Acquaintance with Mgr. Victor J.B.C. Scheppers
The youth of an remarkable man
V. Scheppers was born in Mechelen on the 25th of April 1802, as the youngest son of four children. His father Corneel Joseph Scheppers, brewer, and his mother Joanna Maria-Theresia Exstrix, are big landowners and thus rich citizens.
Victor goes to school in the college of the Begijnenstaat in Mechelen and in the Saint Joseph College in Aalst, where he end his humanities in 1820.
His mother and his two sisters respectively die in 1813, 1815 and in 1817. His only brother Joseph takes over his father’s brewery. The young Victor stays with his father and helps him in controlling the properties.
During a trip to Paris, where he’s visiting the chapel of penalty, he decides to become a priest. In 1830 he starts his priest training and on the 13th of April 1832 he was ordained as priest by Mgr. Sterckx, archbishop of Mechelen.
Standing in the beach for vulnerable youngsters
The priest V. Scheppers was alarmed about the social reality in our country: child-labour in textile factories, in brick-yards and in coal mines; far too long working days in inhuman circumstances, the lack of sick-funds, of unemployment benefits and of a good education. He realizes that there must be done something about the emancipation of the exploited and humiliated working class. According to him, education should play an important role here.
So, the young priest firmly starts to collect children around him in his father’s castle and in their parental home; later on also in a house that his father bought for that purpose. There he teaches children how to read and to write and he also teaches them catechism.
In 1835 he founds the “noon school” for children who already go to work and a Sunday school for boys between 17 and 18 years old. These youngsters understand that V. Scheppers offers chances for a more human life and a more hopeful future. His devoting is also enormously appreciated by the religious authorities, who make him honorary canon in 1835.
His own Brother congregation
In 1837 canon V. Scheppers visits the prison of Vilvoorde, where 800 prisoners are enclosed in miserable circumstances.
He decides to bring people together to redress this situation, and therefore he founds his congregation of Brothers: the Brothers of Our Holy Mary of Mercy. On January the 25th 1839, the Cardinal consecrates the first convent and the articles of this congregation are approved. The Brothers are also educated for nursing and for teaching.
With his fathers’ heritage, V. Scheppers buys the old convent on the Melaan in 1841: this becomes the seat of his convent community and the location for a flourishing school.
Living in service of prisoners
In 1841 three Brothers enter in service of the prison in Vilvoorde and on request of the Minister of Justice, Canon V. Scheppers sends five Brothers forward to the military prison of Aalst, in which 900 prisoners remain. Another five Brothers go the prison of Gent and offer their services to 900 convicts. In the abbey of the Benedictins of Saint Hubert, minor convicts are imprisoned; there too a few Brothers are send forward to that place by the canon V. Scheppers.
The founding schoolfather Victor Scheppers
After he had founded a midday school and a Sunday school, V. Scheppers founds a free daily school at the Melaan in Mechelen. In 1851 he also opens a boarding school over there.
In 1849 the Brothers of Scheppers take over the Institution “Oliveten” from the Brothers of the “benignant Works”.
In 1861 V. Scheppers sends different Brothers to Alsemberg to found a boarding school over there. In 1869 he founds the Saint-Libertussschool in Mechelen.
Lots of initiatives abroad
On demand of Pope Pius IX Canon V. Scheppers sends Brothers to Rome and on the strong demand of the later Pope Leo XIII,he sends Brothers to Perugia. In 1855 some Brothers leave for London, on demand of Cardinal Wiseman.
In 1856 V. Scheppers is nominated as secret Chamber Lord of his Holiness Pope Pius IX. He receives the title of Monsignor.
Around the year 1840, there is a charitable community of religious women in Mechelen who are active in education and in lace-work. In 1851 they form a new convent community with the name Sisters of Our Holy Mary of Mercy. Their charitable activities are soon extended with a few schools in Mechelen, Halle and Walem.
He engages himself for the parish and the society
Monsignor V. Scheppers also engages for the direct parish work and by doing this, he becomes a highly appreciated clergyman.
He founds a Fund for supply for all operatives; when they’re ill, their daily wages are further paid and doctors as well as pharmacists’ costs are compensated.
The end of a subservient life
From 1864 onwards Mgr. V. Scheppers suffers from grit and later on from stone formation in the bladder; a painful disease that couldn’t be treated well in those days.
In the beginning of the year 1877 his condition becomes worse. The 7th of May he falls into a coma and dies. His mortal remains are put in the family grave on the cemetery of Walem.
The 21st of June 1952, the mortal remains were transferred to the grave chapel of the Scheppers Institute in Mechelen.
The further development of his works
After Mgr. V. Scheppers’ death, the congregation grows; new foundations are made: in Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Burundi, Rwanda, the Netherlands and Spain. With all the means they have and with the help of lots of laymen, the congregations keep the foundations alive. The inspiration is still the life slogan of the founder:
Honour to God, for me the work, and the benefit for my fellow-creature.
Till today the foundations are still operative in Argentina, Burundi, Canada, Italy and Uruguay.
Present education in Flemish Scheppers schools
In the Flemish province education is given in the Scheppers schools of Alsemberg, Anderlecht, Antwerp-Deurne, Herentals and in Wetteren.
Mgr. V. Scheppers : approved and honoured
After his death, the conviction is still alive that Mgr. V. Scheppers is considered to be recognized by the Church as a holy man who can be honoured by the Christians and who can, be appealed to at the Father’s as an advocate, and this especially by his strong union with God and by his total devotion for his fellow-creature. On the 16th of March 1987 V. Scheppers has been exalted in the Church as a Respectable by Pope Gioavnni Paulus II.
