Fr Augustine (Peter) Schreurs OSB celebrated his 95th birthday on October 15 and is probably the most senior Dutch national residing in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, having spent more than three-quarters of his life at Mt St Benedict Abbey.
May 16, 2019, he celebrated 71 years of monastic profession as a Benedictine monk at the Abbey.
Fr Augustine and Fr Cuthbert (Jan) van de Sande (deceased since 2017) celebrated their 68th anniversary of monastic profession in 2016. Together with Fr Jerome Koot (now deceased), they were the first monks to be professed in the present abbey church (incomplete at that time). They were also the first monks to pronounce their vows before the then newly elected abbot of Mount St Benedict, Abbot Adelbert van Duin.
A Facebook post from the Mount St Benedict Abbey in 2018 stated that on February 19, 1947, a 22-year-old Dutch youth arrived on the shores of Trinidad and Tobago willing to give his life completely to God. He was a long way off from his homeland in Holland, which he left during the Second World War, but very excited nonetheless by the novelty of the experience and the reason he had made the long voyage by sea.
Peter Schreurs was from a family of ten siblings. The name given to him in the monastery was Augustine. Today he is known as Fr Augustine. He lived with his family in Tegelan, province of Linburg in the Netherlands, close to the German border. His secondary education was interrupted several times as a result of the German occupation of Holland.
The Gestapo had closed down the school he attended as they had done with so many schools, so that Germans could obtain young boys of school age to work in their factories in Germany. A decree was issued which mandated that all Dutchmen between the ages of 18 to 45 who were not working were required to go to the labour bureau to be registered.
After registration, the men would be called on to work in German factories and would be transported by train, under the watchful eye of German soldiers to work in Germany. Men who attempted to jump off the train were shot at once.
Peter obtained a job in a German hospital near to his home and was fortunate enough to secure a permit to return home every weekend. In the hospital, he worked as a jack-of-all-trades and struggled to get secondary education in between. Life was difficult and very uncertain: “You never knew if a bomb was going to drop on your home. Some people had a very hard time to get food especially in the winter because often there was no electricity, no oil … especially towards the end of the war.”
There was a procurator priest in the Netherlands who was from Mount St Benedict. He would go to schools and speak about Trinidad. His base was with some Benedictine sisters who were neighbours to the Schreurs family. Peter soon became an acolyte at the Benedictine convent and it was there that he first encountered Fr Willibrord, the procurator from Mount St Benedict.
Fr Willibrord had several albums on the Benedictine monastery in Trinidad and its mission in the island of St Vincent. Fr Augustine was soon captivated by what he saw and heard. Before long, he was on his way to Trinidad together with the late Frs Cuthbert van de Sande and Jerome Koot.
We thank God for Fr Augustine’s life of dedication and for answering the call of God to become a Benedictine Monk. In spite of his age, he makes every effort to be present at our community prayer and meals. He is well loved by all the monks. May God continue to bless him!