30 June 2008


Aside from the temperament we’re born with, our family of origin gives us our basic orientation to the world and shapes a lot of our presuppositions and criteria for evaluating what is true, our sense of right and wrong, etc. We’re not normally aware how much this underlying thinking and understanding of reality shapes us and our thinking because they’ve become so much of who we are – just like a fish is not really conscious of the water it swims in. Hence it is only fitting to write briefly about my roots and faith heritage since this plays into some of my thinking.

My father’s side of the family comes from the south part of the Netherlands where Catholicism was fairly strong. My grandfather had 2 brothers who were priests, while my grandmother had 2 half-sisters who became nuns. Being ardent Catholics it was always important to live by the Church’s teachings even if you didn’t understand why. As a result it seems my Dad grew up knowing about things like Holy Days of Obligation, mortal and venial sins, no meat on Fridays, making Novenas, etc., but because they didn’t understand the reason or origin of the beliefs, these practices and beliefs must have seemed arbitrary – and at times incompatible with the Bible.

My mother hailed from a small town that has now become part of Amsterdam. My grandmother grew up in an ardent Catholic family with several extended family members being part of religious orders. While she may not have had the same deep commitment to the institutional Church, she knew how to put feet to her faith and was known for her practical concern for people. Whether in the Netherlands, or after immigrating to Canada, she has a reputation for giving things to people in need, seeing that they had needed help around their household, or ensuring that new immigrants were looked after and felt like they belonged. It’s evident that this modelling really made an impact on her children. Although not all my mother’s siblings continued with an active faith, they all seem to have a heart for people and know the priority of helping others.

Both my parents went through World War II and the German occupation of the Netherlands. Eventually both sets of parents decided there was a brighter future for their families overseas. Coincidentally my Dad’s father met my Mom’s mother while in the Emigration office in The Hague in the Netherlands. Although unplanned, both families (and my parents both at age 16) were on the same crossing of the Atlantic on the Volendam entering the country through Pier 21 in April 1950. Nevertheless, through all this my parents never met each other. You can read a bit of their immigration stories here and here.

Because they were such a large family (12 children at the time), my Dad's was photographed a number of times with the pictures now being featured in a number of books on immigrants to Canada.

Although not as large, my Mom still had 6 siblings.

After moving through several communities in southern Ontario, both families settled in the Niagara area. Finally, in 1955, my parents were introduced to each other for the first time on the steps of the Cathedral in St. Catharines and were married in May of 1957.

As an aside, one of my Dad’s uncles who was a priest (the Dutch title for such an uncle is Heeroom) and a missionary in India. When I was born, Heeroom Frans sent this picture from India to my Mom with the handwritten inscription on the back: “Welcome to this
vale of Tears.”

I travelled with a friend to the Netherlands several years after finishing my undergrad degree. One night we stayed with Heeroom Frans who was now retired, but had pastoral responsibilities in a retirement home. I had already left the Church by this time and was instead attending an evangelical church, and the friend I was travelling with was studying for the pastorate in a reformed tradition. Over lunch we got into theological discussions, and Heeroom commented that we didn’t actually have that many differences at the core of our beliefs - at least insofar as we had discussed. This always stuck with me, and thereafter when Heeroom Frans came to visit I felt a special kinship with him and would try to make a point to visit him when he came to Canada.

A few years before he passed away Heeroom Frans went to my parents for a visit and I was able to connect with him there (Picture coming). As he was getting up to leave he said to me: “Well, we hope to see again, but if not we’ll see each other in glory.” Besides the appreciation for the heritage of faith I was given, these encounters with Heeroom have also stayed in my heart through the years. Now that I’ve been learning more of what the ancient Church believed about those in heaven being aware of what is happening on earth and being able to pray for us, I can’t help but wonder if he has been praying for me and is part of the reason I’ve become open to the Church once again.

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