The article underneath I received from Jef Leynen (translation by Patrick Marquenie)
Father Asterius – Joseph August Sels
born Weelde on July 20, 1914.
deceased at Strooiendorp-Leopoldsburg on November 25, 1999.
Our confrere Father ASTEER GUST SELS, 1914 -1999
85 years, 66 years and 60 years Capuchin priest
Gust Sels, born in Weelde on July 20, 1914, was the son of Anthony (°1877 †1958) and Maria Dierckx (°1878 †1961). Father was a policeman and mother took care of the household. Both were originally from OudTurnhout. Gust was eighteen years old when he entered the Friars Minor Capuchin in Aalst on September 15, 1932 where he began his novitiate. He was given the religious name Brother Asteer. In October, the novices left Aalst monastery and left with a ‘coupon sociétaire’ to the new novitiate at Enghien.
He has pronounced his temporary vows on September 17, 1933. He was given the religious name of Brother Asteer. Shortly afterwards he went with his brothers to Bruges S. Clara to begin the study of philosophy. In August 1936, they left for the seminary of theology at Izegem, and Asteer laid his vows for life there on February 2, 1938. Together with twelve brothers he was in ordained in Bruges on June 3, 1939 by Mgr. Lamiroy. During his leave, he was mobilized on August 25, 1939 and was only left free after the capitulation on June 13, 1940 and he could return to Izegem. In the month of August 1940, he was appointed to follow the course of sacred eloquence in the convent in Herentals for a year. The following year he was appointed in July 1941 as co-pastor of the Flemings in Bergen (Mons) and in August 1946 he became pastor of the Flemings in succession of P. Sebastian Reygaerts, who was lecturer in Bruges St. Clara. His employment at the Flemings testified his great connection to his people. He was also entrusted the organization for the aid of the families of Antwerp who had fled their city due to the ongoing shelling by the V1 and V2 rockets. The more he proved himself man, the more the people had found in him the true priest. In August 1949 he got a curate in the person of P. Justien Vandewynckel. Asteer was very busy with visits to his people. In August 1952 he received another nomination and wrote an invitation to all the Flemish people in Bergen for a meeting, because he wanted to say goodbye to them before traveling to Lommel, where would be his new home. In Bergen P. Abel took over his task. In Lommel he heard tell that the dean of Leopoldsburg intended to build a new chapel in Strooiendorp, but until then nothing had happened. Asteer saw the opportunity so he went there and began to cut his own stones. People saw it and admired him, and when they learned that there would be a church in Strooiendorp, they showed great interest and they started lending a hand to Asteer. And the stones kept coming and gradually, led by Asteer, with the collaboration of many people on the spot and with hard work, the church was build. The church was dedicated to Our Lady of the poor. And the founder Asteer saw that it was good. And he became the pastor and also came to live there. In a very modest home, he took up residence near the church. In Strooiendorp they now had a church and a lot of sympathetic people who had helped to build it and Asteer would now be the shepherd for these people. In his parish he built strong associations, like a shooting club, a choir, a women guild, a club for pensioners, a St. Barbara Guild, a miner’s guild and a parish council. Asteer had a real Franciscan soul, and therefore he wanted a statue of St. Francis next to the church and held a biennial Francis procession and flower festivals. In 1992, when he was pastor for 40 years, he was showered with flowers and congratulations. He was as well 60 years Capuchin, and because of his boundless dedication he had received the title of honorary citizen of Leopoldsburg a few years ago. In 1994, there were once again festivities because Asteer had become 80 years old and people liked them to shower their pastor with flowers. On September 7, 1995, he suddenly got a heart attack and had to be hospitalized in Lommel. A few times more he was admitted in the hospital in 1996 and 1998 but Asteer always came back to Strooiendorp. During his illness he was helped in the parish by a fellow brother Raymond Elsen, a Franciscan priest of a nearby parish and also br. Kristiaan van der Linden from Herentals, who was always ready to offer assistance. Asteer began to feel the weight of the years. 47 years long he sounded the bells and called that way the people to the church services. Not so long ago, under his supervison, there was being worked on a large nativity crèche. On November 25, 1999 he went again to visit his eldest sister and returned home that same evening. That evening he was very tired when he came home and went to rest. Asteer entered that night in eternal rest at his home, in his modest “Paterij” (=presbytery) as he called his home. His dream was fulfilled: to die at home in Strooiendorp. 85 years he has become of which 47 he spent as pastor of Strooiendorp.
