Brothers of Charity

The Brothers of Charity are a Catholic institute of religious brothers and associate members at the service of the people most in need in the field of education and health care. The institute was founded in 1807 by Canon Peter Joseph Triest in Ghent, Belgium, who also founded three other religious congregations inspired by Vincentian spirituality. The congregation's patron saint is St Vincent de Paul. Today, the Brothers are present in 30 countries.




The constitutions were approved and confirmed by Pope Leo XIII on 4 July 1899. The Flemish founder, the Very Rev. Peter Joseph Triest, canon of St. Bavon of Ghent, on account of his services in the cause of charity, was surnamed the Vincent de Paul of his native Belgium, and was three times decorated by royal hands with the highest civic orders of the land. After his death his countrymen erected a superb mausoleum to his honor in Brussels, the Belgian capital.

The special aim of this congregation is the sanctification of its members in the religious state by the exercise of works of charity, which in the spirit of its founder embrace every phase of moral and physical suffering and want. They consist in a special manner in tending the sick, in sheltering poor workmen, in the care of the aged and of the mentally ill persons, in instructing and bringing up orphan children and young people of every condition. The services rendered by the Brothers of Charity were appreciated by the people and Government of Belgium, and in a short time they had marvelously developed.

In 1906, in the mother province, they counted 42 communities in Belgium where about 1,000 brothers cared for about 6,000 mentally ill persons, hundreds of old and sick men and a large number of blind adults. In this same province they instructed and cared for more than 9,000 poor children, orphans, mentally challenged, deaf, dumb and blind. Here was also the normal school of the congregation affiliated with the Government, the graduates of which teach in the numerous boarding and model schools belonging to the order.

So rapid an expansion early attracted the attention of foreign bishops. Calls for brothers came from every quarter. North America, England (1882), The Netherlands (1894), Ireland in turn became large and flourishing provinces. There were in the early 20th century three houses in England, one in Ireland and two in Holland. The American province was founded in 1865 with the arrival of five Belgian brothers in Montreal; the congregation was incorporated in 1869 under the title of "Brothers of Charity of Vincent de Paul of Montreal". The Brothers of Charity directed, among other establishments, the Montreal Reformatory School and Protectory in the city of Montreal with 30 religious, containing 265 inmates and 27 boarders; the S. Benoit-Joseph Labre Insane Asylum and S. Philippe de Neri Retreat at Longue-Pointe near Montreal with 25 religious, eight novices, seven postulants, 106 inmates; the Mont S. Bernard Commercial and Scientific College at Sorel, P.Q., with 16 religious and 160 students; the S. Frederic Academic School at Drummondville and the House of the Angel Guardian, orphanage and industrial institute, Boston, Massachusetts, with 25 religious and 317 pupils.

In 1911, the first mission into Central Africa (DRCongo) took place; thereafter, new houses were established in South Africa, Rwanda and Indonesia(1929), Burundi (1938), India (1936/1994), Peru (1962), Italy (1967), Japan and Papua New Guinea (1970), The Philippines (1981), Sri Lanka (1989), Pakistan (1990), Tanzania and Kivu (1994), Brazil (1997), Romania (1999), Kenya (2002), Vietnam (2004), etc.

The Apostolic Works

The care for elderly people

The first brothers started with the care of elderly men.; this first apostolic work continues even today and has developed specializations for patients suffering from Alzheimer and other types of senile dementia.


In 1809, the Brother Jan porter of the Byloke hospice, started to teach the alphabet to some street urchins at the gate. Teaching developed numerous educational facilities in nursery, primary and secondary education. In 1820, a Brother novice was sent to Namur in order to take a teacher training course with the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Bro Benedict, the principal of the primary school in Bruges, translated and published a book on education from St John Baptist de la Salle in 1825. At the Brothers’ orphanages, much attention was paid to teaching the children a trade; this trend was continued at the later institutes for the disabled. Separate technical school were established. In 1996, in St Vincent Region in Belgium, instruction was given in 33 schools for mainstream nursery and primary education serving 8781 pupils with 820 staff; 15 mainstream secondary schools serving 7121 students with 1278 staff; and 7 special primary schools and 8 special trade schools serving 1253 students with 316 staff. The brothers are also involved in educational projects in other countries.

Care of the disabled

In 1823 two Brothers were sent to Prof. H.D. Guyot’s institute in Groningen in order to prepare the start of the school for the deaf at the Byloke. In 1825 and 1835, education for deaf children was started in Ghent and in Brussels respectively. Bro Cyril Piot wrote a manual for reading in 1872. From the very beginning, the Brussels institute also admitted blind children. From 1877, mentally disabled children (cared for by the BOC since 1840) were accommodated in a special institute in Ghent. Around the 2000 BOC had eight orthopedagogical institutes in Belgium: two for seriously disabled, four for mildly disabled, one for deaf, hearing-impaired and physically disabled, and another one for blind, deaf and hearing-impaired people. A total of 1700 staff care for 2600 disabled people. In mission countries, as well as in Ireland and the U.K., the Brothers of Charity Services are responsible for the administration of several establishments for the disabled. Bro Ebergist De Deyne published a book on “L’éducation sensorielle chez les enfants anormaux” in 1922; it broke new ground in special education.

