This year, Ithaka gives new life to the Monastery of the Brothers of Charity, which is located on Brusselsestraat 141 in Leuven.
The Monastery of the Brothers of Charity consists of three 18th century buildings: the Biehal, the Grimbergen and the Schildeken. The Schildeken and and the Grimbergen are wide-houses, and the Biehal is a former manor house that dates back to 1781. From 1862 to 1925, the monastery was used by the Sisters of the Poor. During that period they also build a chapel. In 1925, the Brothers of Charity moved into the monastery. A few years ago, the monastery served as a student residence, where the brothers and students lived side by side.
The Brothers of Charity congregation was founded in 1807 by Petrus-Jozef Triest in Ghent. At that time, the congregation was always involved in education and care for children, youngsters and adults. The Belgian organization has an international character and is currently present in 31 countries, and even reaches to Africa and Asia. The founder was also responsible for the establishment of a sister congregation several years before the foundation of the Brothers of Charity. When he was sixteen, Peter-Jozef Triest studied in Geel, where the mentally ill could enjoy a praised form of home nursing. This is where he first came into contact with mentally ill people, which may have been the inspiration for his later life’s work. A few years after he obtained his degree in Arts and Philosophy at the University of Leuven, Triest was ordained a priest. Triest lived in a turbulent and even revolutionary time. He was born in the Southern Netherlands, who were then still under Austrian authority. In his 75 years, the structure of his motherland changed up to 5 times. It began in 1789 with the Brabant Revolution, where Triest would accompany soldiers to the front as a chaplain. It was a short but successful revolution, that led to the expulsion of Austrian authority and the establishment of a Belgian republic.
In 1790, Triest lived in the United Belgian States until the return of the Austrian authorities. Four years later, the Southern Netherlands were overwhelmed by French troops who drove the Austrians away again. During the annexation of the area, Pastor Triest refused to take the oath of allegiance to the French Republic and hatred against the monarchy. This made him a target for persecution and forced him to continue his work underground. After Napoleon stopped the persecution of unsworn priests, Triest was free to perform his office with impunity. 1807 would prove to be the most important year for Triest. He was given a position in the Ghent Board of Civilian Houses, which enabled him to take charge of the most vulnerable of society. He founded the congregation ‘Brothers of Charity’ to assist him in the management of his education and care institutions. From 1815, Triest worked actively on modernizing psychiatry in Ghent, shifting the focus from confinement to care. In the same year, the French were defeated and Triest became a resident of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. 15 years later the Belgian Revolution took place, which led to Petrus-Jozef Triest finally ending up in Belgium. About a century later, ‘his brothers’ moved into the beautiful monastery that houses Ithaka Art Festival.