Petrus Joseph Triest

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Peter Joseph Triest (31 August 1760, in Brussels – 24 June 1836, in Ghent) is the founder of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, (1803), the Brothers of Charity (1807), the Brothers of St John of God (1825) and the Sisters of the Childhood of Jesus (1835).


Pierre Joseph Triest, called the Belgian Vincent de Paul by many, charted a trail of caritas and knit a network of facilities for the care of the poor. He was the first person after the French Revolution, after having lived as a priest in hiding in Ronse for five years, to take several initiatives in the Ghent area as from 1803 that would fully involve the Church once again and even provide a leading role for her in the care for the poor and the sick.

In 1800 already, he sets us a workshop for orphans in Ronse, and three years later, as a parish priest in Lovendegem, he starts a new congregation with a group of women for the care of the poor, the sick and the education of children. It is his intention to incorporate this local initiative with the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, however, as this is not accepted by the Daughters of Charity, the bishop, Mgr. De Beaumont, decides to recognize this congregation as the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. Triest in the rule he writes for them develops a combination between Saint Bernard's contemplation and Saint Vincent's charitable commitment. Noticed by his dedication he is called to Ghent along with his sisters to take on the care of the incurably ill at the old Ter Haegen Abbey. On 26 December 1806, he is formally appointed as general superior of the sisters,and on 14 January 1807, granted the title of Honorary Canon of Saint Bavo Cathedral.

Canon Triest

1807 will be an extraordinary year for the 47-year-old canon: on 11 July 1807, he is put in charge of the Civil Hospital of the Byloke. Less than a week later, he becomes a member of the ‘Comité d'ordre et d'economie’, so as to have better overview of the financial management of the several institutions of the city, and on 17 October 1807, he becomes a member of the Commission of Civil Hospices and the Poor Relief Committee, and finally, on 12 December of the same year, he is appointed as the administrator of the Small Hospices and the Foundlings and Abandoned Children Bureau. Thus, Triest has a seat in the coordinating structure managing the poor and sick reliefs in the city of Ghent. He will occupy a prominent position in this structure for about 30 years.

In that same year on 28 December 1807, he also starts a second congregation with a few young men, at the Byloke this time, where the care for the poor elderly was extremely inadequate. They will become known as the Hospital Brothers of Saint Vincent, and later as the Brothers of Charity, to be recognized as a religious community of brothers on 26 November 1811. With them, Triest will take over the care for the mentally ill at Gerard the Devil's Castle in Ghent in 1815, and by doing so, he will give the go-ahead to the development of the care for the mentally ill. Education and care for persons with disabilities will also be taken on by Triest and his congregations. In 1815, the Sisters of Charity start their first school in Zafelare, and the Brothers of Charity follow their example at the Byloke one year later. In 1820, school projects are started for deaf girls and in 1825 for deaf boys. For domiciliary care, Triest founds a third congregation in 1825: the Brothers of Saint John of God, and a fourth congregation in 1835 one year before his death: the Sisters of the Childhood of Jesus for the relief and the care of foundlings and abandoned children.

A Great sensitivity towards the poor As a young man already, Triest reveals an extraordinary sensitivity towards the poor. His biographies mention how he, as a student in Geel, used his savings to buy snacks for the mentally ill. Also as a young priest, we see him taking care of children of unmarried mothers, and when, in 1795, there is an outbreak of typhoid fever in Mechelen, he works day and night to tend to the sick until he fell victim to this disease himself and was out for months. His time in Ronse, when he had to live as a priest in hiding for five years, is very defining for Triest. He broadens his spiritual life, and that which was present in him as a basic attitude now becomes a conscious choice: the love of God drives him to dedicate his life serve the neighbor, especially the neediest. His courage is showed off when, in Ronse, despite the risk to be arrested, he tends to Brigadier Cotton's wife in the barracks. The words that he uses in his first public sermon are quite moving: "My third duty, besides my teaching and example, is my service: I must offer you my watching, my care, my work, my repose, not just once but always, night and day." He expresses his mission, as it were: his teaching, his example and his service will be the program that will shape the rest of his life. At the time when finally the situation allows him to expand the care for the poor, his biographers write: "Since a long time the Spirit of God had inspired him with great zeal coupled with a fiery and lively character, which was a serious trial to him for many years, because he saw evil happening without being able to remedy it." "Father Triest liked to refer to that decisive moment as he grew old, and talked in tears about God's goodness which had encouraged his zeal and supported him greatly in his steady efforts for the welfare of the neighbour."

A man with a clear vision of the care of the poor Triest's view of the care for the poor can be described in four words: love was the spring, service was the path, complete care was the method and the joy of the resurrection was the perspective.

