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Our Journey to Father Nerincks’x Roots

Posted on December 1, 2018, by Loretto Community

From left, a representative of the Herne cultural commission, the parish priest where Father Charles Nerinckx was born, Denise Ann Clifford, Eleanor Craig, Marie Nerinckx, the last direct descendant of Father Nerinckx’s immediate family, and celebration instigator Jean Marie Viane stand by the plaque honoring Father Nerinckx. It lists his many works, including the founding of the Sisters of Loretto.
(Photo by Karel Disponett)

By Karel Disponett

The parish in Belgium where Father Charles Nerinckx was born recognized his life by unveiling a plaque in his honor. They invited Loretto to participate, and so one Monday evening in mid-September four of us (Denise Ann Clifford, Eleanor Craig,  Susanna Pyatt from the Archives and I) took off on the first leg of our journey to visit areas of Belgium where Father Nerinckx grew up, worked as a priest and eventually fled. Excitement was high as we landed in Amsterdam. We were met at the train station outside of Amsterdam by Marcia Kaldenhoven and Joop, her husband. They provided the kind of superb hospitality that is a hallmark of the Loretto Community.

We toured the canals of Amsterdam, visited the Lyck Museum and viewed the Anne Frank house. The next stop for the six of us was Antwerp where we visited an area that originally was used by the Beguines. These interesting women established several communities within Belgium. They lived in community and did good works but did not take vows. They owned their own homes, managed their own finances and chose their own work activities. I couldn’t help but think there were a lot of similarities between their lives and the lives of Loretto co-members.

In Mechelen we visited the church where Father Nerinckx was ordained and served for several years. The fascinating thing about this church is that it is the only one I know of that has women (Beguines) prominently buried in the nave of the church. Beguines were apparently an integral part of the Catholic community in Belgium, and there is documentation in the Loretto Archives that Father Nerinckx was well acquainted with these communities of women in various parts of Belgium.

The highlight of the trip for me was the time we spent in Flanders, the area where Father Nerinckx grew up. Marie Nerinckx, who is a descendent of Father Nerinckx’s direct family line, chauffeured us everywhere and treated us as honored guests. Hospitality must be a trait of all associated with the Nerinckx family.

The most personally touching moment for me came when I entered the church in Herfelingen where Father Nerinckx was baptized. I saw on the Flemish program for the service that his first name in Flemish is spelled the same way that my mother spelled my first name, Karel. What a great surprise.

The celebration and dedication of the plaque at the church in Herfelingen was a good mixture of solemnity and familial informality. It was a celebration for a family member. After Mass where both Eleanor and Denise Ann spoke, we went outside to dedicate the plaque to Father Nerinckx. The plaque was draped with both the American flag and the Belgian flag, and the community band played both the American National Anthem and the Belgian National Anthem. It was a moving moment for me.

After the ceremonies at the church we were treated to lunch at the farmhouse where Father Nerinckx was raised. What a gift and what a great lunch, much of it grown on the still-working farm. And, as we had experienced everywhere, great hospitality.

For me this was a trip of a lifetime. Experiencing some of the places familiar to Father Nerinckx brought me even closer to understanding the roots that Father Nerinckx brought to the foundation of Loretto that remain today. I started the week as a co-member-in-process, and at the end of the week I came home to receive my acceptance as a Loretto co-member.

Snapshots from Belgium

Photos by Karel Disponett

The day in Herfelingen, Belgium, began with Mass in the newly restored church where Charles Nerinckx was baptized. Denise Ann Clifford distributes Communion.
From left, Eleanor Craig and Denise Ann speak to parishioners at the end of Mass.
After Mass, the village band prepares to play the Belgian and U.S. national anthems and several rousing marches.
After Mass and the unveiling of Father Nerinckx’s plaque, lunch was served at the home where Father Nerinckx was born. Nerinckx descendants continue to live in part of the building, although ownership has passed out of the family.
The day ended with a festive dinner at a popular local restaurant. On the left are Nerinckx cousins Nicole and Guy.
From left, Marie Nerinckx and her friend Michelle Bekaert, who served as our hostesses for the days in Herfelingen.

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