Columns Methodology

A healing miracle

From the moment I began to explore the history of her family, my grandmother Martha Jansen née Snoeren invariably said every time I discussed a namesake with her, “Oh, but that’s not a member of our family.” She would say the same over and over again, even though I was able to show her quite easily that the person in question did indeed have a place in her family tree. There was one exception, however: when I spoke of the Snoeren-van der Velden family who lived in a neighborhood called ‘Land van Kleef’, my grandmother said: “She is the one who saw Our Lady in a vision!” Who she meant by ‘she’ never became clear to me and I think that she did not know exactly the real story. As a little girl, she probably had heard a story that she remembered. In the end, it seemed nothing more than a ‘village rumor.’ That changed when I was browsing digital newspapers and found an article from 1916 with the title “A peculiar recovery.” It was the Nieuwe Tilburgsche Courant that wrote on July 27, 1916: “A sudden extraordinary healing took place here last week.” The following days a similar news report was published in other regional and national newspapers.[1] Especially one article in the Tilburgsche Courant of July 28, 1916 reported extensively on the troublesome life of an inhabitant of ‘the Brabant shoemaker village of Loon-op-Zand’.

A farmhouse in the ‘Land van Kleef’ neighborhood, about 1923.
(collection: Erik Gelevert, Loon op Zand)

I will try to translate the older language as literally as possible.

“In the Land van Kleef, in a clean and shiny farmhouse quietly hidden in the forest, lives the Widow Snoeren with her two daughters and a son, who is a shoemaker at the factory. A good religious family, that already saw how two of the daughters went to the convent in Tilburg.”

The reporter was correctly informed. Father Adriaan Snoeren (1849-1903) died at the age of 53 years and was survived by his wife Pieternella Snoeren née van der Velden (1849-1922) and six children. Three other children had died at as infants. The eldest son Jan married in 1906, two daughters became members of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy in 1907 and 1915.

Pieternella Snoeren née Van der Velden (1849-1922), mother of Maria Elisabeth Snoeren.
(collection: Erik Gelevert, Loon op Zand)

The article continues:

“Marie, the youngest daughter, a woman of almost 30 years old, has been suffering from an incurable stomach disease for years. Already when she went to school, recurrent vomiting made clear that her stomach could bear very little. However, everything went relatively well until she was 22 years old. Marie was not one of the stronger girls, but cheerful as she was, people didn’t notice much of her ailment. In December 1908, however, the disease worsened and she became bedridden. Now and then there was some small improvement, but gradually she felt her condition deteriorating. Help from Dr. Deelen in Tilburg and also from a so-called miracle doctor in Ginneken, did not benefit her. These doctors prescribed some medicines, but they could not give her any hope for healing. The patient herself felt it too.”

These paragraphs give a brief outline of Marie’s life as a child, when she was apparently already suffering from stomach problems. Marie was born in Loon op Zand on November 26, 1886. At the age of 14 she left the parental home to work as a maid with three families in Udenhout and Dongen. The fact that she was officially registered again at her mother’s address in April 1909, undoubtedly had something to do with her health situation.

Birth record for Maria Elisabeth Snoeren, 1886.
(collection: Tilburg Regional Archives)

The newspaper article not only provides information about Marie’s disease, but also about the doctors who treated her. The said “Dr. Deelen from Tilburg” is Karel Deelen (1862-1943), who studied in Amsterdam, Leiden and Paris. Since 1887 he combined a general practice with a practice as a surgeon in Tilburg.[2] The “miracle doctor from Ginneken” was Frans Joseph Marie Colson (1878-1933). He settled in 1904 as a herbalist or ‘miracle doctor’ in a wooden hut in the Ulvenhout forest, later he moved his ‘practice’ to Ginneken near Breda.[3]

Back to the newspaper article. The reporter describes how Marie took her illness:

“She completely surrendered to God’s holy will and waited with resignation for her fate. Her devotion especially to Our Lady of Lourdes and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus gave her strength and cheer, and she would never complain. On the contrary, if her relatives ever complained about her condition, it was always she who would restore the cheerful atmosphere by making a joke. In the beginning Marie now and then appeared in the village or in the church. She would walk, bent forward deeply, and all who saw her felt sorry for her. A young woman of just 22 years old, who walked like an old mother of 80!”

When the situation worsened, the help of another doctor was called in:

“Five years ago, because other doctors apparently could not help her, the family called in the help of Dr. Udink from Kaatsheuvel. But his knowledge also failed. And although he was convinced that Marie was incurable, he would visit her regularly at her request. However, her stomach could not tolerate the medicines that he prescribed to her. There was no doubt: she would never tolerate food anymore. She vomited after each consumption, throwing up a large dose of mucus. Because of this mucus she often nearly choked. Although the situation gradually became hopeless, Marie did not murmur but put her fate in God’s hand. She continued to pray for her healing, but she never exerted any pressure on Our Lady, as she explained to us. Every time she would think of her old mother who would once need her help, she started praying fervently for her recovery.”

This time the author of the article made a small mistake. Where he writes about “Dr. Udink from Kaatsheuvel” he means Herman Ruding (1872-1955), who followed his training as a general practitioner in Groningen (Netherlands) and Ghent (Belgium). He conducted a general practice in ‘s-Heerenberg, Kerkdriel, Kaatsheuvel and since 1917 in Tilburg.[4]

Marie’s health was only getting worse, as we read in the following part of the text.