Occasional speech by Reverend Brother Roberto Piccolo
Occasional speech by reverend Brother Roberto Piccolo, General manager of the Brothers of Scheppers on the occasion of 125 year celebration of Scheppers, Wetteren (The 5th of June 2004)
Brother Roberto Piccolo, general manager from 1994 till 2006 has done homage to our founder and has convoked us to a permanent engagement. To all who honour the educational work in the spirit of V. Scheppers, we print here the translation of that speech. Those are words of inspiration, confirmation and encouragement at the beginning of this 21st century.
I salute here with joy a great friend, his Excellency Mgr. L. Van Looy, bishop of Gent, and I thank him because of the fact that his presence adds luster to the 125th birthday of the foundation of the Scheppers Institute in Wetteren, and it also makes it more significant.
I salute the Province superior, Brother K. Delvigne and all fellow-Brothers. At the same time, I also salute and thank you, the headmaster, Sir De Lepeleire, for the invitation to take part in this ceremony.
I also salute you all, teachers of the Scheppers Institute, you who are the “driving forces” behind this beautiful realization!
I especially salute you, youngsters, who are the protagonists of this school event. And also a salute to all the families who gave their thrust to this educational centre, that already proceeds for 125 years to devote themselves, more and more to the people of the future.
I apologize I can’t express myself in your mother tongue, but the modern technology gives you the possibility to follow my thoughts I humbly present you.
Today, the existence of a small Catholic school is more than even necessary, especially in our western world. Today we must stand up to the enormous changes that education and knowledge transfer demand and therefore we need a lot of courage and skills. For instance, how can we react against “globalization” that also gets around the education?
How can we control the radical changes that the application of the new technologies brings into the schools, especially in informatics?
What resistance must we offer to the alarming open questions in connection with the uncertainties concerning the bio-ethics and the environment?
How must we react in a convenient way on the real risk that at the same time a kind of depersonalization and “massification” of the individual is developing from the scientific and technological development?
Dispenser of hunamity
Nowadays, familial problems, sometimes dramatic, lead to the fact that a lot of youngsters are left on their own and remain in loneliness. Then, they’re searching for other supports and unfortunately, in most of the cases, they are dragged along in the whirlpool of drugs, sex and in the consumers’ society.
They become a victim of the mentality “Use and throw it away".
Soon, youngsters of the so-called “first world” are a lot poorer than those of the third world. They’re the poor with a moral and spiritual poverty who put us, educators, in most of the cases before a serious challenge, namely how can I offer help in a social and cultural surrounding in which the most important logic governs: this of the economical profit and the one of “profit on another man’s head”?
Today, the educator, and certainly the ones in a Catholic School, must be prepared to fill up a room of 360 degrees. This demands a continous formation, a great mental openness, a will to be a dispenser of humanity and not only a professional of education.
The masters of the true humanity
A child, a grown up, an adolescent attending on his personal way of learning and to open his mind for life and for the world, daily means paying attention to the small and the specific points of attention; it means “losing time “ with him and for him; it means making him feel that we really care about him and wish him all the best.
Out of the consciousness of this reality, the irrevocable task is created to become the masters of the true humanity and this asks for the necessity of following these youngsters in their development, to love them and to be a real support for them. All this asks for a good preparation, a great balance, a great human richness, a demonstration of our own life what the real meaning is of our human being and of our Christianity.
At this specific historical moment, the special invitation in which I address me to you, teachers, is to try to embody the radiation of Victor Scheppers, which is the one of mercy. This means possessing the gift to offer his own heart to the poorest. Try to offer all of them, but especially the most indigent ones – in the moral, spiritual and material significance – the fruits of your social task, of your professional ability, of your family experiences and of your experiences as state citizen.
People who have a vision
The friars of this order, even the eldest among them, offer their personal qualities, their prophetic gift of their devotion, their religious testimony, their solid formation in following the track of their founder, the warm welcome in their community, their human and material ability.
I especially address now to the laymen who are part of the school board. Be people with a vision, ibeing able to propose the values of justice and of solidarity, carry them out and testify them. Try to urge on the teachers, the pupils and their families to the choice of these life values.
You, more than anyone else, must transfer the inspiration of Scheppers in this school community by stimulating the apostolic spirituality of the mercy and by experiencing it with optimism and confidence.
Tools in the hands of God
On this point, I wish to thank, on behalf of the complete community, the provincial superior and the provincial board of the Flanders who, with a prophetic feeling, have founded a commission, consisting of five laymen and two friars, who got the task to look after the fact that the spirit of V. Scheppers will always remain and will always kept alive in the midst of those who are employed in our educational work in the Flanders, although with different tasks, but with the purpose of educating the people of tomorrow.
Faith, hope and charity are the spiritual virtues that take together the personality of V. Scheppers in an excellent way and that must be a constant encouragement for us. Each of us must feel drifted to explore his teacher’s profile and to reinforce it. A profile that is extremely well seen in the educational method of “ rather preventing than punishing”.
To understand the personality and the spiritual devotion of V. Scheppers, means to have faith and be convinced that it is God who handles in our surroundings. It means working in His service.
The force of the action, the carefulness and the humility are the three moral virtues of Scheppers. They characterize the love for the poor, for the youth and they show us that we must be tools of God.
Dearly Beloved, if our task as teachers, as Christian teachers, develops in that way, we will create at this very historical moment – with the help of our founder V. Scheppers as a guide – that what he has done with a lot of action and of effort during the time in which he lived. Even today – even more than it has ever been – V. Scheppers demands each of us to consider himself as a humble tool in the hands of God, tools that with a lot of effort and in the spirit of sacrifice, can daily make the program become true that this institution has known for the last 125 years: In honest of God and for the use of our fellow-creature !