1 February, 2017

Petrus Donders

Petrus (Peerke) Donders


The elderly home of Petrus Donders at Tilburg in Holland

On 27 October 1809, Petrus Nobertus Donders was born in Tilburg, the Netherlands, as the eldest son of Arnold Donders and Petronella van den Brekel. Peter is soon called PEERKE. His father is a weaver and at the age of 12 Peerke is already behind the loom. But Peerke does not want to become a professional weaver. He wants and will become priest. Peerke can not easily fulfill his dream of becoming a priest. His parents have no money for the necessary education fees. If he has been rejected for the 5th time for the army, he asks the local pastor for help. As a result he was appointed in 1831 as a servant at the small Seminary Beekvliet in Sint-Michielsgestel. He serves younger students and in his spare time he studies. Because of his creditor, Peerke is admitted to the education for priesthood. During his follow-up study at the major seminar in Nieuw Herlaer, which moved to a new seminar in Haaren in 1839, the prefect of the Surinamese Mission, Mgr. J. Grooff, visits Peerke. He came back from a trip to Suriname. He is looking for priests for the mission in Suriname. Peerke signs up for this immediately. And so is his dream became true, because on June 5, 1841, Peerke is devoted to priest. On August 1, 1842, Peerke boarded at sailing ship Jacoba Maurina, under command of Captain G. van Medevoort, on his way to Suriname.


One and a half months later, on September 16, 1842, he arrived in Surinam, where he is appointed as chaplain in Paramaribo. Already after 3 weeks, Peerke visits Batavia for the first time together with Mgr. Grooff. The trip takes place from 8 to 26 October. After than Peerke works in different places in Suriname. It is 1856 the era of Batavia begins and becomes the main place of Peerke’s mission. He not only works as a priest but also as a grief, a sibling and advocate for the leprosy infected lepers. He heals the wounds, cleans the bindings and huts. On his insistence, the government ensures better housing and beds. Peerke gets the name “Apostle of the Lepers”. After a short break on Batavia, on June 24, 1867 Peerke joined the Congregation of Redemptorists. On August 13, 1867, Peerke, dressed in the black redemptorist robe, returns to Batavia, where he is warmly welcomed by the residents. From 1868 Peerke visits several Indian villages at the Coppename, Upper Saramacca, Tibiti, Wayambo and Maratakka. For that he also receives the title of “Apostle of the Indians” .
Working at Batavia was heavy. Doctor Van Hasselaar, member of a medical committee, visited Batavia and wrote the following report: “Never, I forget how Batavia impressed me when we entered some houses and saw the destruction there, caused by the leprosy in her greatest rage. We saw bodies occupied with big raised bumps in a way the skin looked more like a bush of an old willow tree than a man’s skin. Several lepers had no hands or feet anymore.  In one word: it was the greatest destruction in human bodies, which I have ever seen in my life and hopefully will never see again. The stench of perish meat was so terrible that some of us fled out to vomit. After all, we were glad to have done our unpleasant task and only wanted to leave this realm away as soon as possible. We were thanking God for the health we still enjoyed.
During a visitation of Mgr. Schaap in January 1883  at Batavia, some made the request to remove Pater Donders from Batavia because Peerke would be too old and hard to understand during the sermons. Mgr. Schaap agrees but the inhabitants at Batavia did not: Peerke is not allowed to leave! But Mgr. Schaap does not withdraw his decision. On February 7, 1883, Peerke arrives at Paramaribo and leaves the capital for staying at Coronie on November 1 of that year. He stays there until October 1885. On July 10, 1885, the new cathedral in Paramaribo was finished and Peerke was pleased to see this. But on November 17, 1885, Peerke returns to Batavia again, where he arrives 2 days later. On December 31, 1886, Peerke receives an acute kidney attack and has his last sermon. From that moment on New Year’s Eve Peerke is assisted by father Jan Bakker. On 14 January 1887 at 15:00 Peerke dies.

Peerke after his death.

Peerke re-buried in a marble tomb of the Basilica of Paramaribo.

The chest with the remains of Peerke is lowered the next day at the foot of the missionary cross, the place Peerke spent a lot of time praying at night. In 1900, the opening of the blessing and sanctification process takes place and on July 27th of that year, the remains of Peerke are transferred to the St. Peter and Paul Basilica in Paramaribo. In 1913 Peerke was declared reverential. On January 17, 1921, the remains are re-buried, but now in a tomb of the left wing of the Basilica. In 1979, Pope Paul John Johannes II confirmed that in 1929 a child in Peerke’s advocate was healed of bone cancer, and also by this pope on May 23, 1982, Peter Donders declared blissful. On November 13, 2010, the remains were re-buried again in a sealed wooden chest in a marble tomb of the basilica where they still remains.