Church of Loon op Zand, dedicated to Saint John’s Decapitation.
(collection: Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed)

“Now, six weeks ago, her condition worsened so much that the Last Rites were administered. She no longer left the bed and doors and windows had to be open almost day and night to give her some air during her continuing attacks of choking. Apart from the help of Our Lord – she explained to us this morning in a long-term interview – she lived on medicines and air. The physical weakness increased by the day, even so that sitting in bed became impossible for her. And once, trying to rest for a few moments in a sitting position, supported by pillows, her head almost touched her knees. An image of someone whose last forces are slowly but surely being demolished, with the inevitable end: death.

Last Tuesday, July 18, the end seemed near. The patient had reached her weakest point and even her voice began to disappear. The doctor had no hope. When the night came, Marie was in absolute distress. Then the strange, the incomprehensible, the supernatural – we dare say – happened. The patient did not sleep, and in the morning she felt a strange power. Her upper body was vigorous and she felt that her legs could carry her. She thought, however, it was more of a temporary flare-up that sometimes precedes death than a sudden healing. For thirteen weeks they had to carry her in and out of bed due to lack of strength, but now she got up herself without anyone’s help and dressed herself. The food she used was accepted by her stomach and she felt fresh and cheerful, something she had not felt for years. Still, she and her housemates did not believe it was a lasting recovery. After a night of wonderfully invigorating sleep – she had not slept for weeks – she noticed Thursday that a real change had taken place, indicating a sudden healing. She thanked God and the Blessed Virgin for the great fortune bestowed upon her. And immediately a festive altar was set up in the humble home for the wonderful Mother, Our Lady of Lourdes.”

The doctor had no explanation for this miraculous recovery either:

“The doctor came and stood in astonishment at this sudden change. He had stated two days in advance that science could no longer bring her help, and now he saw the supposedly dying woman, remarkably fresh and healthy. An investigation that was carried out led him to the conclusion that recovery had begun, which – if the signs will not deceive us – will be a permanent one.”

Marie told the reporter that “on August 15 (Assumption of Mary) she would once again make her appearance in public life. That day, for the first time after four years she and her mother would go to church to thank God and His Holy Mother for the great grace bestowed upon her.”

The recovery continued and the Tilburgsche Courant reported briefly on September 1, 1916: “Maria Sn., who healed so remarkably on July 19 remains fully recovered; she does her work regularly and has been going to church again since August 15 after 3 years.”

After her recovery, Marie continued to live with her mother, sister and brother. Her sister Kee was the first to leave the house in 1918 to get married. Brother Rien married in 1921 and a year later mother Snoeren died. Marie now lived completely alone in her parental home. Was this the moment when she decided to enter the monastery? Or had she, after her ‘miraculous healing,’ already decided to help her needy mother first and then enter the monastery out of gratitude? Or was it a logical decision because two sisters had already preceded her as a nun? Anyway, on August 4, 1922, Marie entered the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, Mother of Good Assistance in Schijndel. She received the habit on February 5, 1923, took temporary vows on August 6, 1924 and the eternal solemn vows on August 6, 1927.[5]

Sint Joseph Charity Institute in Oijen.
(collection: Historical Society Lith)

As sister Maria Leocritia, Marie worked in the Sint Joseph Charity Institute in Oijen. This institute focused on primary education in religion, reading, writing, mathematics and (female) crafts. The sisters also took care of old and sick men and women, later also of mentally disabled boys.[6] Marie was not able to provide help her fellow humans for a long time: only three years after her solemn vows, she fell ill and after a short time in the hospital of the Sint Theresia monastery in Raamsdonkveer. Here she died on January 22, 1931. She was only 44 years old.

Marie Snoeren or sister Maria Leocritia was a strong woman, albeit not of body but certainly of mind. There is no mention of a Marian apparition as my grandmother used to say, but her rock-solid faith in Our Lady gave Marie enough strength to overcome her illness and to devote herself first to her mother and later to her needy fellow human beings.

Death record for Maria Elisabeth Snoeren, 1931.
(collection: Tilburg Regional Archives)

Notes and references

[1] The following newspapers were consulted on the website http://kranten.delpher.nl on 3 April and 8 May 2016: Nieuwe Tilburgsche Courant (27 July 1916), De Tijd: religieus en politiek dagblad (28 and 29 July 1916), Tilburgsche Courant (28 July and 1 September 1916), Leeuwarder Courant (29 July 1916), Provinciale Noordbrabantsche en ‘s-Hertogenbossche courant (29 July 1916), Provinciale Geldersche en Nijmeegsche courant (30 July 1916) and De Grondwet (3 August 1916). The Echo van het Zuiden (30 July 1916) was consulted on the website of the Langstraat Heusden Altena regional archive (http://www.salha.nl : viewed 8 May 2016).

[2] Jan van Eijck, ‘Vier Tilburgse artsen van formaat,’ Tilburg, magazine for history, monuments and culture, vol. 18, no. 1 (March 2000); Stichting tot Behoud van Tilburgse Cultuurgoed (http://historietilburg.nl : viewed 7 May 2016).

[3] Peter Zaagman, ‘De wonderdokter’; ProTeksten (https://proteksten.wordpress.com/de-wonderdokter/ : viewed 7 May 2016).

[4] On the occasion of his 50-year anniversary as a doctor, a short biography of Herman Ruding was published in the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, volume 94, number 4, December 1950, section ‘personalia’; NTvG (https://www.ntvg.nl/system/files/publications/1950134870001a.pdf : viewed 7 May 2016).

[5] Board of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, Mother of Good Assistance, e-mail to John Boeren, 4 May 2016.

[6] Hanneke van der Eerden, ‘Het Liefdegesticht Sint-Josef,’ BHIC Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum (https://www.bhic.nl/ontdekken/verhalen/het-liefdegesticht-sint-josef : viewed 8 May 2016).