In a Catholic culture which suggests that Catholics didn’t understand mercy until yesterday and that Catholic education exists to produce successful high achievers with amazing test scores, as usual, the saints and blesseds provide a corrective. It’s why engaging them and the Gospel they live out is such a helpful way to stay spiritually grounded, for both kids and adults. It’s how we understand mercy and the way of Jesus. It’s simple – every day, take a few minutes away from the controversies of the day, pray the Mass readings, as much of the Liturgy of the Hours as you can manage and read about one of the saints or blesseds of the day. There are plenty of them.
Blessed Peter Donders (January 14) was born in 1809 in the Netherlands. As was the case with figures like Andre Bessette and Solanus Casey, he was not a top student and struggled to find his place in religious life. He was accepted into a seminary at the age of 22 as a servant, and told that he could benefit from whatever education he could pick up along the way. He applied to religious orders twice and was refused. A few years later, he was officially admitted to the diocesan seminary, eventually ordained, and set off for the Americas – Dutch Guiana and Suriname, specifically.
(The above information taken from this book, at the Internet Archive.)
Ordained a priest on June 5, 1841, Donders set out for Paramaribo, Surinam, a Dutch colony.
For 14 years he ministered to the city’s 2,000 Catholics, and regularly visited the plantation slaves, the military garrisons, and the indigenous people who lived along the rivers. In 1856, he volunteered to minister to people with leprosy at Batavia, where he remained for the next 28 years.
In 1866, he joined the Redemptorists, professing his vows on June 24, 1867. These vows gave him a more vivid sense of the apostolic missionary community, and he left Batavia more often to minister to other pastoral needs.
Donders died among his lepers on January 14, 1887. He was mourned as their benefactor and invoked as a saint. Pope John Paul II beatified Donders on May 23, 1982. Blessed Peter Donders is buried in Batavia, Surinam.
When he arrived at the leper colony, Peter Donders had been ordained 15 years, but he was not as yet a Redemptorist. It was ten years later in 1866 that the Redemptorists first arrived to co-ordinate the mission in Surinam. Only then did Fr Donders and one of his fellow priests apply for admission to the congregation.
The two candidates made their novitiate under the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Johan Baptist Winkels. After his profession as a Redemptorist on June 24, 1867, Peter Donders returned promptly to Batavia.
Since he now had assistance in working among the lepers, he was able to reach out to the indigenous peoples of Surinam, a dream he had held for many a year. He continued in this work which was previously neglected because of a lack of manpower. He also began to learn the native languages and to instruct the local peoples in the Christian faith.
Fr Donders was born in Tilburg, Holland, on October 27, 1809. His parents were Arnold Denis Donders and Petronella van den Brekel. Their home was poor, so Peter and his brother had little schooling as they worked to support the family.
As a youngster, Peter was interested in becoming a priest, and with the generosity of a group of local clergy behind him, he was able to begin his studies. He was ordained in 1841, at 29 years of age.
Even before ordination, Blessed Peter Donders was being guided by the seminary leaders towards the missions in the Dutch colony of Surinam. He arrived in Paramaribo in 1842. He made regular visits through the plantations along the colony’s rivers preaching and celebrating the sacraments. Many of the people were slaves. Peter’s letters express his indignation at the harsh treatment of the African peoples forced to work on the plantations.
When he was sent to the leper station in 1856, he preached among the lepers and celebrated the sacraments with them. Peter also tended the lepers personally with their many needs, and at the same time, ensured that the authorities provided much-needed nursing facilities. By bringing the leper’s needs to the attention of the colonial authorities, he was in many ways able to improve their conditions. He was tireless in these efforts.
With increasingly weakening health, his labours slowed over the last years of his life. He died on January 14, 1887. The significance of his life was well known in Surinam and spread also back to Holland, the land of his birth. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982.