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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Charles Nerinckx

Camillus Maes

published by
Robert Clarke & Co.
Cincinnati, 1880

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 2

 p1  Chapter I


Birth of Charles Nerinckx. — Parentage. — Rev. John Henry Nerinckx. — Mary Nerinckx. — Rev. F. X. Decoen, S. J. — Early education. — Rev. Charles Nerinckx ordained a Priest. — Vicar in Mechlin.

Charles Nerinckx, born October 2, 1761, at Herffelingen, province of Brabant, Belgium, was the oldest of fourteen children. His father, Sebastian Nerinckx, a doctor of some note, belonged to one of those patriarchal families of the middle class, rich in faith and virtue, so numerous in Catholic Flanders. Shortly after he was admitted to the practice of his profession, he settled in Herffelingen; and, having found in Miss Petronilla Langendries the solid piety that bespoke the "valiant woman," whose praises are recorded on the blessed pages of Holy Writ, "his heart trusted in her," and he chose her for his wife.

After the birth of Charles, first-born of this happy union, Mr. Nerinckx, who was acquiring  p2 quite an enviable reputation as a skillful practitioner, resolved to extend the field of his usefulness. In 1762, he moved with his little family to Ninove, province of East-Flanders, where, besides the advantages which a city afforded to a man of his talents he found an opportunity of giving a good and solid education to his children.

Here, as in the rural village of Herffelingen, the pious couple lived secluded and without ostentation, distinguished, if at all, from their neighbors, more by the earnest and priest-like zeal which the doctor brought to the discharge of his duties, and the unobtrusive piety and conscientious care with which the young mother governed her household, than by any exterior show. These sterling qualities of heart and soul they had inherited from their sires, the renowned burgesses of Flanders, so jealous of their rights and liberties, and so loyal to their God and Prince, who if they could not boast of ancient genealogies, or obtrude the blazon of ancestral escutcheons upon their fellow-citizens, took a legitimate and christian pride in having, for generations past, given zealous and devoted priests to the sanctuary, pious and self-sacrificing nuns to the cloister. Father Nerinckx mentions in his letters, an uncle a priest, an aunt a Benedictine nun, and Mother Constantia Langendries, his mother's sister, who was superior of the Hospital of St. Blase, Dendermonde,  p3 which office she held for fourteen years, till 1823, the year of her death.

Nor did the young generation prove unfaithful to the pious traditions of the family. The Holy Ghost tells us that "the generation of the righteous shall be blessed;" and blessed indeed was the Nerinckx generation: blessed with the force of character and earnestness of will which made of the father the universally respected citizen and the self-sacrificing doctor; blessed with the deep and abiding religious feeling which made of the mother the pious and queenly matron, who "hath looked well on the paths of her house, hath not eaten her bread idle. Her children rose up and called her blessed," and so, no doubt, did the church and society which were benefited by their labors.

We may confidently assert that there are few families, even in Catholic Belgium, which can show so noble a record of religious vocations as the Nerinckx family exhibits. Besides Charles, the subject of this biography, we note the following:

Peter Joseph, the second eldest, born May 16, 1763, joined the Brothers of Charity, and died a member of that Congregation, June 17, 1796.

John Henry, born July 15, 1776, in Ninove, was only fifteen when he became a novice in the Capuchin Convent of Scherpenheuvel. He had not yet made his vows, when, in the name of a liberty they did not wish for, the religious of that house were thrown upon a cold and unfeeling  p4 world by the agents of the French Directory, and left "free" to choose between the chains of a galley-slave and the wandering life of a rebel" priest tracked by the gens d'armes. John lived for some time in quiet seclusion at the parsonage of his brother Charles, then pastor of Everberg-Meerbeke; and when, on the 21st of October, 1797, sickness prevented his brother from accompanying his parishioners on their annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel, he thought he could take his place without incurring any additional risk. But the blood-hounds of the revolution had not lost sight of him; they only waited for a plausible excuse to arrest him. The same night John Henry was incarcerated in the Treurenberg dungeon, near St. Gudule, Brussels. He then languished for a few months in the St. Maurice's prison, of Rochefort, France, and was sent in company with many priests to the penal colony of Cayenne, in April 1798. But the young man had an indomitable courage, and resolved to profit of the first opportunity to make good his escape. God favored his designs. After a year of incredible sufferings, he succeeded in eluding the vigilance of his keepers, reached the English colony of Berbis, and through the good offices of Mr. Bottenburg, its governor, secured passage on a frigate ready to sail for Liverpool, for himself and his six companions, the only survivors of thirty-four Belgian exiles. They landed at Liverpool on the 21st of August, 1799.

