Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 12, 2005
Age stalks Dutch brothers
Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes mark 50 years on September 24
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Their numbers have dwindled since the Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes arrived in Alberta from the Netherlands in 1955 to teach and care for people in the Calgary Diocese. And the order will cease operation once the last member is gone.
But the eight men who remain in Alberta will gather Sept. 24 in Calgary to celebrate their golden jubilee and the thousands of people whose lives they touched are invited to attend.
Brother Baudoin Mensch will be there. He taught physical education and math at St. Mary's School in Taber for 35 years before retiring in 1997. He coached numerous sports teams and was known as someone a child could trust. When a new school was built recently, the gymnasium was dedicated to him.
"There is a plaque that reads Brother Baudoin Gym," said Mensch, 71. "It's a great honour. Even though the brothers are not teaching as they were, I think it shows that we had a little bit of influence on the youth in Taber."
Randy Spenrath is a teacher and former student at St. Mary's School who said he learned a great deal from Mensch.
"He had incredible energy and commitment," said Spenrath, 42. "I remember he used to go out of his way to take a child under his wing. He utilized athletics as a means to reach out to kids. Even on his off days, we would go to his house and he would come and open the gym for us. He spent countless hours with the youth in Taber."
Mensch typifies the order that is committed to teaching and community service.
"Brother Baudoin left his dedication towards people in all of us. It is his legacy. It was an easy decision to name the gym after him," Spenrath said. "As adults, now we get together and golf. He is still vital. We see him cycling around town."
The Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes came to Canada in 1955 at the invitation of Calgary Bishop Francis Carroll. At one point, 21 brothers were working in the diocese. They acquired a farm in the Lethbridge area to help the order financially. They became involved with childcare, teaching, health care, social work and a multitude of activities.
Their mission took them to Calgary, Taber, Whitehorse, Faro and Edmonton. They spread out to include Vancouver, Nelson, Lac la Biche and Brocket.
After some of the men reached retirement age, they found work volunteering in pastoral care ministry, parishes, schools and local communities. Some went to serve temporarily in Ethiopia, Indonesia and Kiribati, including Mensch.
"I read a magazine article that Volunteer International Christian Service was looking for teachers in Kiribati, roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii. I went for more than two years."
He returned to Taber briefly before heading off to Indonesia. He is back in Taber and happily retired.
"I think I'll park my carcass in Taber for awhile," he said.
"We moved around a lot and I have always said religious life is the best supporter of Air Canada," said Brother Donatus Vervoort, 74, a faculty member at Newman Theological College and former chaplain at the U of A Hospital.
In a recent interview, Vervoort recalled how the men came from Holland to spend a year in Vancouver to improve their English before being dispatched to Taber to teach. The brothers were a close group, supporting each other.
"We have all aged, so we will not see a second 50 years in Canada," Vervoort said. "We have nine in Alberta including one temporarily in Ethiopia. But we are all in our late 60s, 70s and 80s. When somebody leaves, it leaves a big gap. We are a brotherhood but when someone leaves, it weakens it."
Go to Ethiopia
If a man has a vocation to join the order, he is advised not to go to Canada because it is fading out, Vervoort said. He might be advised to consider Ethiopia, for example.
"The Church is experiencing growing pains. In countries with less affluence, that is where religious life is growing. When we are affluent we think we are the answer and the norm. No matter how I slice it, I am not," he said.
"I like gardening and in the afternoon, you will normally find me filthy and dirty. I grow vegetables for the food bank. In Edmonton - and in Alberta - we have everything, but people go hungry."
When Vervoort is not tending to his garden at the college where he resides, he spends part of his days teaching Church history and in the diaconate program in St. Paul and Edmonton. He is also involved with marriage preparation courses. "When I was chaplain at the U of A, a student asked me what a chaplain does. I told him I loiter with intent," said Vervoort, well known for his engaging wit.
He remains concerned with social issues including abortion and poverty.
Vervoort has been battling prostate cancer for several years.
"I enjoy every day. I am very grateful I still teach because some people my age are in a wheelchair and dependent. The more I teach Church history, the more I believe in God. I enjoy physical work. In the winter, I like to walk."
At Vervoort's request, the brothers get together every two months in Calgary for fellowship, reflection and to discuss business.
The jubilee celebration will begin with the Eucharist on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. at the FCJ Centre, 319-19 Ave SW in Calgary. Bishop Fred Henry will preside. A reception will follow.