Marcel Peeters 1925 – 2017 (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

Marcel was born on the 5th July 1925 at Vremde in the Province of Antwerp, Belgium. He attended primary school in Boechout where his parents had settled. His father worked in the big port of Antwerp. He went to the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten for his secondary schooling. In September 1943, Marcel entered the White Fathers at Boechout and followed the usual White Father training programme at the time, novitiate in Varsenare and Theology in Heverlee. On the 21th July 1949, he took his Missionary Oath in Heverlee and he was ordained priest in the parish church of Heverlee on the 8th April 1950. His professors underlined his solid devotion, his dedicated character. He liked order and cleanliness! He was not a great intellectual but he was a hard worker. He had a lot of practical knowledge. He was not considered a leader; in fact, he needed to be supported as he lacked self-confidence. He had a nervous disposition and often spoke without thinking, criticising things readily. One little fact, which made him stand out, was that during the scholasticate he began to study Kiswahili quite seriously.

Marcel was appointed to Burundi. First of all, in order to fulfil military service requirements, he had to follow a course at Louvain University. In April 1951, he became Warrant Officer-Nurse First Class in the reserve of the colonial Force Publique in the Congo. He left for Bujumbura on the 17th April 1951 with the now defunct Sobelair. He first went to Gatara and a few months later to Musenyi in the Diocese of Ngozi. He courageously got down to learning Kirundi but his shyness did not help. His first real appointment was to the new foundation of Buraniro where he was put in charge of schools. It was a parish with a lot of schoolchildren and endless sessions in the confession box. At the beginning of 1960, Marcel went on his first home leave during which he did the Long Retreat at Villa Cavalletti, near Rome. In December of 1961, on his return to Burundi, he became Superior of Buraniro. The Regional, Fr. François Thevenon (+1991) noted that Marcel was hanging in there despite the political tensions afflicting the country in 1961-62. Indeed, Marcel was falsely accused of playing politics and he was obliged to quit Buraniro. He stayed for some months in Muramba and Kisanze before returning to Katara, a place he did not particularly like. In January 1965, he was appointed bursar at Kasenyi.  He complained about its penury and the high cost of living. According to him, his books were always in the red which was not the case at all. His Regional commented, “He’s a born beggar; he knows how to get everything by his doggedness,” When he learnt about big expenses somewhere else, he could not stop himself from being extra critical. Yet the way he reacted scarcely troubled the confreres. It was his style and the confreres went along with it. In fact, on the contrary, they greatly appreciated him for his thriftiness. All over the country, Marcel was known and teased as being the “rich priest…”

Appointments followed one another. In July 1965, Marcel was Superior in Muhanga and in June 1968, he returned to Gatara but was on his way again after a few months, this time to Ijene, who’s Superior he became in 1970. He was always the devoted and caring pastor but was never the leader in a community. However, he was always ready to render a service. A confrere remarked, “In Ijene, he was a man of peace, loved and respected. The local authorities were afraid that he would be appointed elsewhere. Why? Why? Because he was the building block of peace and unity in the village community and throughout the district.” Much to his disappointment, Marcel was transferred to Buraniro in 1978. The parish now counted 42,000 Christians. As part of the catechumenate, the fathers organised reading and writing classes as well as some basic arithmetic with a view to improving the lot of the people. Bishop Kaburungu wanted to start “hill councils” so as to prepare for an eventual diocesan synod. At the end of 1979, Marcel did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. When he returned to Burundi, he was appointed curate in Gatara. No matter where he was, Marcel could count on the support of his family, and especially on the organization in Boechout called “Bricks for God” which helped him build churches and schools, construct bridges and reservoirs and buy school materials. In 1985, when tension mounted between President Bagaza and the Catholic Church, Marcel was one of the many confreres who received from the Government “permission to stay at home”. On the occasion of his departure, the Flash Burundi spoke of a “wise man, a fine connoisseur, an informed observer of so many things in the country, a charming man in community who could stand being teased constantly by his confreres, the White Father who for 35 years patiently built the Church of Burundi by accompanying thousands of young people on the path of faith”

On his return to Belgium, Marcel joined the community running the parish of the Sacred Heart in Antwerp. This meant that he was able to visit his old mother frequently. She died in 1987 at the age of 92 years. However in September 1988, Waly Neven, the regional in Burundi wrote to the Belgian Provincial,  “As for Marcel Peeters, the confreres are practically unanimous in saying that he would still do very well around here and that we would all be very happy to receive him among us.” Marcel still needed time to digest the events in Burundi and did not reply straight away. However, in December 1990, at the age of 65, he decided to go back to Africa. He returned to Ijene as curate. Apart from a short interim period in Giharo in the Diocese of Ruyigi, he was to stay there until 1997. His last appointment in Burundi was as chaplain to the community of Contemplative Dominicans at Rweza where he assured the pastoral services with the late Alex Verpoort (+2005) and Theo Neven (+2016). In 2003 the region decided to end this project and Marcel and the two confreres returned definitively to Belgium. Marcel joined the community in Antwerp. He always remained true to himself, the eternal but happy grumbler. Until the end of his life, he continued to financially support the nuns of Rweza…

At the beginning of 2016, his health declined significantly and he moved to the Nursing home of “Our Lady of Antwerp” a few streets away from our community house. He died of a heart attack on Friday 12th May 2017. The Liturgy of the Resurrection took place in the Parish church of St. Charles Borromeo in Antwerp on Saturday 20th May 2017 followed by burial in our cemetery of Varsenare.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

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