Mental Health care

The Brothers of Charity have been involved in the care for the mentally ill in Belgium since 1815. They were guided by Dr J. Guislain, the first Belgian psychiatrist and doctor-in-chief of the two existing mental hospitals in Ghent. A brand new psychiatric institute began in 1857 and is still working nowadays. Dr J. Guislain Museum was inaugurated within the walls of this institute: it offers a survey of the evolution in mental health care and highlights the figures of Dr J. Guislain and Canon P.J. Triest. From 1820 on the Brothers took over or erected psychiatric institutes in many countries. Around 2000 the Brothers of Charity were caring for 5000 patients with 5100 staff in 13 institutes in Belgium. Congo, Rwanda and Burundi have each a psychiatric center. More recently, projects have been set up in India, The Ivory Coast, South Africa, Romania and Tanzania.

Developmental aid

Although the Brothers of Charity were not a missionary Congregation per definition, five Brothers were sent to the then Belgian Congo, namely to Lusambo, in 1911. Later on missionary Brothers settled in Rwanda and Burundi; in 1928 the first two houses were established in Transvaal (S. Africa). Dutch Brothers settled in Indonesia in particular, and in India (1936) for a few years. A house was founded in Cuba in 1950. Thereafter Peru, Japan, New Guinea, The Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, The Ivory Coast, India, Tanzania, Brazil, Vietnam, Nicaragua, etc. got one or more institutes managed by the Brothers of Charity. Originally, all mission work of the Brothers focused on education, but in recent years the care for the disabled and mentally ill has been developed abroad as well.

New needs

New initiatives in answer to new needs prove that the congregation is still open-minded and full of creativity when it comes to fulfilling its mission today.

Historical landmarks

  • 1807 The care of the elderly, in the Byloke, was the first work of the B. of C.
  • 1811 The doorkeeper of the Byloke attracted street youngsters with sandwiches ant taught them with a sandbox; the first school began in 1814.
  • 1815 The brothers liberated the mentally ill patients of their chains in the cellar of the Gerard-the-Devil castle.
  • 1825 The specialized education of the deaf-mute began in that year.
  • 1835 An adapted teaching of the blind was launched.
  • 1840 The brothers began educating the mentally handicapped who were assimilated to the mentally ill up to then.
  • 1865 The year of the first mission of the BOC who leave Belgium for Canada.
  • 1876 Under the generalate of Father Amedeus Stockman until 1922 the congregation developed remarkably: the number of brothers rose from 274 to 1062; 26 houses were founded in Belgium and 17 in America and in Africa where the brothers arrived in 1911; the congregation is recognized of Pontifical Right en 1899;
  • 1967 The general administration moves from Ghent to Rome.
  • 1969 The special General Chapter initiates the renewal of the Constitutions, that will be completed in 1970.
  • 1970 The re-discovery of the charism fosters a new development of the Institute to several Asian countries. The brothers were in Indonesia since 1929.
  • 1986 Beginning of a close cooperation between the three TRIEST congregations on the 150th anniversary of his death.
  • 1990 There is an acceleration of the international development of the "Services of the Brothers of charity" in Europe and Asia.
  • 1995 Official acknowledgment of the BOC by the United Nations Organization.

Structure and Government

Originally based in Ghent, the administration was transferred in Rome in 1967. The Congregation is divided into four administrative provinces that correspond with the continents: Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. These four provinces represent a total of 14 regions that correspond in turn with the countries where the brothers are present. The superior general is elected for a term of six years by the general chapter and he runs the Congregation with the help of the general council, and the provincial and regional superiors.


The congregation observes the legal norms of each country and takes the form of a legal person as provided in the different countries. In general, the regional superior and his regional council accept legal responsibility in each country, they legally represent the congregation.

The general superior receives his authority directly from the Supreme Pontifex through the Congregation of Consecrated Life. For all matters concerning religious life, the congregation is under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church, as expressed in the Canon Law.

In order to open a house, the congregation has to ask the permission of the local ordinary (bishop). He cannot intervene directly in the organization of the congregation, but has to contact the general superior. To close a house, the congregation has to inform the local bishop.

As an apostolic congregation, the Brothers of Charity have developed a clear mission as a concretization of their charism. In order to develop their social engagement in collaboration with lay co-workers, they share this mission with them, so as to maintain the spirit of charity in their works.

In each country, the regional superior is the chairman of the board of the foundation, and the regional councilors are the members. If necessary, the region can develop another board or possibly several boards for the development of the social engagement.

The congregation has 150 associate members, officially recognized by the Church and participating in the spiritual patrimony of the congregation. Some of them have a responsibility in the social engagement of the congregation.

