On the 9th of April we organized a walk of 12 kilometers from the local history museum in Boxtel to the little village of Esch, a place from which many White Sisters left for Africa between 1895-2005. Since the 1st of January 2021 Esch belongs to the bigger village of Boxtel and to mark this date the local museum made an exhibition about the ‘Canon (history) of Esch’.
Esch is an old village where Roman remains were found by archaeologists; it is around 1300 years old. One of the objects on the exposition is a big painting by one of our sisters, the almost blind Sr. Dymphna Kleemans (+), of the motherhouse ‘Sancta Monica’ and a doll of a White Sister in her old habit.
The old mother house of the White Sisters, St. Monica (the mother of St. Augustin was named Monica and she was born in Algeria), is namely situated in Esch. It was built in 1895 on bare grounds outside the village with the help of catholic benefactors. First there was a postulate, later on also the novitiate for Dutch girls who wanted to enter the Congregation. There was a small train station nearby from where the sisters left for Marseille to go on the boat to Algiers.
Sr. Antoinette Winkelman, our archivist, was prepared to drive on her mobile scooter to the old motherhouse, which is now renovated with apartments for young people. After an hour and half walk, the group joined her and she told them everything about the mission of the White Sisters and how they lived in the big house. There were a cow and a pig, a big vegetable garden, a laundry, a big kitchen, a graveyard and of course a chapel. The sisters were self-sufficient and there were enough farm-girls who knew how to milk the cow. Everybody had her own task. At the beginning there was not much contact with the villagers, but later on when the sisters came back from their mission posts in the seventies, eighties and nineties, they took up chores in the village and closer relationships with the locals were born. The sisters did household work, elderly care, MVA etc. They joined local associations and they did pastoral work in the parish.
In 1952 their own chapel was being renovated, so the novices had to do their first profession in the parish church, which was about 2 kilometers away. All the villagers laid down their carpets on the streets to pave the way for the procession. It was a beautiful sight.
In 2005 the mother house was sold because there were no vocations anymore and the cost of the renovation was too high. The sisters went to different apartments and care homes in Boxtel and other places.
One of them is the World house, where the old statues of Sancta Monica, found a place in the garden, so now Mary and Joseph are standing together in a little gazebo which is in summer all grown with wisteria.
After the stories of Sr Antoinette, the group walked along other monuments in the village: a home from the Middle Ages, some old farms, the church with its nice Maria chapel, the memorial statue for the so-called ‘Black Sisters’, because they wore a black habit (Sisters FDS or Salvatorians) who initiated the first homecare, mother and childcare and elderly care in the village of Esch. Then along a small path with willows we walked back to Boxtel, we passed the swim lake and another small chapel and then after four hours we arrived back in the MUBO, the local museum. It was a very interesting afternoon, which will be repeated on the 21st of May with another group of people. Sr Antoinette will be there again too to tell everyone about her mission and charism. As long as one can talk, one can do MVA! Marina van Dalen, coordinator MSOLA-NL, April 2022