Provinces around us, such as France, England, Ireland and also Germany, already had confreres from the South who came to strengthen those provinces. That‘s why the Dutch Spiritans asked themselves from time to time the question: has the time not yet come that we also should invite confreres from the South?
There were doubts whether this would be a good idea. Some said that living and working in such a secularized country as the Netherlands is a predicament that you don’t wish to inflict upon those confreres from the South. What is more, the Dutch language is extremely difficult, perhaps too difficult for them to learn. Others did not buy the argument that also Dutch Spiritans had to adapt and learn difficult languages when they went overseas to evangelize. Again others were very adamant against the idea saying that the Dutch province should not import confreres from the South to solve the shortage of priests here. The Dutch Church itself should develop a policy to tackle that problem.
During a canonical visit from the general administration in Rome, the General Superior asked us whether we wouldn’t consider having some confreres from the South to come to the Netherlands so as to prevent the Spiritan presence from disappearing altogether in the Netherlands. At that time we had resigned ourselves to the fact that this would happen. We were busy to close down our missionary activities.
We considered seriously the request of the General Superior and answered affirmatively finally. So two confreres from the South were appointed for the Netherlands. We then started a community consisting of five confreres in Rotterdam-South.
They were joined by another confrere who had been here a few years before for a period of at least six months on account of medical reasons. He was very grateful for this and wished to participate in this new missionary project. He applied for an appointment for the Netherlands and was successful in this.
In the congregation of the Holy Spirit it is a custom that a newly ordained priest gets his first appointment from the General Council. Every year a Spiritan province can apply to this Council so as to appoint some newly ordained priests for its missionary activities. So one or two confreres were regularly appointed for the Dutch province.
Besides language and adaptation to a secularised country the most difficult thing for them to accept was that they will live and work in a province that was in the process of closing down its missionary outreach, while they themselves come from provinces that are developing and expanding.
When their number here had grown to about six or seven confreres, they asked us the question: What does the Dutch province want? Does it only want to close down in a well-planned manner? If so, then we will leave, because it does not need us for that. Or will it opt for taking up again missionary projects. If so, our number has to increase because our present number is too small for developing viable missionary projects.
The Dutch province took up this challenge. It approached provincials of Spiritan provinces of Africa with the question whether they had confreres who had been ordained, had already done some missionary-pastoral work and were willing to work in the Netherlands. To wait for the first appointments by the General Council was not really an option. The growth of the group of confreres from the South would have been too slow. Fortunately it found some provincials willing to assist the Dutch province and send personnel.
Before these newcomers are appointed, they have to learn the Dutch language. A period of three years is given to them for this purpose. For some this is too long, for others it is still too short. The last few years the newcomers first stay for a few months in the Spiritan community of Gennep, where they receive language lessons from a confrere and a former teacher. After that they follow Dutch language classes and an integration course at the ROC in Nijmegen. Most of them live in a Spiritan Community in Berg en Dal. Taking a Dutch language course at the Radboud University in Nijmegen is also possible, but for most of them this course is delivered too fast and is too exacting.
At the moment there are Spiritan communities with confreres from the South in Eindhoven, Rotterdam-South, and Handel.
Meanwhile it so happened that a confrere from Uganda studied theology at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. He lived in that city on his own. The Dutch province had little contact with him. This was not a good arrangement for a religious priest. Moreover, in the congregation at large there was a need of places where Spiritan students could follow ecclesiastical studies. Therefore in consultation with the General Council the Dutch province opened a study house in Berg en Dal for Spiritan students who study theology or philosophy at the Radboud University. In this way the study house at Berg en Dal has a twofold purpose. It receives not only students who follow a Dutch language course and are intending to do pastoral-missionary work in the Netherlands but also students who study theology or philosophy and return to their home provinces after completing their studies.
Can it be said that it is a success after all? There were setbacks. When the time of their assignment was expired the first two confreres from the South left the Netherlands and went to America for studies. Afterwards another three left for reasons of their own after a short stay here.