St. John The Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Newark NJ

Bl. Peter Donders (1809-1887)

Redemptorist missionary who spent his life caring for lepers, slaves, and native peoples in South America. Blessed Kaspar Stanggassinger (1871-1899) Young German Redemptorist teacher with special love for the Eucharist; youth guide and consoler.

Peter Donders was born in Holland in October 1809. Because his family was poor, the two sons could be given little schooling but had to work to support the family. From an early age, however, Peter had formed the desire of becoming a priest.

At the age of twenty-three with the assistance of his parish, he was able to attend the seminary and be ordained priest in June 1841.

While still in his theological studies he was guided by the seminary directors to go to the Dutch missions in Surinam (Dutch Guyana) on the north coast of South America. He arrived in Paramaribo, the principal city, in September 1842 to begin his pastoral work. His first duties included regular visits to the plantations along the rivers of the colony, where he preached and administered the Sacraments mainly to slaves. His letters express his indignation at the treatment of the African peoples forced to work on the plantations.

In 1856 he was sent to the leper station of Batavia and this was to be, with few interruptions, the scene of his labors for the rest of his life. In his charity he not only provided the benefits of religion to the patients, but also cared for them personally until he was able to persuade the authorities to provide nursing services. He was able to improve the conditions of the lepers by energetically bringing their needs to the attention of the colonial authorities.

When the Redemptorists arrived in 1866 to take charge of the mission of Surinam, Father Donders and one of his fellow priests applied for admission into the Congregation. The two candidates took their vows in June 1867. Father Donders then returned to Batavia.

Because of the help he now had in caring for the lepers, he was able to devote time to a work he had long wished to undertake. The new Redemptorist turned his attention to the native peoples of Surinam. He continued with this work, previously neglected through lack of manpower, almost until his death. He began to learn their languages and to instruct the natives in the Christian faith, until failing strength compelled him to leave.

In 1883 the Vicar Apostolic, wishing to spare him the heavy burdens he had so long carried, transferred him to Paramaribo and later to Coronie. He returned, however, to Batavia in November 1885. He resumed his previous occupations until weakening health finally confined him to bed in December 1886. He lingered for two weeks until his death on January 14, 1887. The fame of his sanctity spread beyond Surinam and his native Holland until Pope John Paul II beatified him in May 1982.