Father Nooijen, historian and collector

Series Cultural Heritage

In 1919 he was born at Bakel (near Helmond in Brabant, the Netherlands) as the middle son in a rural family of eight children. After completing high school at Nijmegen, he joined the Black Friars. Subsequently, in 1947, father Nooijen was sent to the Netherlands Antilles together with five others as priests. In those days, it was not possible to influence this decision of the father superior. After a twelve-day trip on board the wooden ship ‘Johan de Wit’, father Nooijen arrived in Curaçao.

Father Nooijen did not experience any problem whatsoever with the transition from the Netherlands to Curaçao. “On the contrary, you are young. It was interesting, it was appealing. I could not say what appealed most to me. Everything belongs together; there are no distinctions. It all tallies at a certain level.”

In the countryside in Brabant, his interest for flora and fauna had already been aroused. And during his studies, father Nooijen got in touch with topics like evolution theory, spiritualism, and later also mysticism, via publications. This has never let go of him. It was expressed in, among other things, a fascination for antiquity. Once in the Antilles, father Nooijen as a hobbyist was from the outset, whether or not with the help of some acolytes, in search of remains from mainly the Pre-Colombian era. Especially in the fields and on flat grounds, for excavating was out of the question. In Aruba, Curaçao as well as Bonaire he found numerous tools, tooled stones and shells, but also a lot of rough earthenware, pipe and bottle fragments. All these finds can be seen in the local museums.

Through works by the French theologian and paleontologist De Chardin* and later the Jewish auteur Etty Hillesum, father Nooijen became more and more fascinated by evolution, spiritualism and mysticism. In the forties and fifties controversial topics for Catholicism and not accepted by the pope. With the Black Friars however, there was space though to go deeply into this kind of topics. During sermons in the church, father Nooijen expressed his ideas. He also organized meditation meetings. Father Nooijen often published by means of articles in, for example, La Union and the Amigoe. He wrote interesting works, among other things, concerning ethnic history and demography of Curaçao in the 18th century, later published as a report of the AAINA***. This work with christening as the main theme is a description of the demographic characteristics of the Catholic community around 1750, especially those of the slaves. It gives an idea of society and the mentality at the time and the role that Catholics had. From 1986 until 2000, father Nooijen described annually his meditations in the Amigoe at Christmas and Easter.

The interest for antiquity is in the meantime a closed book. The spiritual interest has remained. “It is not a proclamation, but a perception, an experience. A permanent development, for your interest shifts.” Father Nooijen calls it a free belief; it is not attached to a specific religion. Yoga meetings are a part of his daily routine. And father Nooijen reads a lot. Important pieces are always marked or underlined and sometimes reread as much as thirty times. Or, in order to comprehend it fully, even retyped.

Father Nooijen enjoys living in Curaçao. The environment, the climate, his own things surrounding him make him feel at home.” As long as I can move freely here and move around with my car, I will stay in Curaçao.

* Vroege Geschriften. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
** Het verstoorde leven. Dagboek van Etty Hillesum.
*** De slavenparochie van Curaçao rond het jaar 1750. Een demografie van het katholieke volksdeel. R.H. Nooijen, AAINA 1995

Text and pictures: Ellen Evenhuis.