4 Shades of brown

Michel Versteegh ofs

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

4 Shades of brown

Michel Versteegh ofs

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

Lecture about the San Damiano City Monastery in ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Good morning,

I can give you a glimpse into what is sometimes called the interfranciscan project: the San Damiano City Monastery in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Francis of Assisi lived around 1200. Looking for the purpose in his life, he once prayed in the dilapidated church of San Damiano “Lord what do you want me to do?” The cross answered him with the words, “Restore my church!”

Francis initially took this literally, but only later understood that the Church was meant with a capital letter.

He got followers;

  • first male followers, his fellow brothers; that grew into the order of the Friars Minor (1 e order) and
  • also, through his first female follower Clare, the order of the Clares sisters (2 e order).
  • Because married people were also inspired by him, who of course could not become monks, at that time, so early 13 e century, the lay order was established, now called the Order of the Franciscan Secular (3 e order).

Already in 1228, two years after the death of Francis, the first Friars Minor settled in the Netherlands, namely in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Later the Poor Clares sisters were also joined them. Many street names still refer to the Friars Minor and the Sisters. After the liberation of the city from the Spaniards in 1629, the open profession of the Catholic faith was prohibited in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, as in the rest of the reconquered Netherlands. But with a short interruption of just over 100 years, the Friars Minor have always remained in the city, albeit in so-called secret churches.

Late 19 e century Catholicism was allowed again in the Netherlands and the Capuchin Friars returned to the city. They built this monastery in 1897. At the end of 2015 we heard that they were going to close the monastery, because it was getting too big and most of the brothers needed a place in their monastery for the elderly in Tilburg. An initiative of the Franciscan Friars, Clare Sisters and the Order of Franciscan Seculars was then able to ensure that the Franciscans could take over, the aim being, among other things, to use it with all three branches of the Franciscan family.

Now we live there with 13 people; 7 Franciscans, 1 Capuchin, 3 Clarisse Sisters and 2 members of the OFS, so really 4 different shades of brown

The variation in shades of brown can be seen even better on this shot, which was taken in the garden.

A few words about how we organized it: 3 communities live under this one roof: the Friars Minor, the Poor Clares and the Order of Franciscan Seculars. We think this is an important starting point.

Each community has its own house chapter, usually weekly. In addition, there is a house meeting with all residents 4 times a year, where we talk about policy decisions in the longer term. These meetings take place under the chairmanship of an external chairman, a friar from another community.

Day-to-day management is the responsibility of the coordination team, which mainly takes decisions on matters that affect more than one resident group. The coordination team meets every two weeks. This team consists of the Guardian and Vicar of the Friars Minor Community, one of the Clare Sisters and a representative of the OFS, who is also the chairman of the coordination team.

More important than the organizational structure is of course the vision from which we live in the Stadsklooster. This vision essentially boils down to the following: “The San Damiano City Monastery is formed by women and men, who have chosen to follow Christ in the footsteps of Francis and Clare of Assisi.

Indoors this means:

  • That we belong to different communities, each with its own individuality and independence
  • That the primary responsibility to live brotherly and sisterly together lies within that own community, where we look after each other
  • That we, each from our own charisma, seek what is common and respect what is different
  • That we want to live in communion with others, but leave room for personal freedom. We carry each other in our weakness and our vulnerability. We strive for each other’s happiness
  • That we pray and eat together and meet each other. Together we take responsibility for our common home.

and outwards:

  • We are aware that it is a project in development and are therefore open to anything that comes our way. We deal with this flexibly, making it a dynamic event
  • We are aware that we are part of a larger whole and we use what Mother Earth offers us sparingly and consciously
  • We are part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, are brother and sister of all Christians and are hospitable and open to dissenters, seekers, doubters and nonbelievers
  • We give concrete shape to our openness and hospitality to all people of good will in our daily life in prayer, pastoral and diaconal social care. The city in which we live has our first attention
  • We give shape to a simple, well-organized way of praying and celebrating, in which – based on a valuable tradition – we always try to connect with the faith and the world of the people of today.

I hope you have felt a bit like a guest in our San Damiano City Monastery. It remains for me to thank you for your attention and to wish you with the words of Francis: Peace and all good.

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About the author

Michel Versteegh ofs

Coordinator in the Franciscan Convent of San Damiano in Den Bosch.