In 1972 a group of American Catholic expatriates, led by Mrs. Mia Deters, approached the Bishop of Antwerp, Monsignor Jules Daems, to explore the possibility of finding a priest for celebration of regular Sunday Masses in English. Father Francis Peerlinck, a Redemptorist father, who had recently returned from a tenure at a church in New York City seemed just the right person. While remaining a religion instructor at several Catholic high schools, he assumed the added responsibility of a weekly English Mass and the care of a congregation.
The first English Mass was said on October 22, 1972 in the dining room of the Our Lady of Lourdes Institute in Ekeren for a group of 5 families. At the first Parish Council meeting a few weeks later the fledgling parish was christened Holy Family Parish because “it will be up by families.”
Of course Mass in a dining room, while a wonderful beginning, could not continue. A more permanent facility was needed; one which also allowed space for the development of a religious education program for children. Pastor Wilfried Verhaert of the St. Antonious Church in Brasschaat was approached by Mrs. Deters. He most graciously offered the parish free of charge the use of the winter chapel adjacent to the church, with the additional use of his parish social rooms. While accepting this generous arrangement, the parish later found a church on the Augustijnlei in the chapel of St. Josef’s Rest Home.
By 1975 even this chapel had become too small for the growing parish. One of Father’s teaching duties took him to the school of the Marist Sisters on the Bredabaan in Maria-ter-Heide. Their chapel, unused on Sundays, would become the parish’s new home. The classrooms and large social room would also be available.
In 1986 the Marist School announced its closure. The Sisters would be returning to their Mother House in France. A move was again imminent for Holy Family Parish. Since it is not easy finding a church free on Sunday morning, Father again turned to Pastor Verhaert. And once again the parish was allowed to use St. Antonious’ winter chapel. While the move was urgently needed, the parish missed the adjacent classrooms for Religious Education and the convenience of a social room on the premises. By 1988 though it became really apparent by standing room only crowds that a bigger venue was urgently needed. Father approached Pastor Bloquaux of the Annunciation of Our Lady Church on the Noorderlaan in the Luchtbal section of Antwerp for permission to use the old church on Cardiffstraat. Permission was granted and our parish moved into the city, where it would remain for the next 8 years.
While the facilities were adequate enough, the run-down condition of the old church was a disadvantage. After 8 years and much searching and discussion, an opportunity for a move to Schoten materialized. Don Bosco Chapel in the Elshout area of Schoten had been looking for a new pastor to prevent the closure of the chapel. Father Peerlinck agreed to say Mass for the Flemish parish in exchange for the use of their chapel, social room and classrooms. Holy Family Parish found not only a beautiful new home but a Flemish sister parish as well!
Holy Family Parish has had the opportunity to expand services in the friendly and comfortable environment in Schoten. A recently established church library enables the parishioners to keep up with Catholic ideas and trends and reinforces Catholic teaching to the children. The parish maintains good ties with the American Protestant Church which includes an annual ecumenical service and participation in youth groups and Bible studies. It contributes to local charities and supports, among others, three students at the Dom Bosco Institute in Kabarondo, Rwanda. Annual social events, such as Thanksgiving Dinners, Christmas Eve buffets and June picnics have drawn parishioners closer together.
In the course of more than 25 years the parish has moved house several times reflecting either its growth or the changing needs of its parishioners, but it has remained committed to the its original concept: providing a spiritual sanctuary for English-speaking Catholics in the Antwerp area.