Friday, August 21, 2015


One of our three Land Program young people for the year is from the Netherlands. This prompted me to find a "modern" Dutch saint. One of the things I find interesting is our "misconception" of other countries.

I never realized that parts of the Netherlands, especially where Marijke comes from, is very Catholic. And yet some of our closest friends in the area are Dutch Catholics. The northern part of our state has a lot of Dutch who came to this country immediately after WWII, many to start dairy farms, others tulip (and other bulbs) farms.

was born in Tilburg, Holland in 1809. Because the family was poor, the two sons could be given little schooling and had to work for the support of the home. From an early age,  Peter felt called to be a priest. Eventually, with the assistance of the clergy of his parish he was able at the age of twenty two to begin study at the Minor Seminary. He was ordained a priest in 1841.

While still engaged in his theological studies he had been guided by his superiors in the seminary towards the missions of the Dutch colony of Surinam. Suriname is a small country on the northeastern coast of South America. Even today it is defined by vast swaths of tropical rainforest, Dutch colonial-era architecture and a melting-pot culture. On its Atlantic coast is the capital, Paramaribo, where palm gardens grow near Fort Zeelandia, a 17th-century trading post.

Bl. Peter arrived in Paramaribo in 1842 and applied himself at once to the pastoral works that were to occupy him until his death. His first duties included regular visits to the plantations along the rivers of the colony, where he preached and ministered the Sacraments mainly to slaves. His letters express his indignation at the harsh treatment of the African peoples forced to work on the plantations.

In 1856 he was sent to the leper station of Batavia and this was to be the scene of his labors for the rest of his life. In his charity he not only ministered  spiritually to the patients, but even tended them medically until he was able to persuade the authorities to provide adequate nursing services. When the Redemptorists arrived in 1866 to take charge of the mission of Surinam, Father Donders and one of his fellow priests applied for admission into the Congregation.

The two candidates made their novitiate under  Bishop Johan Baptist Winkels, taking their vows in 1867. Father Donders returned at once to Batavia. Because of the assistance he now had with the lepers, he was able to devote time to a work he had long wished to undertake. As a Redemptorist he now turned his attention to the Indian peoples of Surinam. He continued with this work, previously neglected through lack of manpower, until his death. He began to learn the native languages and to instruct the Indians in the Christian faith, until failing strength compelled him to leave to others what he had begun.

In 1883 the Vicar Apostolic, wishing to spare him the heavy burdens he had so long carried, transferred him to Paramaribo and later to Coronie. He returned, however, to Batavia in 1885. He resumed his previous occupations until weakening health finally confined him to bed  the following year. He lingered for two weeks until his death on 14th January 1887. The fame of his sanctity spreading beyond Surinam and his native Holland, his cause was introduced in Rome. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 23rd May 1982.

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