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Bro. Bernard Hoecken

Bro. Bernard[1] Hoecken «1810-1880» did not write his autobiography. That is why, we deal with the questions: what and how can we know his life? There are quite a number of documents in our archives for which make us better acquainted with the co-Founder. Of course, it is not a life-history. We limit to talk about his life at the very beginning of the foundation of the Congregation.

On the Path of the  Brotherhood

Hoecken was born in Tilburgon 13th May 1810, in the  family of a wood turner and shopkeeper. His father was a carpenter and he had a grocery shop as well. Hoecken had two sisters and three brothers, one of them died fairly young. His sisters became both Carmelite nuns, and his two brothers became Jesuits.[2] 

As has already been said, the story of the first candidate,  Frans Donkers came to a sad end. He died  on 9th December 1839. By the help Mgr. Zwijsen, two new postulants arrived from Tilburg on the last day of February. They were  Hoecken and Charles van Weert. Rutten accompanied them to go the community of Brother of Charity at St. Truiden. He started to prepare for religious life at the end of February 1840. They entered the noviciat year on 10th August and received the monastic habit and were given a religious name, Brother Bernard for Hoecken and Brother Aloysius for van Weert. Like the predecessor, Frans Donkers, they got little spiritual training or none at all. They were for the most part thrown on their own resources.

The two aspirants were left very largely to themselves, receiving little or no instruction in the spiritual and religious life. (Ann I, 33)[3]

The formation for the religious life of the first two brothers had not lasted much longer than six month. On 17th November, Rutten called Hoecken to Maastricht,[4] to make a start with «the great plan» and was accommodated in the house «In de Rooden Leeuw», in Bogaardenstreet. There, on 21th November 1840, the feast ot the Presentation of our Lady, Rutten celebrated Holy Mass, after the dean of Maastricht had blessed the oratory. The Congregation of the Brothers of the Immaculate Conception had started out.  The members of  the very first monastic community were three men: Hoecken, and the two leaders of the new nursery school. Hoecken on 8th December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, he decided to start wearing the monastic dress.

When the Congregation was founded, Hoecken was still a novice himself. Although as a novice, Hoecken was appointed superior and novice-master for two postulants. They were J. Etter and  F. v.d. Broek. After some time, they were joined by a cook, Dirkx from Heer. Only the first mentioned became a member of the Congregation: Bro. Josephus who died in 1885.  This was of course for want of better, because Hoecken had been able to acquaire only very little knolwdge of the spiritual life.[5] Hoecken and Joseph Etter took the temporary vows in a ceremony at which Mgr. Rutten presided, on 2nd February 1842. Bro. Bernard, with special permission took the vows for five years and Bro. Joseph for three years.[6] He immediately adds a note in the annals, «The first stone of the building was laid.»[7]

The Co-founder of the Congregation.

Bro. Bernard was a cornerstone of the Congregation. At the beginning, it was not easy for him to start «the great plan», as the annals in their initial draft call it. «Prospects were not bright, in no respect encouraging.» (Annals I, 37)[8] He had a little experience as a religious. Although he was a novice himself, at the same time he was also to do as novice master. Annals says, «Untrained and little or not at all instructed in the religious life, he was put the wagon and given the task to pull it.» (Ann I, 37)[9]

What did Bro. Bernard and his three novices? The first four members began to occupy themselves with the nursery school with approximately 150 to 160 children, both boys and girls. They also looked after the giving of religious instruction to poor children in   the chapel of St. Servast Church, in the morning from eight to nine and in the afternoon from one to two. They were very accupied. Sometimes they lacked of human consolation.

Nothing was more pleasant than mealtime; at a certain time a bell was rung, but if the little stove did not feel like burning that meant the start of practicing patience etc. When dinner or supper was over we turned our chairs and were then in the recreation room and if we turned once more we were in our place of prayer. Poverty and very little comfort, but we were content and that was sufficient. (Ann I, 37)[10]

Furthermore, Bro. Bernard gave some his impressions of the start of the Congregation.

If it is true that all good things have to contend with opposition, contradiction, suffering and difficulties, then the Very Reverend Father Founder and Bro. Bernard may certainly congratulate themselves because they have experienced all this from all sides and in all kinds of forms, something that could not habe been foreseen and fortunately so, because in that case the matter would probably never have been accomplished.[11]

In dealing with their struggles, when completely fed up, they both remarked, «If we had known all this beforehand, we would perhaps never have started the thing. It must be said here and everywhere, without the special protection of the Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mother the Congregation would have been smothered at its birth.» (Ann I, 41)[12]

They really dealt with the main problem of what they were going to be or what they were going to do. There was not at first any clear-cut or definite aim fixed, the future being left entirely to Providence. They were to educate and teach children, take care of orphan, minister in hospitals, etc, do good.[13] On the one hand, they had to handle the work of charities which Rutten faunded before the foundation of the Congregation. On the other hand, the member of the Congregation had not enough  to do so. Moreover, Bro. Bernard intended to the brothers to do the charitable works, including looking after some sick people in their homes, not only to stop people’s mouths but to extend further the kingdom of Jesus Christ.[14] This responsability sometimes made a tension between Rutten and Bro. Bernard. In the past, therefore, Mgr. Rutten was generally associated with the apostolic dimension and Bro. Bernard rather with the «contemplative dimension» of the religious life.[15] This difference between the founders is questionable and discussible, but it is clear that they lived the same spirit, the spirit ofSt. Vincent. The poem on the grave of Bro. Bernard become a testimony for his life. Let us quote some part of this poem:

Who generous as Vincent, where none may behold

Poor man’s father, friend of all

God serving in children, though they be small

Now reaps the fruits of his labour, yes a hundredfold.[16] 


[1] Bernard is the religious name of Jacobus Adrianus Hoecken. It was given when he entered the noviciate year on the 10th of August 1940.

[2] Cf. P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 26; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 11; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 11, Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items in Connection with Bro. Bernardus Hoecken»,Maastricht 1980, 3.

[3] Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 3.

[4] Rutten recalled Charles van Weert two months later, in January 1841. However, Charles left and returned home.

[5] Cf. P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 27; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 20; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 12, Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 3.

[6] Cf. Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 11.

[7] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 13.

[8] Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 3.

[9] Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 3.

[10] Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 4.

[11] Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 6-7.

[12] Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 7.

[13] Cf. Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 8.

[14] Cf. Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 8-9.

[15] Cf. Moniek Steggerda -  Nicolette Hijweege, «My Whole Life …», 9; Pierre Humblet,  «With a View to the Brothers. Rules  Conduct for the Superiors:A Way for the Congregation»,Nijmegen 1994, 51.

[16] This is the last verse of the poem which contain eight verses. This poem was published in the newspaper «Le Courrier de la Meuse» of8 September 1881, under the heading: At the Tomb of the Rev. Brother Bernardus «Jacobus Adrianus Hoecken». See Bro. Patricio Winters, « Some Interesting Items …», 78-79. It is really the only unique one that at the same tomb was placed a reliefSt. Vincent of giving instruction to  the little student. 

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