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86-year-old Bishop Johannes Bluyssen - emeritus ordinary of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the sole surviving Dutch Council father – has spent the past few days in hospital, suffering from undisclosed heart problems. He has already been moved out of intensive care, where he was admitted with breathing problems and severe fatigue. Happily, the news broke today that things have quite improved, and from one of the priests of the cathedral we hear that Msgr. Bluyssen may return to his home at ‘s Hertogenbosch’s St. John’s seminary on Sunday.
In the meantime, as the third-oldest bishop of our little country is not out of the woods yet, let’s call on the intercession of St. John of God, patron saint of heart patients, for the bishop’s increasing and continuing wellbeing.
On Saturday I attended the ordination to the priesthood of Fathers Patrick Kuis and Geoffrey de Jong in the cathedral basilica of Saint John the Evangelist in ‘s Hertogenbosch. These were two of nine new priests that the Church in the Netherlands received on that day. 27-year-old Fr. Patrick is a personal friend, so the ordination was especially joyous.
Father Patrick will remain assigned to the cathedral parish in ‘s Hertogenbosch, a choice assignment in the largest diocese of the country in terms of the number of Catholics. He had already been in that parish since his ordination to the diaconate.
Father Patrick’s first Masses was celebrated in the the basilica, but he will celebrate a number of other ‘first’ Masses: in the cathedral of Sts. Joseph and Martin in Groningen, the parish church of St. James the Greater in Uithuizen and in the FSSP church of St. Agnes in Amsterdam.
This last Mass is of course of special interest to those traditionally-minded readers of this blog. Fr. Patrick will offer this Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which is quite unique for newly-ordained priest, certainly in the Netherlands. Recently, some note was made of the first Mass of a newly-ordained priest in New York who offered his first Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Father Z writes about that here), and I think that this fact is no less worthy of attention.
Congratulations to Fathers Patrick and Geoffrey, as well as the other new priests in the Dioceses of Roermond and Haarlem-Amsterdam, as well as to all the faithful they will serve in the many years to come!
The website of the seminary as an extensive photo gallery of the ordination here.
Photo credit:  Wim Koopman,  my own
With the academic year well underway (in fact, the first break is happening this week), the numbers of new students at the Dutch seminaries have been released. With 18 new seminarians (some of whom are pictured to the left, at the Tiltenberg seminary) there is an ever-so-slight drop from last year, when 20 new names were added to the books. With several ordinations having taken place in the previous academic year, the total number of students at the four seminaries in the Netherlands remains at exactly 100.
A breakdown per seminary:
Rolduc, Diocese of Roermond, received 2 new students, both from the Neocatechumenal Way. The total number at Rolduc is now 29.
Tiltenberg, Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam: 7 new seminarians, with another way possibly joining them later. The total number is now 44.
Bovendonk, Diocese of Breda, als has seven, with four of hem starting in the first year. The three others, because of previous education, join a later year. Bovendonk now has 18 part-time students.
Saint John’s Centre, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch: 2 new students, bringing the total to 12.
The Tiltenberg comfortably holds on to its top position when it comes to the numbers, which can be explained in part because it remains the only seminary above the great rivers. It is home to students from at least four dioceses.
Looking at the numbers per diocese then:
Breda: 4 (2 of whom study independently at the FCT)
‘s Hertogenbosch: 2
Utrecht: 4 (maybe 5)
The ‘harvest’ is… okay, but the need for further vocational promotion and formation should be clear.
In an attempt to stem the development of DIY Church communities in Belgium, Archbishop Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels has welcomed the initiative by Father Andy Penne to see if it is possible to return to his native land. Father Penne is one of fifteen Belgian priest incardinated in the Dutch Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The reasons for their presence in the Netherlands are varied; Fr. Penne works here simply because he felt most at home in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch St. John’s seminary; others chose to be educated and formed here because they considered the Belgain seminaries too liberal. And for years the general attitude among the Belgian episcopate has been that once in a foreign diocese, the priests had best stay there.
But when Archbishop Léonard came to Brussels, the mood has changed. In a newspaper interview, Fr. Penne reports that he will be leaving his current parish in the Netherlands to work in the Belgian archdiocese, near the town where he grew up. Officially, he is ‘on loan’ from the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, but the change from the past is striking.
