Peter Donders was born in Tilburg in the Netherlands in 1809. Religiously educated, he became a priest in 1841. In 1842 he left for Surinam, South America. In 1867 he made his religious profession in the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. For forty-four years he preached the Gospel in those tropical regions to confirm the believers and reach out the distant ones, especially the Indians and the black slaves; for about thirty years he was a tireless apostle of the lepers. He died a holy death in Batavia on 14th January 1887.
Video presentations about Blessed Peter Donders in Italian and English
Spiritual features of Blessed Peter Donders
For many reasons, it is not easy to describe Father Peter Donders’ spirituality. First of all, “spirituality” itself is not a very clear term. It comes from “spiritus” that is, “spirit”. We speak of people’s spirit, that is, their interior or spiritual makeup with its own proper characteristics. In religious literature, it signifies the personal way that one lives out the Gospel.
We speak about “Franciscan spirituality”, and we look at Francis of Assisi. We know that Francis sought to live the Gospel, but he did so in his own unique style. What intrigued and fascinated him was one precise aspect of the Gospel: the poverty of Christ. This very aspect of the Gospel marked Francis entire life.
Can we find a similar aspect in Peter Donder’s life? Did he have his own way of living the Gospel, following the Christ and loving the Lord?
We would search in vain for extraordinary elements in Peter’s life and spirituality. Those who know him only by what they read about him would find his life a bit monotonous. One would be tempted to say, is that all there is?
The appearances can deceive. We must draw near and look into the heart of this simple and humble man. We must get to know the religious and social context of his life. When we do so, we can identify two categories that marked all his life, namely: his goodness and peace. From those two categories springs the main feature of his spirituality: the apostolic zeal.
Before we offer a short description of his apostolic zeal, let us list many other elements that sustain this main channel of his missionary life. Here there are some of them: the spirit of faith, a life of prayer, eucharistic and Marian devotion, contemplation and action, witness to the fullness of redemption, dedication to the lepers and slaves.
Very few people have committed themselves as strongly as Father Peter did to the Lord and his kingdom. On October 30, 1884, one of his companions, wrote, “Last Monday, we very quietly celebrated the seventy-fifth birthday of our holy Father Donders. Reverend Father always remains the same man of God, full of zeal. No task is too great for him, no privation too burdensome, when there is the possibility of doing something for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls…. Thus, not a day passes without his going to visit the sick and the invalids in the neighbourhood”.
Father Peter Donder’s spirituality is that of profound faith and great simplicity, whom the Lord called to the apostolate. The sentence from Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2, 20), sums up very well what blessed Peter was from the beginning to end. Christ lived through this modest missionary apostle, someone almost unnoticed but someone, who by this very simplicity, can challenge, entice, and inspire us today.
(text based on Spirituality of Father Peter Donders by Ignaz Dekkers CSsR)