 p5  At the urgent request of many French and Belgian exiled priests who had found a refuge in London, Mr. Nerinckx and his companions went to the metropolis. Encouraged by the venerable Abbé Carron, and convinced from the extraordinary circumstances of his escape that he was where God wanted him, John Nerinckx resolved to devote his life to the Catholic cause in England. He was ordained a priest in the little chapel of Charlton street, Clarendon square, on the 10th of June, 1802, by Mgr. Godard de Belboeuf, the exiled Bishop of Avranches, and began his priestly career there as assistant priest to Father Carron. Together with the latter, he built the new church of St. Aloysius, Somerstown, consecrated in 1808, and remained sole pastor of this congregation when Father Carron returned to France, in 1814. Helped by his sister Mary Ann, he, in 1822, established schools, the direction of which he gave, in November, 1830, to Madame d'Houet, the foundress of the Society of Faithful Companions of Jesus, in France. He thus became the London founder of that religious community which has done so much for Catholic education in England.

Rev. John H. Nerinckx died in Somerstown, London, December 22, 1855, at the ripe old age of eighty-four years.1

 p6  Mary Catherine, born March 25, 1768, entered the abbey of Rosendael, in Mechlin, April 22, 1792.

Jane Constance, born May 21, 1770, became a religious in the abbey of Swyvergue, Dendermonde.

Mary Ann, born October 19, 1773, belonged to the same Order of Citeaux, when all three were forcibly ejected from their monasteries by the Revolution. Mary Ann joined her brother John in London, in 1817, and helped him in the foundation and management of his schools and orphan asylum, until 1830. Fearful lest her presence among the children, who were very much more attached to her, might interfere with the success of the new teachers, she withdrew from the school when the sisters took it in charge, and subsequently returned to Belgium. God rewarded this touching self-abnegation, and at the age of 59 she was received as a novice in the convent of the Sacred Heart, Hoegaerden, in 1832. She made her profession the next year, and devoted herself almost exclusively to the instruction of the children of the poorer classes, till the time of her death, July 21, 1840.

The mother of the Rev. F. X. Decoen, S. J., a priest on the American mission, was a sister of Father Nerinckx. Rev. Decoen came to America in 1843, joined the Society of Jesus, laid the  p7 foundations of St. Gall's congregation and church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, some twenty years ago, and died on the 17th day of July, 1864, at St. Mary's Pottowatomie Mission, Kansas, whilst there on a visit from Leavenworth City, his abode.

Besides Father Nerinckx' aunt who became superior of the Hospital of Dendermonde, three of his first cousins, daughters of Mr. Albert Nerinckx, of St. Martin's-Lenneck, in Flanders, became religious in the same monastery; and, even to this day, the name of Nerinckx is a common one among the clergy of the Archdiocese of Mechlin.

Owing to the generosity of the Catholics, educational establishments were numerous in Belgium, previous to the brutal French Revolution, which subverted science as well as morality and religion. Having received the first rudiments of elementary education at home, Charles Nerinckx was sent to the college of Enghien, in the province of Hainaut, a city within ten miles of Ninove. Thence he went, in 1774, to Gheel, in the Kempen, where he pursued his Latin studies at the college of that place; and, after having completed his course of philosophy at the famous Catholic University of Louvain, to the satisfaction of his professors and his own credit, he determined to study for the Church. The fact of his being born in the Archdiocese of Mechlin, together with the influence of college associations, made him select the Archdiocese, in preference  p8 to the Diocese of Ghent within the jurisdiction of which his parents lived, and he accordingly entered the theological Seminary of Mechlin in the fall of 1781.

