Herman was born on the 7th March 1937 at Essen in the Province of Antwerp very close to the Dutch border. His parents were farmers and over the course of the years they had ten children. After secondary school at the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten, Herman entered the White Fathers at Boechout in September 1956. It was the same year that his older brother René (+2017) left for Burundi. After the novitiate in Varsenare, Herman went to Heverlee to study Theology. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 28th June 1962 followed by priestly ordination on the 29th June 1963. Herman was described as a modest, helpful, friendly and very sociable person. He was not very talkative, but was interested in others. He was an unobtrusive man, always in the same good mood. He radiated benevolence and kindness. He did not get mad, but one should not push him too hard. He was pretty unshakeable, a little sceptical perhaps. He had practical common sense and he had undeniable artistic gifts.
Herman was appointed to Burundi. He left on the 22nd December 1963. He studied Kirundi at Muhanga. Fr. Michel Braekers (+1979), the Regional wrote, “He is a happy man who likes making people laugh. He loves making puns. He’s pretty good in Kirundi.” He was put in charge of the catechetical programme and youth work. Quite early on, it was noted that he did not enjoy great health and he had to rest a lot. In September 1965, Herman was sent to Giheta then to Bukirasazi (1966). After his first home leave in 1968, he became curate and bursar at Kibumbu. Fr. Louis Quintard (+2012) the Assistant Regional wrote, “As bursar of the post, he has never enough money, and he quarrels with the Treasurer of the Diocese over it.”
At the end of 1972, the Hutu rebellion was put down in what has been called the Hutu genocide in Burundi. In January 1973, Herman returned to Belgium traumatised by these events. He taught religion in a secondary school in Borgerhout and lived in our community in Berchem. He went to Greece with a group of young people. He took some sabbatical time following a Bible course and studying catechesis always with a view to teaching. After the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1980, he was ready to return to Africa.
Herman arrived in Ituri, Zaire (now the DRC) at the end of 1980. He taught religion in Bunia College. He had a full timetable and was much appreciated. However, at the end of the academic year in 1983, he decided to leave. He wrote to Jan Lenssen, Provincial of Belgium,” I still teach with the same enthusiasm but the mentality here is much too different from my own.” For some unknown
reason, because he had never been expelled, his application to return to Burundi was turned down. Maybe Rwanda? The Regional Council of Rwanda agreed to accept him only after a long discussion. Herman had a reputation for being “progressive”. He arrived in Kigali in January 1984. After studying the language at the Language Centre, he was appointed curate at Kaduha in the Diocese of Butare. Herman dreamed of forming authentic Small Christian Communities. So he was allowed to join the parish of Rusumo in the Diocese of Kibungo, where Father Stany de Jamblinne worked along the same lines in the Eglise-Monde movement. Herman felt comfortable in this pastoral ministry. He painted tableaux and decorated churches. He supported local artists, who made decorative panels in bas-relief, characteristic of the region.
In April 1994, the genocide exploded in Rusumo and with other confreres, Herman was evacuated to Brussels on the 13th April. In September 1994, he spent many months at CREC-AVEX (Centre for Research and Communication) in Lyon, France. He was being thought of for the Audio-Visual Centre in Burundi. This projected appointment did not come to anything. In September-December 1995, he followed the Discipleship course in Jerusalem and he returned there in March 1996 to work in the Archaeological Service and the Museum where, among other things, he highlighted the famous collection of oil lamps. His only complaint; “For four years, I had to manage without a budget!”
In October 2000, Herman was appointed to Rome in charge of Ongoing Formation and the organization of the Mid-Life Renewal programme. He took on several administrative tasks in the city or in the Vatican and collaborated with Brother Karl Stärk in the photo library. He underwent heart surgery but made a complete recovery.
In July 2006, he returned definitively to Belgium where he joined the community in Namur and helped Gus Beeckmans in the Photo-Service restoring old historical photos. He stayed there for 10 years, always as thin as a rake, true to himself and a bit of a joker. He was a tad special, a critical observer of events who never raised his voice. However, he began to have serious breathing problems that required respiratory physiotherapy.
In October 2016, Herman asked to go to Antwerp. The Photo Service was being transferred and he wanted to be closer to his older brother René who was seriously ill. At the beginning of 2018 his breathing problems got worse and on the 9th March, he joined the ‘Avondrust’ community in Varsenare.
Herman was very grateful for the prodigious care he received and enjoyed breathing the pure air. He joyfully pored over his art albums while preparing himself for the inevitable. He immersed himself into Carlos Mesters’ commentary on the Suffering Servant. In a notebook, he wrote, “Yes, the inevitable suffering of man, projected onto one person, Christ, in me”. He suffered terrible crises of suffocation. Towards the middle of April, he felt that the end was near. He noted, “Resurrection does not follow death, it takes place the moment of death itself. It is this beginning of a ‘different life’ that I am looking forward to.” He died on the 20th April 2018 at the hospital of Saint-Jean in Bruges. Marc De Wulf, superior of Varsenare was at his bedside.
On the 26th April 2018, we laid Herman to rest in Varsenare, surrounded by his family and many confreres. May he rest in peace.
Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.