Jacques De Ridder 1923 – 2016 (PE nr. 1080)

Jacques was born on the 25th January 1923 at Saint-Josse (Bruxelles). He came from a large Christian family. His father was Army officer. After finishing school at the Institute Saint-Louis in Bruxelles, he entered the White Fathers at Thy-le-Château in 1941. Then followed the novitiate at Varsenare and theological studies in Heverlee. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 6th April 1947. He was ordained priest on the 29th March 1948. Jacques’ professors underlined his tough somewhat military character. He was strong willed and very devoted but not a great intellectual. They also pointed out that he could be a bit nonchalant, introverted and sphinx like.

When he left Belgium in September 1948, his destination was ‘Ruanda-Urundi.’ He began at Nyanza and then moved on to Kabgayi where he was put in charge of the schools. Appointments followed one after another; Mibirizi, Kinoni, Nyundo and in 1955, we find him in Makamba, Burundi where he was to stay for three years. The Regional explained that his roughness and volatile temperament made a mission among the Banyarwanda impossible. After his first home leave in 1959, during which he did the Long Retreat at Mours, he returned to Bururi in Burundi. However, after a conflict with the monitors, he moved to Kitwenge (1961) and a few months later to Giheta. Here again he had a falling out with the local people who threatened him with physical violence. Jacques returned to Rwanda in November 1961, to Byimana and stayed there for three years. In 1964, he moved to Rwankuba and the following year to Zaza. He returned definitively to Belgium in 1966. Fr. Jules Severy (+2003), the Regional at the time wrote, “He (Jacques) could be a bear or a lamb but was most often a bear.” He added, “He has a passion for all new books and he read enormously.”

In fact, in 1955, Jacques became acquainted with the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin during an International Seminar organised in Belgium shortly after de Chardin’s death. This was a seminal moment for Jacques, and it deeply marked him. When he arrived home in 1966, he was appointed to Thy-le-Chateau, which had become a retreat house for young people and for missionary promotion work. He said he was happy. He evolved. He gave retreats. Fr. Kamiel Plessars (+1993) Provincial at the time, noted, he was in fact very pleasant under a rough bark.” In July 1968, Jacques was appointed for missionary promotion work in Bruxelles and in Walloon Brabant. He visited groups working on behalf of the Third World, preached retreats, and accompanied pilgrimage groups to Lourdes and youth groups to Morocco. He also gave a recycling course on the writings of St. Paul and was chaplain to groups of scouts and guides. He collaborated with leaders of other missionary institutes and had contacts in many parishes.

In 1975, he followed many study weekends and an international study week on Teilhard de Chardin. In 1977, he gave a lecture in Paris on, ‘Avec Paul et Teilhard, dire Christ aujourd’hui’, which he finished with these words, “speaking with Paul and interpreting with Teilhard …that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labour and struggle, in accordance with the exercise of his power working within me” (Col 1, 28-29). In a report in 1979, Jacques indicated that he was participating in the meetings of Teilhard de Chardin groups in Bruxelles, Lille and Paris. In between times, he joined the “Association des Amis de Teilhard de Chardin.” Here he met, Fr. Pierre Noir, S.J. and published with him the famous “Dossiers thématiques du Père Noir.” At the beginning of 1980, Jacques gave this testimony, “It is useful to know, with great fidelity to the Church that some people are making an effort of getting to know the writings of Teilhard in order to share them with contemporaries who are also searching.” Later on, he confessed, “Teilhard saved me.” the writings of Teilhard de Chardin became the total focus of his life and of his faith. However, Teilhard would have to wait a bit. Jacques did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1982 and he took up an appointment as Librarian at the Generalate in January 1983. He worked there until May 1985 when he returned to Belgium.

Jacques was officially appointed to the ‘Centre Copernic sciences-société’ by the Archdiocese of Mechelen- Brussels in January 1986.He stayed with the community on rue Milcamps. His contract specified, “his knowledge of the works of Teilhard de Chardin will be put to good use for the organisation of the documentation of this theme and to establish relations, in the name of the Centre, with organisations in France and Belgium.” Jacques accepted this mandate and at the same time agreed to act as curate in the Parish of Sainte-Anne at Uccle. Unfortunately, the project only lasted three years, as the Centre Copernic had to close its doors because of lack of suitable premises. Although Jacques had lost his ‘job’, his enthusiasm for Teilhard was not diminished in any way. He continued giving retreats, often in collaboration with Fr. Noir, on themes such as “Praying with St. Ignatius and Teilhard de Chardin.” He joined the Board of Directors of the Association des Amis de Pierre Teilhard de Chardin whose headquarters was in Paris. He collaborated in publishing many dossiers on the thought of Teilhard de Chardin such as the Journal intime in 2001. From 2003 to 2008, he preached the annual retreat for the Associations des Amis de Pierre Teilhard de Chardin at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris. The first retreat was published in 2004 under the title, 8 spiritual pathways based on the retreat notes of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. 44 packages of notes were eventually published some of them still being sent to Paris after his death.

From 1995, Jacques was part of our community in rue Tombeur. In January 2008, his health began to be a cause for concern. He could only move about with difficulty. He moved to the St. Joseph Home in Evere. During the last few months of his life, his mental health was seriously affected and he was transferred to the special protected section ‘Clivia’ in Evere.

Jacques could be a charming confrere and would go to a great deal of trouble to be of service. His writings on Teilhard reveal a solid faith and a deep spirituality. However, his relationships with people were always touchy, even violent. Anyone living with him suffered and no doubt himself as well. Maybe it was for this reason that he chose this text of Teilhard for his memorial card, “Why, tonight, do I feel anguish for all those whom I love, and whom I have lost or are growing old, or who are far away? Have I done enough for them? … I entrust them and give them, Lord. In us, bring us together and make us all alive. (Retirement Notes, Seuil, 1954, p.113)” If one could penetrate the shell; one would discover a man with great sensitivity and to be very obliging, having a great attention to the poor. Very discretely, he visited sick and isolated confreres and elderly people suffering from loneliness.

On Saturday morning, 15th October 2016, this great devotee of Teilhard de Chardin, Jacques de Ridder, passed away in St. Michael’s Hospital where he had been admitted the previous evening. The Farewell Liturgy took place in the big chapel of St. Joseph’s Nursing Home on the 21st October 2016, followed by burial in Varsenare.

Jef Vleugels

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