THE PRIORY IMMACULATA OF THE NORBERTINE SISTERS is the only Convent of the Norbertine Order in Belgium. It was founded in 1858 at Neerpelt by the Sisters in Oosterhout in the province of Limburg and the diocese of Liege and in 1955 it was transferred and established at Veerle in the province and diocese of Antwerp.
History: The occasion of the foundation at Neerpelt was the wish of Reverend Franciscus Lommelaers, parish priest of Neerpelt from 1820 to 1859, to have a school for girls in his parish.
Looking for religious teachers, the Parish Priest approached the Convent of Norbertine nuns at Oosterhout in the Netherlands. These Sisters were also teaching, as it was on that condition laid down by Napoleon that the religious community could survive. All contemplative Monasteries were abolished under the rule of Napoleon because these institutions were, so to speak, without any use in society. The Reverend Lommelaers, regularly visited his sister in Oosterhout, who had entered there in 1811 and had died as Prioress in 1855. In 1856 Mr. Theodoor Brouwers died in Neerpelt. At his death he left a house with outbuildings and a garden in the centre of the village. The Parish Priest considered it a place suitable for his plans. After considerable negotiations with the Order, the ecclesiastical and civil authorities and the parish priest implemented the plans. The official establishment opened on September 28th, 1858. From Oosterhout eight Sisters came to Neerpelt and in the following years, 1859 and 1860, six more were added. Sister Evermoda Brouwers was Superior of the Houses. After the death of Reverend Lommelaers on September 3rd 1865, the care of the Sisters was entrusted to Norbertine confreres of the Abbeys of Berne and Tongerlo. At the end of 1859 the school gates opened. The Sisters were responsible for the teaching for 28 years, but the task was taken over in 1887 by the sisters of the Holy Cross of Liege. From that time the Community of Norbertine nuns continued to exist as a contemplative Convent and in 1920 it became independent. In 1945 the Statuta Monialium Ordinis Praemonstratensianswere drafted, and approved by the Holy See. In 1948 the convent, up to then under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Liege, came under the jurisdiction of the Order. In the meantime the Community had increased by new vocations. A large church was built next to the convent. To provide for the upkeep of the community, a farm was started and a vegetable garden and orchard were laid out. In 1874 a bakery was started for the making of altar bread. The Sisters also undertook needlework and embroidery for churches.
From 1949 onward new negotiations were undertaken with the town council and in 1952 the final decision was made. On March 15th the convent was expropriated to mutual advantage, and an estate was purchased in Veerle, which had belonged to the noble family doe Zerezo de Tejada. Next to the existing Castle a new Convent was built. On June 26th, 1955 the community moved into the new convent. Under the direction of Provost Verlinden the activities of the farm and of the bakery were extended considerably, and bookbinding was added in 1959. Care was taken of the church linen of many parishes and liturgical vestments were made. The evolution in both church and world, the Ecumenical Council of 1962 - 1965, and the subsequent General Chapter of the Order in 1968 - 1970 activated a series of changes. The liturgy was adapted.
The enclosure rules were relaxed. The Prioress and the Sisters could take part in meetings. They could attend days of study and visit their family. In the Convent, premises were organized to receive guests and groups. Between 1969 and 1973 assistance was given to the community of Bonlieu in France. Due to the fact that there were no vocations and because of the reduction in the number of Sisters and its effect on the future, the community was from 1988 onward intensely guided by a commission of the Order. From this the plan was made to provide for the care of the elderly Sisters. After asearch to organize this on a permanent basis, a working agreement was made with the CM, the Christian Mutuality, of the confederation Turnhout, which built a rest and care home next to the conventional buildings, for the region of the Zuiderkempen. This Home is managed independently.
Way of life: On January 22nd 2002 the Constitutions of the Canonesses Regular of the Order of Premontre were approved by the C.R.I.S. according to which the community of Veerle lives its calling and mission in the Church and the Order. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated daily in the public chapel in which people of the parish and inmates of the rest house can take part. The Liturgy of the Hours is said in the House chapel and ample time has been provided for individual prayer. Part of the convent is reserved for the Sisters but is open to members of the Order on special occasions. Family, friends and visitors are received in the parlours for conversation and assistance. The park is always accessible to them. The Sisters celebrated the 150 year anniversary of their foundation in 2008.
The sisters' convent from the court
The sisters' convent form the street