In order to develop the social engagement, the congregation has some 15,000 lay co-workers worldwide (11,000 in Belgium), participating in the social projects and sharing the mission of the congregation. The Brothers of Charity have consultative status tot the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

In order to develop fund raising, the congregation has a foundation called Caraes, based in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. They have the possibility to offer tax exemption in these countries and in the United States.

Each region has its own capital, budget and bookkeeping for the development of religious life and the social engagement. In many countries, the activities are funded by the government and are monitored by them. For those countries where the government does not support the activities sufficiently, the congregation develops solidarity between the different parts of the congregation. This solidarity is organized and supervised by the general administration, in collaboration with those regions that do have the financial means to provide support.

Typical of the BOC

A Vision of the poor

  • This is how brother Stan expresses it: I live with refugees and mentally disturbed persons or anyone in need who knocks at our door. We form a community. It is very simple: our community life becomes joy when we discover the poor as a gift to the community. When we welcome the needy as God’s messenger the poor breaks our chains of slavery and make our life no more self oriented but God oriented. They become really our Masters as they teach us the essential values of human hood and brotherhood. Indeed the poor are our riches.

A specific apostolate

  • For the BOC the hearing impaired, mentally sick and mentally handicapped people are especially dear because their human dignity is directly threatened. It is impossible for them to lead a human life without a specialized care. Education is also important as it develops the pedagogy of the caritas so that gifted people are sensitized to alleviate the fate of their disadvantaged brothers.
  • In some developing countries the BOC are known provide the main resource for people with mental illness or mental handicap such as psychiatric centers, homes for chronic patients, family support, and psychosocial rehabilitation.
  • BOC services are structured, inspired and specialized which means that compassion of charity is supported by organization, spirituality and professionalism.

An actual Vision of the Resurrection

  • BOC believe that, preserving what remains of life in people wounded in their human capacities, alleviating their suffering and opening new perspectives out of their misery, is already an experience of the joy of the Resurrection here and now on earth.
  • Laboring to restore here and now what is broken or wounded in human beings, liberating what is oppressed, preserving what remains of life for the Day of Resurrection.

An apostolic spirituality

  • Apostolate is any activity aimed at the salvation of humanity and propagation of the Reign of Christ. The BOC sees the whole of his life not only his actions as apostolic. His life is organized around apostolic ministry and permeated with apostolic spirituality. All the dimensions of his life (prayer, action, community life, religious vows) contribute to his apostolate. In his prayers he implores God to heal the injuries of a disfigured world, he prays with the care of all those who live in dire circumstances but even more for those who are unable to pray by themselves.

BOC Mission Statement

As members and co-workers of the Brothers of Charity, we want to approach our fellow humans with a believing and loving basic attitude.

We find our inspiration in the Gospel values, and act in imitation of Jesus, the Saviour. Just as with Vincent de Paul, our model saint, and Peter Joseph Triest, our founder, love is the source of our commitment.

Therefore, we form authentic living and working communities where solidarity, serviceability, dynamism and creativity are the supports and where quality of life increases due to expert guidance.

In that way we want to set beacons of hope in society and to witness to God's love.

We care for our fellow humans who need accompaniment in their human development, indiscriminately of their origin, gender, belief or financial means.

In education, in caring for people with disabilities and in mental health care, we strive for optimal training, education and accompaniment.

The disadvantaged and less privileged, people with endangered developmental possibilities or limited functional possibilities, and marginal people or those in search of sense in their life, deserve our special attention.

We are open to new needs as well. As a community, we try to find solutions to these problems.

We also care for one another for our life to be of high quality, make sense, and be salutary to many others.

Our commitment is based on unconditional respect for everybody. It is expressed in our service and expert accompaniment.

We approach the neighbor with whom we are on our way, caring and guiding, always in a holistic way, and give him room to make his own input.

All this is done in a framework of humane organization and adequate surroundings, with the focus on easy accessibility. In our striving for greater human dignity for everybody, we take calculated risks and develop a clear stand on social relationships.

In sharing our visions and experiences with others, we take the opportunity of enhancing the culture of love on a global scale. In this way, we want to improve the quality of life and to contribute to a more humane society where there is room for the poor and the weak.

By this unconditional commitment, we hope that all whom we meet on our way may see a reflection of God in us and may experience the joy of the resurrection in their life.


  • Eugeen Geysen, Het verdienstelijke leven van Petrus-Jozef Triest. Gent.
  • Koenraad Reichgelt, The Brothers of Charity, (1807–1888).
  • Koenraad Reichgelt, The Brothers of Charity (1888–1922).
  • René Stockman, Charity in action, 200 years Brothers of Charity, BOC Publications, Gent, 2009.
  • René Stockman, De Kerk en het verstoorde leven.
  • René Stockman, Ethos of the Brothers of Charity, Brothers of Charity Publications, Stropstraat 119, B-9000 Gent, Copyright 2002, revised 2006.
  • René Stockman, Good Father Triest, A biography on Canon Peter Joseph Triest, Belgium. ISBN 90-801-1940-5-0

Sources and external links


Not to be confused with the Fathers of Charity  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 

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