“He was remarkably tough… of short stature, thin, white haired, no teeth and stooped” Who?
Born in 1809 to a poor Dutch family Peter Donders (feast day January 14th) and his brother Martin had a limited education – they had to work to support their family. Peter was keen to be a priest but was continually turned down – he wasn’t thought clever enough, and he had delicate health. He persisted and eventually he was ordained for foreign missions and was sent to the Dutch colony of Surinam. He remained there for the rest of his life.
In 1856 he volunteered to go to a leper colony and he was to live and work there for thirty years. One who lived there said he was a man of great ‘kindnesses he.. bandaged feet, fetched water and things like that and helped us with his prayers and teaching…”
He worked there for many years, and also did work in reaching out to indigenous peoples in remote areas, often walking for days to meet them. His preaching among the remote areas had very little success, it was said that for his hearers ‘liquor was more appealing than liturgy.’
Perhaps not surprisingly he contracted leprosy himself and he died on 14th January 1887, and was buried in the leper cemetery where he worked.
Despite his failings and his shortcomings he never lost faith or trust. He did small things well and with great hope and faith. One person who knew him write, later ‘I would gladly send you an account of his great works, but his beauty was mainly within, nothing very extraordinary in his daily life!”
So we have a saint of not very appealing appearance, no miracles or unexpected happenings – simply and beautifully a person of deep prayer with great trust in God and a willingness to day the everyday jobs of caring for those on the margins.
An inspiration to everyday people!