Theophile Verbist (12 June 1823 – 23 February 1868) was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest who founded the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Roman Catholic missionary religious congregation of men. He led missionary activities in China.
Verbist was born in Antwerp, Belgium on June 12, 1823. After brilliant studies at the Minor Seminary and Major Seminary in Mechelen, he was ordained as a priest on 18 September 1847. He was appointed subregent of the Minor Seminary of Mechelen on 1 October 1847.
Career in Belgium
In 1853 he became chaplain of the Military Academy in Brussels. He was simultaneously appointed director of the Sisters of Molenbeek, a Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, which worked since 1840 in various countries as missionaries. He became the National Director in Belgium of the Association of the Holy Childhood, a charitable organization established in France to raise funds for orphans in countries with Catholic missions. Through this engagement he became aware of the plight of orphans in China.
In 1860 he conceived the plan to gather Belgian secular priests to travel to China and establish an orphanage. This initiative received the approval of Cardinal Engelbert Sterckx, Archbishop of Mechelen. Cardinal Sterkx insisted that Verbist could only leave if he joined an existing congregation such as the Jesuits, the Recollects, the Paris Foreign Missions Society or the Lazarists who were already active in China or if his mission was incorporated into one of the apostolic vicariates in China. However, Verbist was able to convince the Belgian church leaders and finally obtain the approval of Cardinal Sterckx and the Belgian bishops to establish a new Belgian missionary congregation. The canonical establishment of the congregation by Cardinal Sterckx is dated 28 November 1862. This congregation, which had as its objective to send missionaries to China, was called the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM). It is better known under the name Scheutists, which refers to the place of its foundation, i.e. the "Scheutveld" in Anderlecht (now in Brussels). Theophiel Verbist was appointed by Cardinal Sterckx as the first Superior General.
Mission to China
During a visit to Rome in 1862, he had proposed to the Propaganda Fide that Hong Kong be assigned as his congregation’s mission area. This was declined as this area had already been assigned to the missionaries of Milan. On 1 September 1864 the area of Inner Mongolia in northern China was assigned to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as its mission area. This area had previously been assigned to the French Vincentians. As a result of the French protectorate of foreign catholic missionaries in China there existed a requirement that even Belgian missionaries should hold a French passport in order to engage in missionary activities in China. This delayed Verbist's departure for one year.
On 25 August 1865 Verbist set out on his journey in the company of four companions: Father Aloïs Van Segvelt, Frans Vrankx, Ferdinand Hamer and lay helper Paul Splingaerd. After landing in Hong Kong, they made their way to Xiwanzi in Inner Mongolia. Initially Xiwanzi was the center of their mission area. Two Chinese priests Petrus Feng and Vicent Fan who had been formed by the Lazarists assisted the newly arrived missionaries. In November 1866 three new CICM fathers arrived to support the missionary work, which was being expanded eastward.
In February 23, 1868, Verbist died from typhus in the city Laohugou (Chinese: 老虎沟) during a visit to the eastern mission area. On 10 May 1931 his remains were transferred to CICM and reburied on 30 March 1932 in the crypt of the Verbist Chapel in Anderlecht.
- "Missionhurst-CICM celebrates 150 years". Today's Catholic. November 16, 2012.
- Bandoc, Isagani Letac; Endrano, Filipinas Zapanta (2015). Carrying on the Mission of God. Philippines: CICM Publishing House. pp. vi. ISBN 978-971-32-0043-3.
- Theophiel Verbist at the odis site (in Dutch)
- La Congrégation du Coeur Immaculé de Marie (Scheut): Une naissance laborieuse, 1861-1865, Leuven University Press, 1 January 1986 (in French)
- Willy vande Walle, Noël Golvers, The History of the Relations Between the Low Countries and China in the Qing Era (1644-1911), Leuven University Press, 1 January 2003