The Norbertine community of Saint-Catarinadal can reflect on a history of more than seven centuries. The recorded history begins in the year 1271, when the General Chapter received a new group of Sisters into the Order of Premontre on 9th October. Several years previously, Servatius of Liederkerke, Lord of Breda, had gathered a group of women at his estate in Vroenhout to lead a life of devotion. The story recounts that they were his seven daughters, and the eldest was called Catharina. Our community is named after her. From the beginning, Saint-Catharinadal has enjoyed the protection of the Lords of Breda, and the Sisters were provided with many gifts. The continuation of Saint-Catharinadal was seriously threatened at the end of the 16th century, as a result of the Reformation and conflict between the Spanish and State troops. And so it transpired that in 1625 there was only one Sister remaining, who determinedly stood firm and passed on the torch. In 1647 Prince Frederik Hendrik was no longer able to guarantee the safety of the Norbertine priory in Breda as the city had been in the hands of the State since 1637.
The sisters' art-work - calligraphy
The Sisters moved to Oosterhout where the Provost at the time, Balthasar Cruyt, had purchased the small Castle De Blauwe Camer, behind which three wings were constructed as a priory. The monumental buildings and especially the church which the Sisters had vacated in 1647 have recently been beautifully restored and now form a jewel in the city of Breda. During the 16th and 17th centuries the sisters had run a boarding school to provide financial security. In the time of Napoleon they started a small school for the poor in Oosterhout to ensure continuity in these changing circumstances. First there was no church there, but at the beginning of the 18th century a small church was taken into use. But around 1900 it became necessary to build a larger church. In 1841 Saint-Catharinadal was granted the full rights to priory life. It became possible in 1847 for Sisters from Oosterhout to start a new community in the Belgian Neerpelt. The Sisters from this group moved later to Veerle. A second dependence was started in 1931 when 10 sisters from Oosterhout left for Petropolis in Brazil. Unfortunately this group could not be sustained and four Sisters returned to Saint-Catharinadal in the seventies. Around 1930 the fourth wing was built to complete the quadrangle. In 1964 it became apparent that the condition of the Neogothic church dating from 1900 had so seriously deteriorated that demolition and new construction was the only alternative.
Activity of the sisters: In the fifties the sisters were running a small book binding workshop, where the artistic talents of several sisters formed the basis 50 years ago for the Art Studio. The professionalism is thanks to the more personal training of several sisters in the Bavarian State Library of Munich, where they became qualified in the technique of book restoration. Currently the Art Studio enjoys a wide reputation even outside the Netherlands and Europe. Additionally the Sisters profit from the work by which they can develop their creativity and talents while congenially ensuring that valuable artefacts are kept for the future. Consequent to the Second Vatican Council, Saint-Catharinadal has intensely followed the changes given in the Premonstratensian Order. The trellises were removed; the sisters could attend external meetings.
The Rule of Saint Augustine, with the double openness to God and society, had been read through the centuries in the refectory as the guidelines for life. The Sisters, for centuries seen as cloistered sisters, grew to be what they are in depth: Canonesses of the Order of Premontre
Our Community aspires to be: a House of Light Our communal life finds its inspiration both in the community prayers and in the personal prayers of each individual Sister. We congregate four times a day in our Convent church to celebrate the Liturgy. Our own Liturgy Group sets the Order of Services and the printing is done in our own press.
A HOUSE OF HOSPITALITY
In response to the requirements of the Diaconate task we can receive thousands of guests each year, mostly in organized and ecumenical groups, for a day or afternoon visit with both a spiritual and cultural content.
AND A HOUSE OF CULTURE Archive documents dating from 1271, a library renowned for its collection of aesthetic books from 1600 onward and also the monumental buildings provide a natural climate of culture. Three crafts are carried out in our Studio on request, namely, restoration and conservation of antique bibles and other valuable books, calligraphic works on parchment often with gold leaf embellishment, and modern leather craft.
A small group of about 20 people is beginning to form a sort of lay association around our life. They share our prayers where possible, provide voluntary services and in their own way expound the Life of the Apostles, in and with our community. For more than 730 years there were women who followed their calling in pleasurable times, but also through times of troubles and disappointment, as in any human lifetime. They were people who together joined with God, with each other and with many around them so that Saint-Catharinadal will always be a community of prayer to pass on the message of the Gospel.
Restauration of codexes
Singing the office in the Church