Love as the spring "Nothing is stronger than love as it is the spring of all things. I tell you love has a special power to move someone and conquer his spirit because her eloquence reaches the very depths of the hearts." From his relationship with God, Triest understood that, eventually, it is all about love. He would use the force of God’s love to help his neighbor. A love rooted in divine love: "He who relies on his own power misleads himself. In order to love with all our soul, we must rely on grace, appeal continuously to the merciful God. Always do our charitable works in the spirit of faith, our mind fixed on God. Give ourselves, and when we are tired and empty of giving, go to the Lord, knock at the door of our only Master. For only in the Lord is to be found true salvation." In love, Triest also tries to meet Jesus himself in the poor: neighbourly love becomes an encounter with God. "We shall nurse the sick humbly and respectfully, seing them as though they were the suffering Christ himself. If certain disesases repel you, then you must rely on your strong faith. Love gives us the strength that nature cannot provide."

Service as the path In his mission statement of 1802, Triest already talks about service being the continuation of his teaching and example. He tells his parishioners: "My third duty, dear friends, is service, in other words, I owe you my vigils, my care, my efforts, my rest not only at fixed times but at every moment, every day and every night, even if the paths are remote, rough and muddy. Call me whenever you want and do not spare me, do not be afraid of disturbing me. I am happy when, in imitation of Jesus Christ, my Master, I can sacrifice for you my rest, my health and even my life." He will fulfill these words afterwards as a rule of life. A well-known story is that of Triest giving up his own bed in Ghent to a sick person while he spent several nights resting on a chair. The care for the sick should also be carried out in this spirit of service. "In order to faithfully observe the vow to serve the sick, it is not enough to want to serve some and not others, to give with love to some all that they need and serve the others half-heartedly. But whether you are charged with serving the sick or with educating children you must have for each and every one the same love and attentiveness for all their ills." And this service will be expressed in the same sensitivity we find in Saint Vincent. "Treat everyone with gentleness and graciousness. Try to serve and to please as much as possible. Help the sick and the poor with the greatest care and the greatest possible attention. May your gentleness, kind words and attention make up for what you cannot possibly do for or give."

Complete care as the method Triest also gives heed to the complete man and all of his needs. This complete care is very beautifully expressed in a letter to the Sisters of Charity on 30 December 1828. "Indeed, you imitate divine Providence, for you feed the poor of-Jesus Christ; you bring down manna on the hungry; you quench people's thirst. You know the miserable situation of the unfortunate, poor and sick people who never enjoy an agreeable day; for whom, as it were, the sun is not shining and the earth, producing flowers only for the rich, yields only brambles and thistles; unfortunate people who, robbed of everything, seems to be more dead than alive.

Giving such people clothes with which they can cover themselves; preparing medicine to heal their diseases, if not completely at least to alleviate them; providing them with a bed, making it for their wounded and sick body to rest on it; nursing their dirty and smelly wounds to relieve them: is that not creating sunshine for them, producing a new earth? Is that not resuscitate them and drawing them from the jaws of death?"

Every act of care for the poor must depart from knowledge of the person (you know the miserable situation...). And, of course, in care, physical pain will be treated but also psychological and social needs will be seen to, and in case a complete recovery remains at bay they should be given as much comfort as possible (for their wounded and sick body to rest on it).

The joy of the resurrection as the perspective The ultimate perspective, however, is the joy of the resurrection: drawing them from the jaws of death, creating sunshine for them. For Triest, that is the object of care for the poor: already opening the perspective of the resurrection to them, giving them new hope once again despite their poverty and suffering. The resurrection is pushed forward, as it were, and through concrete works of mercy people may already experience what it means to live as people of the resurrection.


The beatification process of Servant of God, Peter Joseph Triest was opened in 2001.


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  • Goswin DE STASSART, Pierre-Joseph Triest, in: Biographie Universelle, Brussel, 1846
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  • Annuario Pontificio 1997, Vaticaan, 1997, pp. 1472 en 1512.
  • René STOCKMAN, De goede mijnheer Triest, een biografie van kanunnik Petrus Jozef Triest, Gent, 1998 (also: Good Father Triest, A biography on Canon Peter Joseph Triest, Belgium. ISBN 9080194050.
  • Baudouin WALCKIERS, Filiations lignagères bruxelloises contemporaines, Brussel, 1999.
  • Andries VAN DEN ABEELE, De Romereis van Petrus Triest in 1816, in: Helpende Handen, 2000.
  • Andries VAN DEN ABEELE, De beginjaren van de Broeders van Liefde. Problemen van chronologie betreffende de aangestelde economen en oversten (december 1807 – november 1810), in: Helpende Handen, 2001.
  • René STOCKMAN, Ethos of the Brothers of Charity, Gent, 2002, revised 2006.
  • René STOCKMAN, in collaboration with Andries VAN DEN ABEELE, Liefde in actie. 200 jaar Broeders van Liefde, Davidsfonds, Leuven, 2006.
  • René STOCKMAN, Charity in action, 200 years Brothers of Charity, BOC Publications, Gent, 2009.
  • René STOCKMAN, Petrus Jozef Triest vandaag. Leven, spiritualiteit en inspiratiebron, Halewijn, Antwerpen, 2009.

Sources and external links[edit]

Founder of 5 congregation