Frans was born on the 19th August 1927 in Antwerp, Belgium. His father was a carpenter and his mother sold bread. Frans attended the College Saint-Jean-Berchmans in Antwerp for the first part of his secondary education but completed his schooling at the College Saint-Joseph at Alost because, during the second half of World War II, German VI and V2 missiles constantly threatened the city of Antwerp. Frans was a member of the KSA, a Catholic student organisation, and he was a chorister at the Cathedral. In September 1945, he entered the White Fathers at Boechout for Philosophy followed by his novitiate in Varsenare. His first year of theology was spent in Marienthal, Luxemburg and he completed his studies in Heverlee. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 29th July 1951 followed by ordination to the priesthood on the 12th April 1952. His teachers saw Frans as being friendly, without any airs and graces. He was a conscientious worker and well balanced. “He makes no noise, is discreet and reserved, a little shy even.” He was always ready to render a service and tactful in his relationships. He was a good organiser and it was remarked of him, “He will be an excellent leader, firm but understanding.” He had solid religious convictions and it was also noted that he excelled at working with young people. After his ordination, he was sent to Louvain (Francophone) to study for a university degree. In 1956, he graduated with a “Licence en Sciences Pédagogiques et en Orientation Professionnelle.”
On the 10th October 1956, Frans flew off to the Congo. He began as curate and director of schools at Shabunda in the Diocese of Kasongo. A year later, we find him in Kasongo itself and from July 1958 he was the inspector of schools while being headmaster in a secondary school at the same time. In March 1961, the troubles surrounding Congolese independence forced a return to Belgium. He did the Long Retreat in Villa Cavaletti before returning, in December 1961, to the Congo where he was appointed to the junior seminary of Mungombe where he taught Latin, History, and Religion. In July 1963, Frans returned to Shabunda at teacher of Religion at the High School there. In July 1964, the rebellion led by Pierre Mulele forced Frans once more to leave the Congo. For a year, he taught some courses for ‘late’ vocations at Thy-le-Château. In July 1965, he did a updating course in catechesis at Lumen Vitae which was a real turning point in his life.
Frans returned to the Congo in July 1966 and joined the “Centre interdiocésain de catéchèse” in Bukavu. However another rebellion, this time led by Jean Schramme, and the capture of Bukavu meant another hurried departure for Europe. In Belgium, he occupied himself by working in missionary promotion and preaching retreats. Nevertheless, he returned to Shabunda in June 1968 and taught Education at the College Don Bosco. In 1971, he was appointed the Diocesan Director of Catechesis at Kasongo and he founded the Catechetical Centre of Itemene in 1972. In 1980, Frans is curate in Kakutya but in 1983, he returned to the Catechetical Centre now to be found in Kinkungwa. During the troubles of 1991, Frans was once again evacuated from the Congo and gave a helping hand to the confreres working in the Parish of the Sacred Heart in Antwerp. A few months later he returned to Kinkungwa. In October 1993, he was given the responsibility of the spiritual formation of the Franciscan Sisters at Sola. Frans again had to leave hurriedly for Belgium in March 1997 but by August we find him back again in Formulac Hospital near Bukavu as chaplain. His last substantive appointment brought him to the Parish of Katuba-Sainte Bernadette in the Archdiocese of Lubumbashi.
In Lubumbashi, Frans quickly became the reference point in all that pertained to catechesis. He was responsible for the training of all the volunteer catechists of the 40 parishes of the city. Every year, he organised numerous sessions for them The Archbishop had full confidence in the White Fathers method of evangelisation and all the parishes had to follow a 3 to 4 year catechumenate. Although Frans had never been Parish Priest, he was an excellent educator and teacher. In the Parish of Sainte-Bernadette, he was an enthusiastic preacher of the 3 day retreat for catechumens during Holy Week. The sermons of “Baba” Frans were really appreciated, not only for their contents but also for the beautiful language. He loved the Congolese rite, and sang it with gusto and a loud voice, even dancing. The Bible courses he gave to the novices of the Soeurs de St-Joseph were much appreciated as well as his courses at the Soeurs de Ste-Ursule. Frans was always ready to do the bidding of his parish priest whether it be presiding at celebrations here and there, administer the last sacraments, or visiting the sick. He did all this on foot sometimes covering lengthy distances. It was only when he reached 80 years that he began to use public transport or accepted to be driven somewhere as he had never driven himself. The people were delighted to meet him on the road and to stop for a chat. He was also a big helper of the poor. In 2010, he wrote in “Kerk en Leven”: “The obscenely rich roam the streets in their gleaming cars, but in the poor neighbourhoods there is a lot of misery.”
On the 12th June 2014, the Provincial Council of PAC decided that it would be better that Frans return definitively to Belgium. He opted to return home to Antwerp. He was not in great shape but it seemed that he was not aware of his state of health. A few months later, those in charge thought that a move to Avondrust (Varsenare) was imperative. Frans took all this with true resignation, all the time wondering why he was no longer in Africa! He read big books and listened to well-known operas while singing along and keeping the beat. However, he was becoming more and more breathless and his general state of health continued to decline. He died at the hospital of Saint-Jean at Bruges on Friday morning, 9th March 2018. The farewell liturgy took place in Varsenare on the 14th March 2018 in the presence of many confreres. May he rest in peace.
Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.