The people of Strooiendorp were in mourning, but they made sure Asteer was given a dignified burial. The funeral took place on December 1, 1999 in the church of Strooiendorp. The church was packed that day with people come to say goodbye to Asteer. No place in the church was unoccupied. Many people have attended the solemn funeral upright. Many family members, about thirty Capuchin confreres, many priests, relatives and friends and the people of Strooiendorp themselves had come to say goodbye to their uncle Father, their priest, their fellow brother and friend. The members of the miners’ guild and the Fire Service were also present with their flags. The children of the primary school had each brought a flower that they had placed in a vase at the bier. Br. Dwayne, provincial went to the funeral service with in concelebratie the Lord dean of Leopoldsburg, deacon Sels a relative of Asteer, br. Paul Paternoster and Kristiaan Van der Linden from Herentals and Robert Herte from Lommel.
P. Raymond Elsen ensured the smooth running of the ceremony. On the front row we noticed the vicar general of the diocese of Hasselt and the mayor of Leopoldsburg. The choir had taken place behind the altar and sang Latin and Flemish songs, songs which Asteer also liked singing during some festivity. A booklet with texts was also provided for the attendees.
It was br. Kristiaan Van der Linden, who held the homily. In simple words, he told how Asteer loved his people, how he worked in partnership with the people, how committed he was to the joys and sorrows of his people. Asteer was open to all the good initiatives that they came to talk to him. He always emphasized the humanity and being good for each other. For its simplicity, he was praised and he lived and worked in union with the believing community. For everyone he had a good word, and of no one he spoke evil. He covered everything with the mantle of love. Asteer was a devoted priest who lived in simplicity, and therefore he was very much appreciated. He loved visiting his family from who he had always received support and encouragement. He frequently went to visit sick brothers and gave them comfort and was present when someone was celebrating a jubilee. For many people, he had become a confidant. His biggest concern was mainly the poor and needing. He repeated it again in his sermons, “let us live in faith and trust in God, life after the example of Jesus who tells us that we have to live together in peace and understanding.”. That is the message Asteer leaves us. May his work, that he has accomplished as a priest in Strooiendorp, continue to bear fruit.
In absolution after the Eucharist, Rik Palmans, Vicar General of the diocese of Hasselt, spoke a word of praise and gratitude for the work of P. Asteer. He also read the farewell prayers. After the absolution the mayor of Leopoldsburg held a farewell word. Here is the text:
“When you’ll pass here at Strooiendorp, when you’ll come here to the squareh,at the parish hall, at the school, at this church, then you can’t do anything but remember Father Asteer. This was his life’s work, this was his life ….
How recent he has passed away – thinking or remembering his life is returning in time and, what concerns to us, in the last half century of the history of our church. He was someone who since long had the title of ‘honorary citizen of the town’ before he was granted this title. He was honored and appreciated by everyone who knew him. We offer as council our heartfelt condolences to the family and the priests and religious community.
And I say it with respect, but I think that Father Asteer would not appreciate it if we make of today a really sad affair. Because he self was too happy, too happy, too humoredly, completely in the spirit of that great predecessor of him, St. Francis. Hundreds of times he has said here, in this church: ‘Do not grieve as those who have no hope.’.
Many will certainly identify Father Asteer with the son of the Kempen, a simple man of the Kempen, who from his deep simplicity and from his faith was seized by the example of St. Francis to respond to his vocation as a Capuchin.
Swiftly he was ‘in between’ the people. He would have a hard time living in the monastery. He liked living among the people, his people and he symphatized with them, in good and in bad days. He was there for everyone, rich and young and old.
And he loved being in Strooiendorp, ‘his’ Strooiendorp. His last wish to remain here until the end has been fulfilled.
