in Tobago, which along with the pottery, were placed on display at the college.
It would not be long after, in an unrelated discovery, that University of the West Indies archaeologist Dr Peter Harris (who died last May) would, with the Trinidad and Tobago Historical Society, excavate what is still the oldest pre-Columbian site in the West Indies, and describe the remains of the famous Banwari man dating back to 7,000 years (a site located at Banwari Trace, San Francique).
Somewhere along the way, the artefacts at St Mary’s College were stowed away and the society became a happy memory. That is, until the death of Fr Rodriguez.
Last year, Eric Lewis, the head of Roman Catholic-based St Vincent Ferrer Society, received a letter from Fr Anton Dick, chairman of the Holy Ghost Fathers’ Board of Management. Lewis, also curator of the newly opened Moruga Museum, has done extensive work at archaeological sites along the coastline that were once Amerindian settlements. Some of his discoveries are now on display at the museum, along with a collection of historical items that chronicle Moruga’s pre-Columbian past, and since the arrival of Europeans who began populating the area following the 1783 Cedula of Population.
The artefacts and the reports of the society, which the Church did not want to give to someone for commercial use, are now in the possession of the Moruga Museum with the plan by Lewis to put them on display after they are evaluated and catalogued.
“I feel a sense of responsibility that these items have been passed on to me. It is now my responsibility to preserve it for those coming after, and out of respect for the First Peoples of these islands,” said Lewis. It is also in memory of Fr Rodriguez, scientist, archaeologist, exorcist.

Note: You can visiting the Moruga Museum by calling 656-7161 or
320-3108 and learn more about Trinidad and Tobago’s pre-Columbian history and the Banwari find by visiting UWI’s Archaeology Centre, Department of History at http://sta.uwi.edu/fhe/archaeology/, or citizensforconservationtt.org.
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