Peter Donders

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Petrus Norbert Donders
Peerke Donders.jpg
Photograph sometime in the 1880s.
Born (1807-10-27)27 October 1807
Tilburg, Netherlands
Died 14 January 1887(1887-01-14) (aged 79)
Batavia, Suriname
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 23 May 1982, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Feast 14 January
Attributes Priest's attire
Patronage Missionaries
Bust of Peerke Donders in a museum in Belgium

Blessed Petrus Norbert Donders (27 October 1807 - 14 January 1887) was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest and a professed member from the Redemptorists.[1] He served in the missions in Suriname where he tended to the native inhabitants and the lepers; he worked in both Paramaribo and Batavia where he died.[2] Donders' poor economic condition as an adolescent saw him unable to begin his studies for the priesthood though generous benefactors saw to that; he failed to enter the Franciscans and Jesuits and even the Redemptorists that he joined decades later. Right after ordination he was sent to Suriname to tend to the natives there and he was never to return to his native land.[3][4]

Donders was beatified in mid-1982 in Saint Peter's Square. The miracle that led to that was the cure of a Dutch child from bone cancer back in 1929.


Petrus Norbert Donders was born in Tilburg in the Netherlands on 27 October 1807 as the eldest of two children to Arnold Denis and Petronella van den Brekel Donders; his brother after him was Martin.[1] The Tilburgers knew him as Peerke Donders and he taught catechism to his fellow children during his spare time.[4]

He desired from his childhood to become a priest but he first worked in a warehouse because of his poor economic condition; this condition saw that he could not attend school for long. He worked in the warehouse with his little brother Martin.[1] He afterwards became a servant among seminarians at their institute known as the Beekvliet in Sint Michiels Gestel where he was given an education.[2] Later a benefactor enabled him to pursue his theological studies at Haaren and he entered on 4 October 1837.

In 1831 he was deemed unfit for the armed service that was required of men his age at that stage. In 1833 he applied to the Redemptorists to join their ranks but was denied and this was the same for requests he lodged with the Jesuits and Franciscans. But a chance reading of the "Annals of the Propagation of the Faith" - a journal of reports from various missions - determined his vocation for the foreign missions which he had set his heart on. He was accepted in 1839 for the missions (when Bishop Jacobus Grooff asked him since the bishop was impressed with Donders' zeal and passion) for the then Dutch Suriname (now the Republic of Suriname) and he was ordained to the priesthood on 5 June 1841.[1][4] On 1 August 1842 he traveled to Paramaribo to begin his long apostolic career and he arrived there on 16 September 1842.[2] He laboured with success among the African blacks in the plantations and once 1850 had arrived he had instructed and baptized 1200 people. His letters express his indignation at the harsh treatment of the African peoples forced to work on the plantations.[3]

He extended his work to the Indians at Saramacca and in 1851 tended to the sick during an epidemic that broke out. In 1856 he took up his residence in Batavia where for almost three decades he ministered to 600 lepers and tended to them himself until he was able to persuade the authorities to provide adequate nursing services.[2][1]

In 1865 the colonial structure was assigned to the Redemptorists at the behest of Pope Pius IX and the Dutch King William III. Donders asked to join their order and was received in Paramaribo in 1866 after Monsignor Johannes Baptist Swinkels - the first Redemptorist vicar Apostolic - invited him and accepted him; he was vested in the habit on 1 November 1886.[2] He made his final vows on 24 June 1867. Following this he returned to his charges and he studied music to cheer his afflicted children.[1][4]

He had been given an assistant but laboured through all his work until his death from nephritis on 14 January 1887 (he suffered this since 1 January); his superiors noted his frail constitution and moved him to easier assignments though Donders moved back to Batavia when he sensed his end was near to be with his patients.[1][3] He was buried in Paramaibo but was relocated on 28 July 1900 in the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral at Paramaibo which was consecrated in 1885 before his death. His remains were reinterred in the same cathedral in another location on 17 January 1921. Donders' birth house in Tilburg was reconstructed in 1930 on the old foundations and a well is also there.[3]


Stain glass window featuring Donders
Statue made around 1926 in Tilburg

The beatification process opened in the 's-Hertogensboch diocese in 1900 in an informative process that later concluded in 1903 while the formal introduction to the cause came under Pope Pius X on 14 May 1913 who titled the late priest as a Servant of God. The apostolic process opened on 8 January 1916 and concluded sometime later before the Congregation for Rites approved both process with a decree of validation on 16 July 1938. An antepreparatory committee approved the cause on 28 October 1941 as did a preparatory one on 16 June 1942 and a general committee on 20 April 1943. On 25 March 1945 he became titled as Venerable after Pope Pius XII confirmed that Donders had lived a life of heroic virtue.

The miracle that led to his beatification had to be a healing that science could not explain and one such one was reported and investigated in Tilburg. It involved the cure of the child Ludovicus Johann Westland on 12 September 1929 from bone cancer; this process spanned from 5 October 1931 to 3 February 1932 before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints later validated the process on 3 November 1973. Medical experts approved this on 22 December 1975 while exemption was granted on 5 August 1976 for a second miracle that would have otherwise been needed for Donders to be beatified under the old rules that were still in force regarding sainthood causes. The C.C.S. officials and their consultants also approved this on 11 April 1978 as did the cardinal and bishop members of the C.C.S. alone on 23 May 1978. Pope John Paul II confirmed on 10 May 1979 that the healing was indeed a miracle but did not preside over Donders' beatification until 23 May 1982.

The current postulator for this cause is the Redemptorist priest Antonio Marrazzo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Blessed Petrus Donders". Saints SQPN. 17 January 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Blessed Peter Donders". Santi e Beati. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Bl. Peter Donders". Redemptorists - Province of Oceania. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d "January 14: Blessed Peter Donders, Priest". Redemptorist Spirituality. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.