Vincentians in the Netherlands
The settling of the French Vincentian exiles in the Netherlands was successful. The seminary “Wernhoutsburg” was liked because it was international and missionary in spirit. There was no problem in having French as a language and living in a French spirit. Till the beginning of WWI students flocked in. Then the foreign students were called to military service in their respective countries, and only the Dutch remained thanks to their country’s neutrality.
The seminary was closed for a short time but was soon re-opened. With the foreign students gone no finances came forward from Paris and so a financial problem arose. Where there is a will, there is a way and the seminary functioned till 1967 when nearly all seminaries were closed not because of finances but because vocations didn’t come forward.
The Dutch Province
Meanwhile the CM Province had found its own way, and missionary activity abroad got much attention helped as it was by the overall missionary spirit of a flowering Dutch Church.
“Evangelizare pauperibus misit me” was a Vincentian guideline, “The lord has sent me to preach the Good News to the poor”. But not only abroad, also in the parishes in the countryside where in Vincent’s time the poor and abandoned people lived.
Before a strong Provincial structure was put into place they were asked to take over the missions in China. During 1918 an invitation came in to run a seminary in Bolivia. This was not a success and the project was abandoned in 1927.
Then a request came to start work in Brazil (Fortaleza) and Indonesia. Also in Central American countries some Dutch Vincentians, sent by the French Province, were at work in parishes, seminaries and deploying social activities.
In 1915 the bishop of Roermond allowed Reverend Thijssen (Susteren) to contact the Vincentians asking them to start a parish because an influx of people to work at a huge railway junction serving the coal mines was expected.
Willem Meuffels started the work, and helped by Paris and Dutch benefactors, Our Lady Church was built in Mariaveld (Susteren). The parish was established on December 8, 1917. This parish also became the center of veneration of the Miraculous Medal of the Rue de Bac in Paris, the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to the simple sister Catherine Labouré from Burgundy. This place is a much visited sanctuary in town, especially by refugees and migrants.
Theo Terhorst organized many pilgrimages from Susteren to Paris and from this a “telephone-parish” came about.
The Vincentians were very active in the South of the province of Limburg esp. in caring for the miners in Nieuw Einde (Heerlen) and Rumpen (Brunsum). They participated in the miners’ activities and took care that the Catholic spirit was maintained. The name of Joseph Colsen (1883-1982) from the province of Zeeland who closely cooperated with Mgr. Henri Poels, should be mentioned.
The Daughters of Charity took care of some “companion homes” in Lindenheuvel and Brunsum as well as of the sick and the elderly.
Gradually the work was extended and activities were launched in the formation of young miners, in hospitals, among tinkers and delinquents of war.
Later on another three parishes were adopted in Lindenheuvel/Geleen, and a start was made with pastoral care in an industrial setting by Frans Dusée at Philips in Sittard.
When the catholic university in Nijmegen was started many religious institutions settled there in view of their own students. The diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch reluctantly gave permission but told them not to interfere with the pastoral care in the city. The Vincentians, too, moved into the city of Nijmegen and rebuilt an old hotel which they called “Studiehuis St. Vincentius”.
General Superior F. Verdier erected the Dutch Province of the Congregation of the Mission on March 19th 1921, and entrusted the new Province with the Diocese of Yungpingfu in China, and Bolivia. The first Provincial Superior was Henri Romans who happened to be the first Dutch student in the seminary of Wernhoutsburg. He gradually transformed the Province into a Dutch entity with the Dutch language as the official language and prayers in Dutch, translated from French.
At the same time missionary activities were extended worldwide as you can read under Dutch Vincentians in various countries.