27 Catholic emergence

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Period: 
Citizens and steam engines
In 1796 the National Assembly (the first national parliament) declared all religious denominations equal before the law. This caused panic among Nijmegen’s Protestant upper crust, as two thirds of the population was Catholic. The concern proved to be unnecessary as major changes did not take place for many years.

One change that took place was to give Catholics permanent access to a church for the first time since 1591. King Louis Bonaparte reassigned the Broerstraat church and the Regulieren church to the Catholics by the decree of July 25, 1808. As the largest denomination they should really have been given the city’s main church (St. Stevens), but because of delay procedures and protests by the Calvinists it remained in hands of the Protestants.

Religion was to play a huge role in public life during the next century and a half. The social and political emancipation of the Catholics was the leitmotif in this phase of Nijmegen’s history. As a result of the Catholic revival, Nijmegen experienced a complete metamorphosis. This was first noticeable in the mid-nineteenth century when the first female congregations were established in Nijmegen.

The changes really started to take place after the Episcopal hierarchy was restored in the Netherlands in 1853. The city was divided into four parishes run by Dominicans, Jesuits, Franciscans and secular clergymen. The newspaper, The Gelderlander, was established to serve as a mouthpiece for the Catholics. Also a Catholic political party, Fairness and Justice for All, was established, as were a Catholic hospital (the Canisius hospital in Houtstraat), schools, workers associations and social funds. A local branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society for the support of poor Catholic citizens became active. Like other denominations the Catholics received their own graveyard. In the second half of the nineteenth century the city’s elite were joined by Catholic entrepreneurs, e.g. the soap manufacturer Dobbelmann, the brick makers Terwindt and Arntz and the merchant, large retailer and founder of a department store Bahlmann. Catholics made impressive advances into politics and government and in 1898 for the first time in a very long time Nijmegen had a Catholic major, F.M.A. van Schaeck Mathon. Catholicism was lived openly, for example during the annual processions to Kranenburg or Kevelaer. The beatification of Petrus Canisius in 1864 was celebrated exuberantly. New churches, in typical neo-gothic style, patronage buildings and schools rose up everywhere. In 1880 Pierre Cuypers designed the eye-catching Catholic Companions Association’s building, now known as the Kolpinghuis. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Nijmegen was changing into a Catholic stronghold.
Religion colours public life
circa 1800-1900
The impressive St. Augustinus church (RAN)

Source: Jan Brabers, in: De Canon van Nijmegen, Uitgeverij Vantilt (Nijmegen 2009)