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Mgr. L.H. Rutten.

On the Path  of the Priesthood.

Rutten was born on December 8th, 1809, in the bourgeois family[1] of Christian Schrijnemakers and Mary Hustinx Nicholas Rutten in Maastricht.  He was the  sixth of eight children, three boys and five girls. The day after, he was baptized and got the Christian name Ludovicus Hubertus «1809-1891». His mother died on  April 16th, 1816 when Rutten was seven years old. His grandmother, Mary Lousberchs took upon herself the upbringing Rutten and his brothers and sisters. Rutten’s father had a brewery and was quite well-to-do man. He could afford a good school for Rutten.

On 3rd October 1821, he became a pupil of the Latin School. The first school-year was favourable for him. He studied diligently.  He got all first prizes in Latin, French, and Low-German.  That’s why, he got everything such as money, pigeons, hens from his father and grandmother. From that time, he did not work hard at school. He preferred to roam around in the fields and woods outside Maastricht. He occupied himself with his pleasures. The result of it was that he only got second prizes during the next year-school. Later, he was only a moderate student or even less, and then he didn’t get any more prizes. Futhermore, he like the peasant class or the brewer class and he wanted to become a distiller and a brewer as his father was.[2]

Having finished secondary education at the municipal Atheneum, he started working at a lawyer’s office with Solicitor Simons. His work consisted in copying letters and other documents. In the meantime, so his father thought, he would pick up bits of information which, in the future, would be useful in business. Rutten did not like it very much. «I spent the first months industriously as a writer, but as I had not much to do at the office of the gentleman mentioned above, and I also hated always having to write out duns to citizens and farmers I gradually withdrew from this occupation. I was delighted in taking many walks with my father to this estate at St. Peter etc.»[3]

Gradually it began to dawn on him that he could not spend his entire life just walking about. While Rutten was working at Mr. Simons’ office, a better thing was coming in his mind. This made him think of going to do something for his fellow-people. It is a fundamental change, a moment of conversion.

I became much more religious and gradually came to the conclusion, if it were God’s will, to resume my studies and to prepare myself, if possible, for the priesthood. I believe my object was most sacred in doing this. For I was thankful for the Lord that He had called me and I wanted to put myself into the service of fellow-people.[4]

However, becoming  a priest took him a great pains, because he must take up studying again and especially going away from home, leaving his father, whom he loved dearly.  He needed some months to make this resolution known to his father.

At last in his dark bedroom I requested him to  be allowed to study again. He asked me what I wanted to be. I gave him a doubtful answer, but he seemed to be satisfied and said to me: «You may study again on condition that you make progress».[5]

He got a good private teacher, Mr. Novent. Through private lessons, he started studying again with great zeal. After nine months, Rutten had progressed so far that he could leave for the seminary. In 1831 he studied philosophy at Kloosterrade, in French called Rolduc, where an old abbey served as accommodation. He started as a student of philosophy at the opening of the seminary on 17th October 1831. He could start his studies for the priesthood. For him, it was not easy going.[6] He did not find a accustomed as he was to the life of a son of wealthy parents. The students lived three in an unheated room. The food was the same as the accommodation: bad. Smoking was prohibited. The seminarians lived under strict discipline. Because of his great motivation for the priesthood, he kept living there. «Although I had a hard time, I accepted all this with courage, because I was strongly determined to serve God and to wipe out my former faults and sins by contrition.»[7]

In October 1833, Rutten entered the major seminary of the cathedral town of Liège, 25 kilometers south of Maastricht.  He stayed at the major seminary of Liège just for seven month, and because of the political entanglements of those days he left to HerlaerCastlenear the town of ‘s-Hertogenbosh in April 1834.  He completed his studies there. On June 4th, 1835 he became a subdeacon at Grave and on 27th May 1836 a deacon at Herlaer. On Saturday, March 25th, 1837 the feast of the Annunciation of our Lady, he was ordined by Mgr. van Wijckerslooth in the chapel of the countryseat Duinzicht at Oegstgeest near Leyden. Ten days later, on April 4th, Rutten celebrated his first mass in the Maastrichtchurch ofSt. Matthew, the church where he had been baptized.

The Pastoral Life.

As a seminarian, it is normal that during the last few years at the major seminary Rutten reflected on what he was going to do, once he had been ordained. Based on awareness of his limitations, he wished to give up his life as a missionary, even before he had been ordained. However, because of the suffering from bad stomach-aches or other indispositions Rutten changed his mind.  Moreover, he dealt with another problem, on the one hand his health was too weak for him to work as a parish priest. On the other hand he was rich, and what was the best thing for him to do as a rich priest without parish work? He made a dicision under the guidance of his spiritual director, the president of the seminary, Reverend van de Ven. He devoted himself to the task of the christian education for the poor children.

