A Book Review: Written Portraits of Dutch Migrant Priests in Australia

The book Geschreven portretten van Nederlandse emigrantenpriesters in Australië, translates to Written portraits of Dutch migrant priests in Australia in English. It was edited and adapted by J.W.P. Elferink from the original manuscripts of Theo van der Meel, a Dutch priest who emigrated to Australia in 1952 and served as a chaplain for Dutch migrants.

The book was published in 1994 by the Katholieke Vereniging van Ouders en Familieleden van Geëmigreerden (Catholic Association of Parents and Relatives of Emigrants) in Zoetermeer, the Netherlands. It has 304 pages and an ISBN of 90-9007178-0.

The book contains biographical sketches of 28 Dutch priests who worked as missionaries or migrant chaplains in various parts of Australia, such as Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania. The sketches are based on interviews, letters, diaries, and other documents that the priests themselves wrote or provided.

The book also includes an introduction by Elferink, a foreword by Bishop J. de Kok of Utrecht, a preface by Archbishop F. Carroll of Canberra and Goulburn, and an epilogue by Bishop P. Murphy of Maitland-Newcastle.

The book is written in Dutch and is intended for a Dutch audience, especially those who have relatives or friends who emigrated to Australia as priests or lay people. However, it can also be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the history and culture of Dutch migration to Australia and the role of the Catholic Church in it.

The book offers a unique and personal perspective on the challenges and joys of being a Dutch priest in Australia. It shows how the priests adapted to a new environment, learned a new language, faced cultural differences, dealt with loneliness and isolation, established relationships with local communities, and contributed to the spiritual and social welfare of their fellow migrants.

The book also reveals how the priests experienced major historical events, such as World War II, Indonesian independence, Vatican II, and multiculturalism. It shows how they witnessed the changes and developments in both their homeland and their host country over several decades.

Theo van der Meel

Theo van der Meel was born in 1927 in the Netherlands. He was a Catholic priest who emigrated to Australia in 1952 and served as a chaplain for Dutch migrants. He was a popular and respected figure in the Dutch community in Australia, and he was known for his compassion and his commitment to helping others. He died in 1993 at the age of 66.

Here are some additional details about Theo van der Meel’s life and work:

  • He was ordained a priest in 1950.
  • He served as a chaplain for Dutch migrants in Australia from 1952 to 1993.
  • He was a founding member of the Dutch Catholic Welfare Society in Australia.
  • He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1988 for his services to the Dutch community.

Theo van der Meel was a kind and compassionate man who dedicated his life to helping others. He will be remembered for his work with Dutch migrants in Australia and for his commitment to social justice.

J.W.P. Elferink

J.W.P. Elferink is a Dutch linguist and researcher who specialises in the study of Dutch as an immigrant language. He has published several books and articles on this topic, such as Dutch Overseas: Studies in Maintenance and Loss of Dutch as an Immigrant Language (1997) and The Dutch Language in Britain (1550-1702): A Social History of the Use of Dutch in Early Modern Britain (2015).

J.W.P. Elferink is also interested in the history and culture of Dutch migration to Australia. He edited and adapted as mentioned above, the book Geschreven portretten van Nederlandse emigrantenpriesters in Australië (1994).

J.W.P. Elferink is currently (2023) a senior researcher at the Meertens Institute, a research center for the study of language variation and culture in the Netherlands. He is also affiliated with the University of Amsterdam and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

See also:

Catholic Dutch Migrant Association (CDMA) 

Three Dutch Priests in South Australia