Br. Donatus Vervoort.

In 65 years of religious service, teaching has been greatest joy

By  Lasha Morningstar, Canadian Catholic News
  • October 4, 2014

EDMONTON - The gold stars on his report card are many. Now 83, celebrating his 65 years of religious life, Br. Donatus Vervoort is hard pressed to reply when asked what the greatest joy has been in his life. 

“You have put me at a dilemma,” and a smile softens his face. 

“Music! I love music. The choirs, the singing . . .” 

This comes from years of study at Ward Institute in Roermond, Netherlands. 

As a child, Vervoort and his 11 brothers and sisters lived on a two-hectare farm. The 250 chickens, two cows and two pigs supplemented their father’s wages as a labourer at a linen factory. 

“The food was nothing special — plain food that poor big families had,” remembers Vervoort. 

When he was 10, he proudly learned he could milk cows. That was his older sister’s job. When she found out he could do the milking, she passed it on to Vervoort. 

“Big mistake,” says Vervoort with a chuckle. 

The town of 8,000 was universally Catholic and Vervoort sang in the choir at the two sung Masses every day. 

Vervoort’s father and a friend suggested he think of becoming a brother. 

“When I was about 12 years old, my dad thought I should start thinking seriously about studying. That was rare because in a big family you didn’t study, you went to work.” 

Vervoort’s seven years of study included theology, religious education and psychiatric nursing. 

“We studied for a secular profession and religious profession.” 

He reminds the interviewer that society’s religious environment “was a whole different atmosphere from what society is presenting today.” 

His theological training and religious life he equates to training to become a monk. It was not an easy go for the dedicated student. 

“The studying and discernment was a serious process for me. It came slowly.” 

Vervoort took his final vows as a brother of Our Lady of Lourdes and taught at several schools. His order wanted to go to Canada and expand its teaching work. So in 1961, Vervoort found himself in Taber, Alta. The five years he taught junior and senior high school and led the choir were happy days for him. 

“It was an adventure and challenge.” 

He earned a bachelor of education and a master of arts in medieval history from the University of Alberta before heading to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana to get a master’s degree in liturgy. He returned to Edmonton and St. Joseph’s College as chaplain, and earned yet another master’s degree in theology, this time concentrating on liturgy. He took on the role of registrar and taught theology and Church history at Newman Theological College. 

In his off time, he could be found with a shovel or rake in his hand — he took a master gardener class at the U of A Botanical Garden University — working a patch of earth behind the old Newman College. What did he grow? 

“You name it,” and his smile grows. “Asparagus, potatoes, carrots — whatever was useful for people who needed it. 

“There is the notion we are rich in Alberta. That’s not true.” 

So three times a week, they loaded up the truck with fresh vegetables and headed to the food bank. 

Cancer struck the generous brother, and, in 2012, doctors told him it was terminal. So he went to live at Holy Spirit parish on Edmonton’s west side. But his green thumbs twitched again, and “I developed the backyard and dug it up.” Truckloads of the rich soil from the Newman garden were brought into the Holy Spirit backyard and the garden came alive. 

As cancer moved from Vervoort’s colon to his bones, a neighbour took the nurtured soil and Vervoort moved to Father Lacombe Home in St. Albert. 

Obviously in pain, Vervoortpauses, giving thought to each question. 

“Teaching in the diocese was my greatest joy. I am grateful not only for the diocese, but for the Good Lord giving me the health and opportunity to teach and to work in music and liturgy programs.” 

After 65 years, what has he seen in the Church? His eyes sparkle. 

“The changes in the Church have been fantastic, challenging, fascinating,” says Vervoort, who served 18 years on the archdiocesan liturgy commission. 

What about the new Pope? 

“Pope Francis is for me the other Pope John XXIII. They needed the miracle of (Pope John). He had the courage to call Vatican II and it took place. It’s a miracle. The Church is a miracle. 

“I’m grateful to be alive to see this. I am not a theologian. I am a simple believer in this time and pleased that I am part of it, and can experience some of the beauty. I am happy to be alive.” 

(Western Catholic Reporter) 

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