Deeply impressed with the importance of the step he was about to take, Charles Nerinckx had meditated long and earnestly upon the responsible duties of the Catholic priesthood. To that sublime state he had aspired with all the longing desires of a God-loving heart; and his early fervor and extraordinary purity of soul, which he had known how to preserve amidst the many temptations of university life, had been a continual and most fit preparation for it. Satisfied as to the designs of Providence in his regard, he had made of himself a holocaust of propitiation to God, and looked forward with a holy ambition to the time when he would be wholly His in the work of the ministry. He longed with all the energy which faith in God and zeal for the salvation of souls could lend to an enlightened mind and an indomitable will, to counteract the growing indifference which the atheistic teachings of the French philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries had fomented in his dear country.

In a very short time, the young levite became conspicuous among his companions for virtue and studiousness, and he soon won the confidence and esteem of all his professors, more especially of the Very Rev. Vandevelde, then President of the Metropolitan Seminary, and afterward Bishop of Ruremonde, who honored him in after-life  p9 with an undying friendship. After the usual theological course of four years, during which the success attending his studies was as great as his life was holy and pure, young Nerinckx was ordained a priest towards the end of 1785; and, notwithstanding his profound humility which made him more solicitous to conceal his merits than to gain the good will of his superiors, he was appointed in 1786, Vicar of the Metropolitan parish of St. Rumoldus, Mechlin.​2 Here his zeal for the salvation of souls, and for the instruction of the poorer classes, whose interests are but too often neglected in the large cities because they are less prominent in the furtherance of the good works encouraged by the clergy, attracted upon him the attention of the venerable Prince John Henry Cardinal de Frankenbergh, the illustrious Archbishop of Mechlin.

Stimulated by the paternal encouragement of this Prelate who took a great interest in his modest labors, the young Vicar soon beheld his generous efforts crowned with abundant fruits. He felt amply repaid for his pains, when he witnessed the poor laborers, better instructed in their christian duties, and more satisfied with their lot, fill to overflowing the vast cathedral church where he dispensed to them, at early Mass, the Bread of life. Every Sunday he preached to them in earnest and simple words,  p10 better adapted to the obtuse intellect of his hearers, than the flowing rhetorical efforts which, at that period, constituted the pulpit eloquence of the day, and to which, as he testifies in one of his letters, he never laid claim.

Though ably and zealously discharging the duties of this important position for eight years, Rev. Nerinckx fitted himself at the same time for further and more important conquests of souls, by an assiduous study of the master intellects in the domain of theology and canon law; whilst his austere habits of life, enabled him to give to meditation and prayer, the early hours of the day, without in the least impairing his robust health, sustained by an iron constitution that ignored exhaustion or weariness. Edifying the people by his extraordinary piety and austerity of life, he was at the same time gaining the respect of his elder brethren in the priesthood, whom his child-like simplicity caused him to venerate as fathers, by his profound knowledge of theology and his apt interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, with which his letters show him to have been very familiar. From the first his name was prominent among the most learned in the annual Concursus for promotion, regularly held in accordance with the recommendations of the Council of Trent; hence, no one was surprised, when, the pastorate of Everberg-Meerbeke having become vacant by the death of its incumbent, Rev. Charles Nerinckx was promoted to fill the vacancy, notwithstanding his comparative youth.

The Author's Notes:

1 Cfr. "La chapelle Française à Londres. Précis historique sur ce sanctuaire, mémorable par son origine, l'infortune de ses fondateurs, les personnages illustres qui l'ont fréquenté ou visité, etc. Vie de Mr. J. H. J. Nerinckx, instituteur des Fidèles Compagnes de Jésus en Angleterre; par G. F. de Grand Maison y Bruno. 2me edit. Londres: Burns and Lambert, 17 Portman street; Paris: Lecoffre & Compagnie, rue du vieux Colombier, 29 — 1863." pp221. Illustrated.

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2 Autograph letter of Father Nerinckx of November 20, 1803, to Bishop Carroll of Baltimore, in which he styles himself "Vicarius Secundarius," i.e.second assistant priest.

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