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Fr Cuthbert, 93, passes


The funeral Mass of Fr Cuthbert van de Sande OSB took place on Saturday September 2, at the Abbey Church at 10 a.m. Fr Cuthbert passed away on Monday at the age of 93. He had been ailing for some time. Abbot John Pereira OSB sent Catholic News the following article.

On October 30, 1945, the young Jan van de Sande (later to be known as Fr Cuthbert) made the firm decision to join the community of monks at Mount St Benedict in Trinidad. This was partly on the encouragement of Fr Radboud van de Plas. Fr Radboud was once a Benedictine monk of the monastery in Trinidad, and Jan met him at a crucial time while he was discerning a call to the religious life.  Almost two years later on February 19, 1947, along with another young Dutchman, Peter Schreurs (later to be known as Fr Augustine), he landed on the shores of Trinidad and Tobago.

Jan was born in Noordorp (province of Luid-Holland) on August 18, 1924. During the time of Adolph Hitler and the German occupation of Holland, the Gestapo was capturing young boys of school age to work in their factories in Germany.  Jan grew up on a farm, and would sometimes hide in the loft of the barn under the hay to avoid being captured. There was an underground network which informed the young men in his village when the Germans were coming.

It was very hard for Jan and his family during the war years. It was difficult to obtain food, especially in the winter as there was no electricity or oil. They only got a bit of a reprieve after the Germans were finally defeated to bring the war to an end.

Jan was a student at the Priests of the Sacred Heart Seminary in Bergen op Zoom from 1937 until 1943, when his formation was interrupted by the Second World War. All the students were sent to their homes. At home, Jan received instructions from a private teacher who got milk and butter for his services.

Jan was strongly influenced by his farming family background. He still had to receive instructions in Latin and Greek, which were requirements for ordination to the priesthood.  All this time, he was trying as well to avoid being taken to Germany to work in the factories under Hitler.

The war came to an end in May and the same private teacher knew about a course for Latin and Greek being given in The Hague. The course was offered by the Jesuits, beginning in September 1945, and he recommended it to Jan.

After Jan began school, the Head of the Institute asked him what type of priestly activity he was seeking.  Jan replied that he wanted to go to the Missions, but in a place where he would be able to spend a life of prayer and community.

The Head of the Institute suggested three options. One option was to go to a place in the direction of Curacao, which immediately appealed to Jan. After a week of prayer and reflection, Jan returned to see the priest with his decision. The priest then told him to go to a village (Wassenaaar), where he could ask for an elderly missionary, who lived there with his two sisters.  The same evening, also the birthday of his sister, Gre, he set off (much to her disappointment) for his meeting with fate.

In the village, Jan was directed to the priest who spoke to him in glowing terms of his life as a monk in Trinidad at Mount St Benedict.  He had to return to Holland after many years in Trinidad on account of his health (the glare of the tropics was blinding him) and he always regretted not being able to return to the Mount.  He was Fr Radboud van de Plas and he had always hoped that someone would take his place in that community.  It was exactly at this moment in his life that Jan decided there and then to join the monastery in Trinidad.

Fr Cuthbert always considered that day the true beginning of his monastic vocation, and today, we can all say that after a life lived to the age of 93 years, he has been faithful and able to persevere in the joy of the monastic life.