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Roosenberg Abbey

History of the abbey - an evolution

For over seven centuries, there has been an Abbey here in Waasmunster ['Waes-Monasterium'], Belgium. In 1237, Walter de Marvis (1175-1252), bishop of Tournai, Ghent and Bruges, invited a small group of nuns from Tournai to found a community of Canonesses of St. Victor - or "Victorines,"-- who would follow the "Rule" of St. Augustine, a monastic text reaching back to the fourth century. This way of life became the model of all religious life dedicated to works of charity. The good bishop was also inspired by St. Francis of Assisi whom he had met during the Fifth Crusade. The Fifth Crusade (1213-1221) was an attempt by Catholic Europeans to reacquire Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land by first conquering Egypt.

The central theme of St. Augustine's "Rule" is charity. It is based on the model of the first Christian community of Jerusalem, where all were of "one heart and one soul." [Acts 4:32]. The ideal for all community living is nothing else than the practice of respectful and loving relationships. The Augustinian "Rule" required an evangelical equality of relationship, with members esteeming each other as sisters and brothers. It stood against the inequalities and divisions of a society influenced by status, greed, vanity and power, while respecting the needs of individual members.

The original monastery of the Roosenberg nuns was established near the Durme River. By 1258 they received papal approbation from Pope Alexander IV. But suffering and difficulties were not spared them. Twice their Abbey was destroyed during the Ghent uprisings (1379 and 1459). In 1419 the building was destroyed by fire. In the 15th/16th centuries, Calvinist reformers did considerable damage as well. Each time, the Abbey was rebuilt.

The nuns continued to live at the Abbey until the French Revolution [1789-99], at which time the building was confiscated by the government to be used as a military barracks. The community was sent into exile, and the Abbey was destroyed in 1797. Thanks to the foresight of the Abbess, Anna Maria de Crombrugge, many precious manuscripts and documents were saved, providing the seedbed for a restored Roosenberg. In 1830, Johanna Van Doorslaer van ten Rijen, a woman of considerable wealth, began to gather the surviving sisters of the community to begin a restored monastery and renovate the Abbey. New candidates presented themselves, and the community flourished again until 1970 [Roosenberg II].

After the Second Vatican Council [1962-65], the Abbey was faced with another critical period: vocations to the monastery diminished and the community faced its demise once again. The then-bishop of Ghent requested that the community merge with the Congregation of the Marian Sisters of St. Francis. The merger insured their survival, temporarily increasing the number of sisters.

On August 6, 1975, a spare, modern building was constructed, inaugurating a new Abbey, Roosenberg III. The striking architecture and simple style is the work of architect Dom Hans Van der Laan, a Benedictine monk from Vaals (the Netherlands).

In 2009, because of declining numbers, the sisters began to engage in discernment and discussion about the future of their life and that of the Abbey. They invited lay women and men to help them refocus their mission and redefine their spirituality and life style. A small but committed group of lay faithful have begun to work with them, creating new interest and engagement from a younger generation. The Abbey today is alive with promise, as it seeks to be a center of dialogue with all: Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers.