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    Our dear departed

    John Van de Paer

    John Van de Paer

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    Frederic Vital Mees smallJohn Van de Paer (1920-2021)


    Born in Antwerp, (B) on November 29, 1920
    First vows on September 8, 1941
    Ordained Priest on January 26, 1947
    Missionary in the United States of America
    Died in Arlington, Virginia, USA
    on February 9, 2021 at the age of 100

    John was one of the greatest missionaries of the US Province, a man of remarkable energy, even at 100 years of age, with strong opinions, an exhausting work ethic, and an absolutely passionate commitment to the African American people he came to serve. He was somewhat iconoclastic, but that did not diminish the intensity and the passion of his spirit.

    Assigned to the US Province in December of 1947, he eventually landed in January of 1948 in New York City. His first assignment was to St. Cyprian Church in Columbus, Ohio, where he quickly became a favorite among the young and old, for his presence and his acceptance of them. Parishioners were still in touch with him for his 100th birthday. He stayed there from January 1948 to October of 1952.

    His next assignment was with George Vermeiren, CICM, at St. Charles Borromeo, a predominately African American Church, in Philadelphia. He thrived there for 43 years: 30 years as Assistant Pastor and 13 as Pastor. He was a great Apostle in the black US ministry and came to know the Black African Soul, to whom he dedicated his whole life. He expressed with great enthusiasm, “I want to be a Black American.” He often mentioned that to understand the African Americans one had to take into consideration the trauma of slavery which continues to affect them in so many aspects of their lives.

    John was a fixture in that community in Philadelphia. He worked alongside people like Thelma Shelton Robinson who was an activist and storyteller. He was friends with and worked with local politicians. John believed in a “Ministry of Presence” and being “The People’s Priest”. Poems by parishioners were written in his honor. He spent a part of many days sitting on the steps outside the church reading his Breviary and being available to passersby for a friendly conversation. And he worked with the people in every way treating them as human beings and beloved ones. The Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin recognized the fruits of John’s work: “St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church, stands as a stronghold for the community, a gathering place for adults and children alike. It has become more than a church.” Besides being faithful to visiting the sick and building community in hundreds of small ways, he was always working on a project for the church or rectory or a mission church or a parishioner’s home.

    From St. Charles Borromeo, at age 78, he went to Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. There he was greatly loved and was considered “a representative of the last true parish priest, who was ever present, and always ready to lend a hand”. He was there for 15 years and finally retired to Dominion House at Missionhurst, where he engaged in building picnic benches and repairing doors and furniture in his carpentry shop.

    On his death, the community of Philadelphia honored John’s wishes with a wonderful sendoff Liturgy at St. Charles and another one in    Parkesburg. He is buried in the          Philadelphia cemetery near his beloved pastor and mentor, George Vermeiren.

    We can be sure that John is praising the Lord in Heaven with an impassioned Gospel singing Black choir. May he rest in peace. 

    Ricardo Terga, CICM