Maurits De Weerdt 1935 – 2017 (PE nr. 1081)

Maurits was born on the 9th April 1935 at Antwerp, Belgium. His father, a renowned lawyer and Professor at Louvain University, died when Maurits was just four years old. Maurits attended Notre Dame College in Antwerp for his secondary education. He spent a year at the Notre Dame de la Paix University at Namur studying Natural and Medical Sciences. He entered the White Fathers in September 1955 at Boechout. After novitiate in Varsenare, Maurits went to the recently opened Scholasticate at Totteridge, London for his theological studies. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 11th July 1961. He was ordained priest in Heverlee on the 29th June 1962.

Maurits’ teachers saw him as level-headed, calm, quite, rather taciturn, deliberate, and phlegmatic. However, they considered him a gentleman, conscientious, and having a good judgement. He had solid convictions. He was a good organiser without being a natural leader. He knew how to take initiatives and was very obliging, respectful of others’ opinions and of showing understanding. When asked for his preference for his first appointment, he asked to do parish work in any country of Africa.

Maurits left for Zambia in December 1962. He spent four months studying the language at Ilondola. He was appointed to Chibote as curate. An appointment to Kasaba followed, and in 1966 he was appointed Parish Priest there before returning to Chibote as PP. He was an active and enthusiastic participator in the reforms of Vatican II. In 1966, when he was leaving for his first home leave, Bishop René Pailloux, M.Afr (+1988) of Mansa, wrote, “A valuable man, and a priest of high quality. We have very few men of his calibre and we cannot do without him.” The image that springs to mind to those who knew him at that time is that of a genial pastor. He maintained excellent relationships with the personnel of the Parish and with the Bishop’s house including the Bishop, diocesan priests, the catechists, and the missionaries of other congregations, lay leaders, hospital personnel, and teachers. In 1967, when he was Parish Priest of Kashikishi, he was elected a member of the Regional Council. He took part in the 1974 Chapter in Rome. The following year, he was elected and appointed as Regional and he moved to Kasama. He exercised two mandates and participated at the 1980

Chapter. After all that, he took some time for a sabbatical. He took part in the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem and followed a session at the Washington Theological Union. He then went to work for several months in a parish in Florida.

Once he was back in Zambia, although he would have preferred to return to parish work, he accepted an appointment to be in charge of the training of catechists at the Catechists Training Centre (C.T.C) at Lubwe. He fulfilled this task from 1984 to 1992. At the same time, he organised training sessions for lay people, both men and women, sent by their Small Christian Communities. He responded generously to the appeals of the parishes. Jean-Pierre Sauge, the Regional at the time wrote, “Maurits’ kindness is well known to all. He is a dedicated man, a faithful and agreeable confrere, full of good advice although he could be quite direct from time to time.” In October 1992, he was able to return literally to the coalface of pastoral work. He became the co-founder and in charge of a new missionary project of the White Fathers in the mining region of Zambia. It was a new parish in the middle of a working class area of Kitwe in the Diocese of Ndola. He worked there for 11 very happy years among “his people.” In 2003, the Society asked him to join the team of formators at the S.O.L.A. Study House in Bangalore, India. For five years, he followed the rhythm of the visa programme of the government. In fact, the visa was valid for only six months after which one had to leave. He devoted himself to the training of our young candidates and during his “free months,” he returned to Zambia to give a helping hand in any parish that needed help. Maurits himself kept many happy memories of his stay in India. He wrote in 2012, “My short missionary life in India was very interesting, a real discovery of another world. I taught English to ‘come and see’ participants, students in the first year and some French to third year candidates but that was a different kettle of fish.”

At the beginning of 2012, André-Leon Simonart, Provincial of Europe asked Zambia to allow Maurits to return to the Belgian Sector, as a bursar was urgently needed for the community in Antwerp. Maurits accepted even though he remarked that he had no experience whatsoever in this domain. Besides, he had already considered that the time had come for a definitive return to his home country. His last job in Ndola was in the urban parish of Chipulukusu.

In September 2013, Maurits took up residence at Keizerstraat 25 and started work as the bursar. In the beginning, his absent mindedness was attributed to his preoccupation with personal affairs. However, after a few months it was evident that his mental health prevented him from undertaking even the simplest of tasks. Although still a member of the community, he became more and more ‘absent. ’ He needed more specialised care and on the 24th September 2016, he was transferred to the Nursing Home of ‘Notre-Dame d’Anvers.’ His health slowly deteriorated and Maurits died peacefully on the 11th January 2017.

The Liturgy of the Resurrection was celebrated on the 17th January in the Chapel of Sainte-Anne adjoining our house in Antwerp. He now rests in peace.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

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