According to author Godfried Bomans, a former student at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, the city was a place where the concern for the afterlife determined the cityscape unlike anywhere else on earth. Bomans wrote about seeing fathers wearing cleanly washed habits, nuns with wide hoods looking like insects and brethren with large beads on their belts. This growth in numbers had started in the nineteenth century and increased due to the establishment of the Catholic University of Nijmegen. It peaked in the 1950s.
The Catholics of Nijmegen established religious associations to enable them to carry out tasks in their own community that they did not trust to others, e.g. education and healthcare. These were often tasks aimed at strengthening the position of the Catholic Church and spreading the Catholic faith and were carried out voluntarily.
In 1820 the Sisters from the Jesus Maria Joseph Community (JMJ) were invited by Priest Brusseler to move into a property on Oude Varkensmarkt. The Sisters started elementary education for poor Catholic children. Over the next half century a large number of associations (21 in total) were active in Nijmegen’s nursery, primary and secondary education. In a different category six orders and associations took control of healthcare, care of the elderly or home nursing. The first to do so were the Sisters of Charity from Tilburg who took on nursing in the Catholic hospital (now the Canisius hospital) and the Catholic retirement home (1881).After the Catholic University had been founded, a third category of orders and congregations appeared. At least thirty study houses, convents and monasteries where established throughout the city. All were packed with clergy who wanted to be close to the university to study or teach. In 1923 the Missionaries van Scheut had the Bisschop Hamerhuis built. The other most famous study convents are the Berchmanianum on Houtlaan (Jesuit, 1929) and the Albertinum on Heijendaalsweg, (Dominican, 1932). A further 21 orders and congregations kept themselves occupied with various other matters, such as running a boarding house or a museum, or taking care of ‘fallen girls’. Together with the spires of the more than thirty parish churches in the city, the monasteries dominated the skyline of ‘Monnikendam on the Waal’.