But because that was practically impossible for me, I had made up my mind, if I could not devote myself to spiritual care, to occupy myself with educating poor children. I was incited to this by our very Reverend President van de Ven, who  repeatedly said to me: «If only a hundred poor children a year will get a good religious education from you, your life as a priest is worth more than when you work as a curate in a parish etc.»[8]

Surely, before his ordination Rutten had recognized the social and spiritual need in which many people in Maastrichtwere, particularly the children. His dicision was clearly for what we would call the «forgotten and discriminated groups», and particularly he fight againt the «religious indifference» which was growing among the poorest of the poor. Rev. van de Ven strongly urged that Rutten should at once leave for his native-town to start this work. As the President of the seminary, he proposed to Mgr. Den Dubbelden to ordain Rutten before the appointed date, but this was declined.[9]

After his ordination, in the autumn of 1837, Rutten started at once his tiny school, as agreed by the town dean, P.A. van Baer to teach the catechism. The dean of St. Servaast church had made a porch church as a schoolroom. Rutten started with three children at an old desk. However, this porch become too small. The number of children quickly increased to 30, then 50, and six months later there were  200 children attending his classes. In October Rutten got more space for his two hundred children in a room close to the church. He completed this room by iron desks that he ordered at his own expenses. Every Thursday there was a holy mass in this room for the children, Rutten being the celebrant. They regularly got an hour’s religious education by turns twice a day.  The clothes were distributed among a number of them. Fortunately, Rutten able to get the assistance of a pensioned sergeant of the artillery «Kleitz» who helped him to maintain order. Rutten gave him a small salary each month. That was the first work of charity Rutten did.[10]

The second work of charity was the evening-classes.[11] This class was for young people from 20 to 25 years old, and took place in a house inJew Street. Rutten realized that teaching the youth religious doctrin was not so simple. He found that his lessons effected hardly anything because the children did not know anything at all. Therefore, he had found a teacher «Mr. Lahey» whom he paid from his own resources and who taught these young men every other evening in groups of 50. Two hundred Belgian francs a year he managed to get hold of a qualified teacher who was willing to give lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic in the evening, while Rutten gave religious education. The number of children soon there were as many as 120.

The third work of charity  was the nursery-schools.[12] Struck by the nursery-school in Verviers, he dicided to found them in Maastricht. This school took a place at the back of the house In de Rooden Leeuw  «in the Red Lion», an old brewery of the Ruten family in Bogaardenstreet. In May 1838, it was opened and was under the supervision of Mr. Wijlre and his two daughters, took upon themselves the care of the one hundred and eighty toddlers. They kept them occupied with singing, praying, physical exercises and playing.. This school was free.The furnishing of the nursery-school progressed successfully. In the meantime  Rutten’s work became known in the town, so that at the request of the parish priest ot the Church of Our Lady he also started a nursery-school in that parish. That was a second nursery-school he founded in 1839. More than 100 children were admitted there under the leadership of three young people, whom he gave a small salary. With a small amount of 500 to 600 guilders he could support these three institutions: the morning-classes, the evening classes, and the nursery-schools. «So the good God had helped me to start three different kinds of work in Maastricht.»[13]

At the beginning of the work of charity, Rutten dealt with the oppositions from the side of his father as well as from the side of some clergymen.[14] Rutten’s father could not understand about his son’s educational plans for the poor children.  He could imagine that money was made available to provide the poors with clothing and food, but what he could not understand was that his own son, as a priest, was going to make the round of the alleys and lanes ofMaastricht consorting with dirty and neglected children.  Why did not he become a parish priest?  A son of the family Rutten, wealthy brewers, was far too dinified to get involved with the children of the poor, was not he? This was more in accordance his class and ancestry. However, Rutten explained to him in writing. The latter, his father agreed and supported his son’s work, and gave him exellent financial help to carry out his plans for the youth of Maastricht.

What about with the some clergymen who were in opposition? They felt strange with the Rutten’s projects. They wanted him to work in parish such as a curate. Supported by his spiritual director, several seminary professors, and because it was his firm decision, he explained to them, and later, all trials stopped.

However, I must confess that I met with special help, althought not very much, from the clergy etc. and especially from my good father who as regards his fortune was a great help to me. Yet there were moments when I was short of cash, but Providenceand our dear Mother Mary never left me in the lurch and I often got support from persons from whom I did not expect it.[15]

The seed had been widespread, and Rutten’s work of charities became well known in Maastricht.

The Founder of the Congregation.

