Father Douglas Grant, 60, returned to his old parish earlier this month after spending the last several years on the island paradise of Long Island, The Bahamas. The count so far? Four clambakes in less than a month.
“I always said a really good way to get to know Warren is by going to them,” he said Friday, joking. “I’m trying to do my part.”
Long-time parishioners will remember his name, as Pastor Grant was St. Mary of the Bay’s assistant pastor from 1989 to 1993. He left for other assignments within the Diocese, but found himself in the Bahamas quite by chance.
While on sabbatical in Miami in 2009 he ran into an old fried from seminary school, who had become the archbishop of the Bahamas. An offer to visit was extended, he took it and later was offered the job of ministering on Long Island, a remote Bahamian island closer to Cuba than Nassau. Though the island is poor and remote and hadn’t had a full-time priest in some time, he fell in love with the people and land and asked Providence Bishop Tobin for permission to leave the Diocese. His request was granted, and he left Rhode Island soon after, quickly settling in to island life.
“I thought I’d never leave,” he said Friday. “It was a beautiful place; Bishop Tobin was very gracious and allowed me to go.”
Over the next several years, he became an islander, driving a Nissan van from one end of the island to another, ministering to about 2,800 residents spread out across the thin spit of land. He fell in love with the ocean, with conch salad, with free diving and mostly came to love the islanders, who he said were kind, faithful, happy and welcoming.
“I thought I’d stay there until my boots fell off,” he said.
But last fall, Bishop Tobin came calling. The Diocese was in a crisis, he told Father Grant, with priests leaving faster than they could be replaced. He was needed to help fill vacancies back here, the bishop told him.
“He was very apologetic, but he said the Diocese needed me.”
Soon after, he was offered a pastorship at one of four parishes, and quickly agreed to come back to St. Mary of the Bay once he heard it was on the list. He arrived this spring and replaces former Paster Peter Gower, who left for another assignment within the Diocese.
“I had two great years,” he said. “If I hadn’t gone there, I never would have been in the running to come back here.”
Pastor Grant comes back to a parish, and town, that has changed markedly in his absence. St. Mary’s has merged with St. Jean the Baptiste, and other parishes have closed or changed since he was here last. Some of the babies he baptized 20 years ago are starting families of their own; he said it’s been fun running into some of them around town. Though acknowledging the church crises that brought him back home and continue to challenge the Diocese, he said St. Mary of the Bay is a healthy, strong parish, and he is happy to be working with a new Deacon, Bristol resident John Pryor.
“Thee were six priests in town when I was here last; now we’re down to three,” he said. “But the laypeople in this parish have a great tradition of getting involved, and the church is strong. It’s a great place to be.”
Coming back has taken a bit of getting used to, he said, but he was helped by the recent heatwave.
“Everyone was complaining how hot it was. I thought it was fine.”