The official reopening of Pelgrimsoord Klooster Wittem (pilgrimage rcenter of the Monastery of Wittem) took place on 15 October 2021. This was the culmination of a process of more than four years. It had been clear for many years, that preserving the large monastery complex in Wittem in the long run, would not be feasible for the Redemptorists. For more than ten years, opportunities had been sought to give part of the building a new purpose, while continuing the pastoral work. For more than a hundred years Wittem has been a place of pilgrimage for St. Gerardus Majella and Our Lady of Perpetual Help. About a hundred thousand people still visit this place for comfort, encouragement and hope or to express their gratitude by lighting a prayer candle. Until forty years ago, pilgrims came mainly in organized groups with buses from all over the country; now they come mostly individually or in small groups. This often involves people without a real religious affiliation.
The monastery in Wittem – erected in 1836 – is one of the oldest redemptorist houses north of the Alps that is still in use. The Redemptorists started it there as their international seminary. In these early years, men from at least ten different countries studied here; some of them were the pioneers and ‘founding fathers’ of new communities all over the world.
When it became apparent in 2017 that it could also be a viable option to sell the monastery complex and to be able to continue the pastoral work, the provincial council of the province of St. Clement set up a task force to investigate this further and to come up with concrete plans. The task force consisted of the superior, Fr. Henk Erinkveld, the then director of the organization Phillipe Cremers and Jelle Wind, associated member of the province and member of the Redemptorist community in Wittem.
This task force worked out a plan that was adopted by the provincial government in March 2018. Part of this plan was, the sale of the monastery complex, the move of the bookshop to the St. Gerardus Chapel and a reduction in personnel costs. The renewed organization would focus more on Wittem as a place of pilgrimage and as a ‘welcoming church’ with the deployment of more qualified volunteers. It is foreseen that in the next few months, two Indonesian confreres will also come to Wittem to prepare for a pastoral task in the Dutch speaking part of the province (the Netherlands and Flanders).
In December 2020, the complex was finally sold to a real estate company that buys special buildings to keep and develop them, preferably in line with the original purpose of the building. The Redemptorists now rent back part of the building for the living areas for the community, for the pastoral work (incl. monastery church) and necessary offices. The rest of the building will provide accommodation for vital elderly and restaurant facilities, under the responsibility of others. Also, the monumental Library is no longer in the possession of the Redemptorists, but the entire book stock in the galleries can stay there and is still property of the Redemptorists.
The main renovation for the renewal of the pilgrimage center took place between March and August 2021. This concerned mainly the St. Gerard Chapel, which, while preserving the previous character of the space including the stained-glass windows, now contains the bookshop and a multifunctional meeting room, called Scala. The bookshop is the only shop in the far region with a large variety of books on religion and spirituality. Of course, for celebrating the Eucharist and prayer services the church is still in use.
After being in use for two months now, we can conclude that our expectations have been met. There is a positive effect on the number of visitors. The Scala meeting room also meets expectations. We can receive groups there and the inviting coffee corner gives the possibility to easily get in contact with the visitors.
The leadership team now consists of the superior Fr. Henk Erinkveld and community member Jelle Wind as director of the working organization. They believe that together with personnel and many volunteers Wittem they can continue to develop ‘Wittem’ as a Redemptorist place of pastoral significance in a very secularized society.
Jelle Wind, director Pilgrimage Center Klooster Wittem