While his work of charities were growing, Rutten realized that he could not continue in the same way. All of things depended too much on him. What would happen for instance if he were to be ill for a long time or if he were to die? Everything could not be financed by him alone.  The finances would be a great problem for continuing his charities work in the future. Futhermore, he also could not manage with the laity who only work for money.[16] Therefore, he asked for sisters from a congregation that had just been founded in Maastricht,[17] but they could not help him. He approached Mgr. Zwijsen to obtain two sisters to work at his nursery school and by going with them to Verviers to teach them how to direct a nursery school. The same thing happened, he came away with empty-handed.[18]

He went to Tilburgto Mgr. Zwijsen to talk about the possibility for founding a congregation of brothers, in order to be able to continue the work. Rutten had promised that he would provide two suitable candidates if Rutten put his plans on paper. Immediately, after this discussion, in the autumn of 1839 Rutten went into retreat in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. He wrote down what he moved him, the-so called «Projects for the founding of a society of unmarried persons who for the time being nameless, but in the course of time will be called Brothers of Charity, Poor Brother or suchlike designation.»[19]

For realizing his projects, Rutten needed the place where the candidates learned to live as a religious brother. Immediately after the retreat, he went to  Hasselt and after that to St. Truiden. It took ten hours on foot. Rutten approached the Brothers of Charity to help him by admitting two postulants and formating them as religious, so that afterwards they could proceed toMaastrichtas the first members of the new congregation. The superior of St. Truiden was not able to do so. He have to go to the motherhouse and ask the permission of the spiritual director of the congregation «Mr. de Dekker, a priest» and of the superior general. The spiritual director gave answer positively, while the superior general was not very much in favour, but he could not no refuse. Rutten really was happy and glad. He returned to St. Truiden, told the superior about the affair and then went back toMaastricht.

At once Rutten wrote to Mgr. Zwijsen to send to him the candidates who had been promised. Mgr. Zwijsen sent one of the promised candidates, Frans Donkers. The second one, Jacobus Hoecken was not able to come as yet as he had first to settle some business. In October[20] 1839 Frans Donkers travelled from ‘s-Hertogenbosch to the monastery of the Brothers of Charity in Belgium town of St. Truiden. The story of this first candidate came to a sad end. Frans Donkers died  on 9th December 1839.

On the last day of February, two new postulants arrived from Tilburg. They were  Hoecken and Charles van Weert. These candidates fared better. After having initial formation at the community of Brother of Charity at St. Truiden, Rutten and Brother Bernard founded the Congregation of the Brothers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 21th November 1840, the feast ot the Presentation of our Lady. This day was considered to be the foundation-day of the Congregation. The members of  the very first monastic community were three men: Hoecken, and the two leaders of the new nursery school. 


[1] His father was a distiller and a brewer. See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 7-8; Bro. Patricio Winters, « Short History…», 5; Joos van Vugt, «Brothers …», 40.

[2] Cf. Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 8.

[3] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 9.

[4] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 9.

[5] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 9.

[6] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 10; P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 23.

[7] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 10.

[8] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 11-12.

[9] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 12; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 6-7.

[10] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 13; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 7; P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 24-25.

[11] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 13-14; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 7-8; P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 24-25.

[12] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 14; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 8; P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 25.

[13] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 14. Lateron, Rutten invited the Sisters of Mercy in Liège in order to take care of abandoned girls. They came to Maastricht on 14th August 1856. See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 32; Brother Anthony Koning, CMM, «In a Worldwide …», 19.

[14] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 12&15; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 6; P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 24.

[15] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 15.

[16] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 16;  Joos van Vugt, «Brothers …», 41.

[17] In 1837  the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of Saint Charles Borromeo was founded inMaastricht. This congregation was first called the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. When they sought approval in 1850 from theVatican,  they were told: «If you would like to be Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul, unite your community to that ofParis». In order to maintain their independence, the institute took Saint Charles Borromeo as principal patron but retained Vincent de Paul as secondary patron. See Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., «The Vincentian Family Tree. A Genealogical Study», Chicago 1996, xvii, footnote no. 16.

[18] See Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 16; Bro. Patricio Winters, «Short History…», 8.

[19] Bro. Patricio Winters, «Projet …», 3; P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 26.

[20] Bro. Ubachs in his book wrote that Frans Donkers went to St. Truiden in September 1839. See P.J.H., Ubachs,  «Masters ...», 26.  Bro. Patricio Winters wrote that Frans Donkers travelled to the community of Brothers of Charity in St. Truiden in October 1839. This difference can be solved by looking at the left margin of hand-writing of the Rutten’s autobiography in which it was written «x 1839».  See Bro. Patricio Winters, « Short History…», picture number 15, a page from Mgr. Rutten’s autobiography. Another information could be added that Frans Donkers had been in St. Truiden just over two months, and he died on 9th December 1839. See Bro. Patricio Winters, « Short History…», 10.

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