The Belgian priests in the Netherlands are generally considered to be more orthodox, or true to the Catholic faith, than many of their brother priests and pastoral workers in Belgium. That is why their possible future return is no reason for joy for many. They fear the spectres of orthodoxy and conservatism which will threaten their lukewarm version of Catholicism. The opposing party’s feelings sound rather spiteful; “once chosen for the Netherlands, they’d better stay there,” and “Some of these priests were not good enough for Belgian seminaries.” But on the other hand, a poll among lay faithful in Mechelen-Brussels also revealed another sound. A catechist from Mechelen said, “There is a shortage of priests here. We should be thankful to the Lord if Flemish priests from the Netherland want to come and help us out here.” And a prayer group leader, “People call them conservative but they merely proclaim what the Church says. We shouldn’t all be making our own little churches.”
For Archbishop Léonard these priests may turn out to be valuable coworkers in the vineyard.
And, finally, the parishes left behind by Father Penne will be the new home for another Belgian priest who made headlines early last year: Father Luc Buyens.
With an estimated 80 people attending, Fr. Gero P. Weishaupt offered the first Mass in the extraordinary form at the cathedral of St. Joseph of Groningen last night. Estimated attendance was initially some 20 to 30 people and, accordingly, the smaller altar of St. Joseph was prepared for use for this Mass. But yesterday afternoon the decision was made to move to the high altar.
Two seminarians from St. John’s in Den Bosch served as acolytes, and two other acolytes, among them a good friend of mine, from the cathedral parish did this for the first time. A small scola was also set up, led by diocesan hermit Brother Hugo. The congregation consisted of people of all ages and several nationalities. I noticed people who attend both the regular Sunday Masses as well as the English-language Mass on Saturday evening. A number of seminarians from our and other dioceses had travelled up from the Tiltenberg seminary to join the congregation.
The Catholic life in the parish of St. Martin and, due to it taking place in the cathedral, the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, is enriched by having this form of the Mass as well as the ordinary form.
Photo credit: Margré Meulman
Driven by curiosity, I perused the websites of the Dutch dioceses, as well as the social media at my disposal, to see how Pope Benedict XVI’s request that the bishops of the world hold a prayer vigil for “all nascent life” on the 27th of November is received in the Netherlands. The result is pretty meagre, to be honest.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht and the dioceses of Breda and Roermond present scheduled prayer vigils, as well as the FSSP-run church of St. Agnes. Individual parishes here and there are also organising, but it’s not as much as could have been.
EDIT 2: Frederick reports that the St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch is also organising a vigil.
EDIT 3: Happy news during the announcements at Mass in my parish today: all Dutch cathedrals will host prayer vigils on the 27th, even those who have yet failed to advertise it.
So, bishops, priest, laity (yes, every Catholic is called by the pope to pray for life): get to it! There is still time to organise something.
Father Z muses about the meaning of the word ‘nascent’ in the pope’s call:
“I like the use of the word “nascent”. The very form, from the Latin deponent verb “nascor… to be born” suggests ongoing action. The -sc- element is inchoative: ongoing, beginning, not yet complete. That is to say, from the moment of conception the newly conceived person begins the process of being born. Sure, we identify different stages of development and birth. But from this other point of view, which I hear in “nascent human life”, every abortion would be a partial birth abortion.”
The five Dutch seminaries have begun the new academic year with a small number of new students, much in line with previous years. The numbers are small when considered per seminary, but the total is not bad for such a heavily secularised country. 36 new seminarians start their education and formation on the road towards the priesthood.
The largest number will study at the Tiltenberg seminary in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, which also houses seminarians for Groningen-Leeuwarden, Utrecht and the Neocatechumenal Way. 20 new students are starting there (although the seminarians of the Neocatechumenal Way live at their own Redemptoris Mater seminary).
The St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch welcomed six new seminarians, and Rolduc in the Diocese of Roermond has four.
Bovendonk, which is the seminary for late vocation, where students study part-time, sees five new enrolments.
Last in the line is Vronesteyn in the Diocese of Rotterdam, which has one new student.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht, perhaps because of the closing of its own seminary last year, has no new students this year. On the other hand, with such low numbers of seminarians per diocese, there are bound to be years when there are no new students.
Since it’s something that I think deserves support, here is some blatant advertising.
Frederick is a Belgian seminarian studying in the Netherlands. In his blog he promises to provide regular updates (in Dutch) about life at the seminary. As far as I know he is the only seminarian who blogs, although there are other seminarians who are active on Twitter and other social networks.
In my opinion, such a blog can serve to increase awareness of seminary life and of the choice to become a priest. On the one hand, there is much to be said for new seminarians to focus on their own private spiritual development in a new environment, especially in the first months. That was something I was told as well about a year ago. But on the other hand, in a country and a time where there are very few seminarians starting every year, the seminaries can’t afford to remain obscure outside certain Church circles. And who better to do the promotion than someone in the thick of things: a seminarian who studies and lives at the seminary?