He cannot send us home today with a joke, he cannot send us home with encouraging words, he cannot tell us goodbye anymore,… unless he appeals to us in ‘our heart’, unless we keep him in our memory, unless we ‘let’ him continue to live here, in our memories associated with all that is around us here and which he has made his life’s work.
Even at the inauguration of the Father Asteer-square, just a few months ago, when he was priest for sixty years, we have celebrated him here and we have felt at home with him and laughed and sang as he liked.
He was not a man of great words! Thanks all, he said. And now we’re going to sing, just being good for each other, a little love, a nice touch.
He liked to sing so much, and he could sing.
‘In de stille Kempen, op de purpren hei …’ whenever they hear that song … that so often they’ll think back with nostalgia of ‘their’ father … because he was ‘one of them’. That’s a heaven on earth for me…
He sang it, and he believed it … this was a heaven for him! and … the ‘heaven’ was next to O. L. Lord, St. Francis his great example, to which he lived.
Toon Hermans once wrote poetry: who does not see the wonder in the child, he does not understand the whole song. I would dare to say, who does not see a little Francis in Asteer, does not understands ‘his’ whole song.
The song of his life, that he lived among us, and that – if we want so- can continue to live. It is up to us!
It is up to us, and that would be the greatest pleasure that we could give, even now!
He would find us ‘little faith’ if we would say goodbye now. For me and for many of our village it was enriching to know him. I think he would like us today to remember the many beautiful days when it was good and that he would especially like it to stay that way!
Thank you, Father Asteer, for everything what have you done for us and what you ‘still’ mean to us!”.
After this word which was heard by all in great silence, the brothers were standing around the bier.
In the name of all the confreres and in his personal name spoke br. Dwayne, provincial, a parting word. This text as well, we give you to read:
“Dear confrere Asteer,
All of us knew that your large and warm and golden heart, had become brittle and fragile and that it could fail at any moment.
You knew this and your superiors knew this, and asked you to take it easy now in one of the fraternities. And although you’ve always loved your brothers much, you still hoped to die here at Strooiendorp.
And so it happened, on Thursday you were tired and you’ve gently left us. But not unnoticed, because very good friends and Lieske, who took such good care of you in the last few years and who made it possible for you keep living here, were with you.
Asteer, we carry you out of this church, which you’ve built, along with the people of Strooiendorp, out of this church where you’ve prayed, you’ve celebrated and you’ve sung, you‘ve shared the suffering and joy of your people and where you’ve put them to God, where you’ve encouraged them.
Asteer we carry you away from your Strooiendorp where you in great simplicity as a true Capuchin, lived as a true brother of Francis. We’ll carry you to your resting place at your confreres in Meersel. You will not have to get used too long because you liked very much coming to Meersel and you’ve always been very connected with your brothers and you have now probably greeted many with a lot of great warmth, on the other side of this life……………………
Yes, Asteer, you were very much liked by your brothers. You were always optimistic, and sincere, and genuine. Spontaneously you were always greeted with sympathy and with a smile. Asteer, your life was finished, it was completed. It has been very fruitful.
You had a great age, and yet you will still leave a gap, here in Strooiendorp, with your colleagues, with your family, with your brothers.
But above all go with gratitude for who you were. Your name will continue to bring back very rich memories, memories of a good man, a good shepherd, a good brother and uncle, a good brother to all of us. The memories of you will quite often make all who have known you smile with warmth and they will always appeal to the best in ourselves and encourage us to also be a good person.
Asteer, thank you! And stay connected with us.
One more thing Asteer, we would also like to say that we are your family, your colleagues, your good friends and the good people of Strooiendorp are grateful because they were good for you.
And now we would very much like to sing Francis’ blessing on you! Sing along from the other side… The Lord blessed you, He employed his face toward you and gave you his peace!”.
Then the organ player played the fatherland anthem on the organ. And while singing the song “O mijn Kempen” Asteer was carried out of the church to his eternal resting place in Meersel-Dreef. There, br. Luc Wouters, guardian, read the last farewell prayers and thanked the family and the many friends, who had come from Strooiendorp, for their intense sympathy.
Asteer remain alive in our memories!
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