Herman has been very much involved in the formation and in spirituality. As a consequence, many people knew him and were quite shocked when they learnt of his passing. That is why I took upon me to translate provisionally the profile that was sent from Belgium in the Dutch language before it is translated officially for the Petit Echo.
Herman was born on the 13th January 1936, in Hasselt, in the province of Limburg, where his father, a professional soldier – major in the Belgian army – was temporarily employed. After that, the family returned to Bonheiden. Herman followed the classical humanities at the Sint-Rombouts College in Mechelen. In September 1954, he joined the White Fathers in Boechout, followed by his novitiate in Varsenare and his theological studies in Heverlee. On the 2nd July 1960, he took there his missionary oath and was ordained a priest on the 2nd of February 1961. According to his superiors at the time, Herman has a clear and deep mind; he is inquisitive, a great worker, but scattered. He is musically gifted, plays the piano, the organ, and the guitar. He is a sensitive, delicate, distinguished man, though always simple. He has a pleasant character, is easy to handle, always ready to serve. He always sees the positive in the other. His health is rather on the weak side. One sees him as a future professor and educator. Herman was sent to Rome, where he obtained a master’s degree in Philosophy and Anthropology from the Gregorian University. In 1963, he moved to Paris to study Emmanuel Mounier. Due to serving in the army, Herman became the chaplain of the army barracks in Vilvoorde. “His devotion to those entrusted to him was boundless,” wrote the Chief Chaplain, Bishop Cammaert. In 1966, he finished his doctoral thesis on Mounier. In September 1966, he was appointed superior of our “philosophicum” in Leuven. “An enthusiastic professor, hundred per cent dedicated to the Youth and appreciated by the Youth”, wrote the provincial superior Plessers.
In July 1968, Herman left for the then Upper Volta. He began in Réo, in the Diocese of Koudougou. He works his way into the language and the culture. “I used many of their oral stories about God and the origins of the world in pastoral work. They had their own Old Testament,” he wrote. He launches the “Rural Scout Movement”, the concept of which will be followed at the national level. In 1972, the Province called him back for the first cycle in Leuven, which in that year had seven candidates. He is also active in the students’ parish and in missionary animation. After a year, however, he asked to be allowed to return to Africa in order to “remain a full-time missionary”, which he was allowed to do (only two or three candidates were expected that year). After preaching a few retreats in Algeria, Herman became a parish priest in Tenado, ‘a daughter of Reo’, at the beginning of 1973. In the North of the parish are the Gourounsis, which have long been converted to Christianity. But Herman was particularly concerned about the Nebwa in the south, who had never been converted and whose language no missionary father spoke. He launched the basic communities in his parish. In 77-78, Herman taught philosophy at the Major Seminary of Saint-Jean in Ouagadougou. The provincial, Jean Longin, Provincial, writes: ” He is a transparent, sincere, lively, pleasant confrere with whom one always comes out enriched by an encounter. He has the gift of listening and knows how to place the right word at the right time”. In May 1978, Herman had to go to Belgium for health reasons. During the session/retreat in 1979 in Jerusalem, he will be hospitalized. His stay in Belgium was therefore extended and he joined the community of Varsenare. During this period, he gave days of recollection for young people, including in Zellaar and Hofstade, for which he received very enthusiastic reactions: “You brought us so much closer to your God” – “I can honestly say that your words about Jesus touched me” – “I think that our class will bear fruit for a long time to come”.
On the 1st of September 1981, Herman became rector of the Major Seminary Notre-Dame d’Afrique (our first cycle) at the Ruzizi (Bukavu). “I can make black White Fathers”, he said to a friend in Belgium smiling yet with a touch of pride. What was important to him was the apostolate that the candidates performed every Saturday in the poorest neighbourhoods of the city and in prison. In 87-88, he was allowed to take a Sabbatical year. He followed a three-month spiritual formation – including a thirty-day retreat – in the United Kingdom, re-read the whole of the Bible, attended a Jesuit session on spiritual accompaniment in Clamart and stayed for a month at the Focolari in Luppiano. His mother died in April 1989. Herman was then appointed to Kahangala (Tanzania) and, one school year later, to the first cycle of Kossogen (Burkina Faso), where he was a member of staff. However, his health was poor. The climate may well have been too harsh for him.
At the beginning of July 1993, he was appointed to Jerusalem. In his reply to Rome, Herman wrote: Your proposal for Jerusalem corresponds entirely to my desire for renewal and my interest in spiritual animation. ‘. In the team, he was responsible for the spiritual animation, including giving the thirty-day retreat. A confrere testifies: “Herman was one of the few confreres with whom I could really have a deeper personal conversation. He radiated so much friendship and empathy! At the end of 1997, he had to go to Belgium for health reasons (including a serious eye disease), and stayed there until the end of 1999; during this last year, he could still accompany participants during the great retreat, while Marcel Boivin was already replacing him as the person responsible for the session.
In September 1999, Herman was appointed in Rome as assistant secretary following the Permanent Education programme. Together with a White Sister, he leads the sessions for people over the age of sixty and seventy, as well as the ‘Transition to the Third Age’. Tai Chi and the Enneagram are always on the programme; for the latter, he translated from English “The Enneagram” by Beesing-Nogosek-O’Leary. Prayers and celebrations, introductions and presentations, excursions and visits were meticulously prepared. Mindful and attentive, Herman tries to draw every participant along in the search for his deepest aspirations. “Evaluations at the end of the sessions have always shown how each session had been beneficial for the participants”, writes Father Richard Baawobr, who was still the general first assistant at the time.
In October 2010, Herman comes to Belgium and settles in Bonheiden with his sister Godelieve. What was planned as a temporary stay will last for several years because of his sister’s illness, to which will be added the care of his second sister Marie-Louise. For a number of years, he will try to take on the responsibility of the community of Antwerpen-Keizerstraat, with varying and rather moderate success; the confreres speak of “short appearances”. In Bonheiden, he serves in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. “When he sat behind the altar with his shining eyes and smile, he brought peace and tranquillity,” writes a witness. He continued to animate retreats and wrote his well-known recollections on the occasion of Advent and Lent, which he had already started in Rome. His sister Godelieve died in 2011, but then Marie-Louise fell ill. Herman also takes care of her. Until he couldn’t do more. On June 27, 2018, he accepted to go to Avondrust. He remained very weak. He died, very unexpectedly, on 9 August.
The Resurrection Liturgy took place in Varsenare on Thursday 16 August.
Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.
Translation from the original Dutch: Webmaster with the help of DeepL