Verbist, Theophile

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Founder of the Congregation of the immaculate heart of mary (Scheut Missionaries); b. Antwerp, Belgium, June 12, 1823; d. Lao-hu-kou, Inner Mongolia, Feb. 23, 1868. Of a middle-class family, he became a secular priest of the Archdiocese of Mechelen, ordained Sept. 18, 1846. He became successively subregent at the Mechelen minor seminary, chaplain at the École Militaire in Brussels, and national director of the Holy Childhood Association in 1860. He requested permission to establish a Belgian Mission in some port city of China and was urged by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to establish a congregation of foreign missionaries. He became superior general of his congregation Nov. 28, 1862, and pronounced his vows Oct. 24, 1864, in the 15th-century chapel of Our Lady of Grace at Scheut, a suburb of Brussels. He became provicar apostolic of the Apostolic Vicariate of Mongolia, September 12, and arrived in Hsi-wan-tzu on Dec. 6, 1865. Verbist undertook the direction of the major seminary in Hsi-wan-tzu and within a year arranged the transfer of all mission stations in the vicariate from the Vincentians. During his 2½-year tenure as superior general and apostolic provicar he twice saw the arrival of a small group of his followers. He lost the cofounder of the congregation, Father Alois Van Segvelt, after two years. Verbist stressed the establishment of orphanages, thorough instruction of the few existing Catholics, and training of a native clergy. Preaching to the residents of Mongolia did not begin during his lifetime because of the missioners' unfamiliarity with the local language and customs. Verbist lamented his own failure to master Chinese thoroughly. During an inspection tour of his vicariate, he was taken ill, probably with typhus, and died in Lao-hu-kou. His remains were transferred to the enlarged chapel of Our Lady at Scheut (May 1931). Kindness and eagerness to help others were his most noted traits.

Bibliography: v. rondelez, Scheut, Congrégation missionnaire (Brussels 1962).

[a. f. verstraete]