History of Poverello

Photo Jan Vermeire

Jan Vermeire

Jan Vermeire was our founder. Some saw him as a father. His greatest aspiration and concern was that everyone, great or small, rich or poor, would feel at home in Poverello.

He was an acclaimed Brussels sexologist for many years. He retired early due to health reasons and moved to the Ardennes to live a calmer life. During his time there he met a young priest with whom he discussed everything but religion. He later went to mass at this priest’s church, something that was completely out of his character. During the homily this young priest spoke about the suffering of Jesus, showing a small crucifix. “What can a young priest teach me about suffering? Thirty years I have seen suffering.” Jan thought at first to himself. But when he looked at this crucifix a deep conviction came over him. He entered the church as a gentleman, and would exit it as a crying child. The thought, “Jesus has done everything for you until the last drop of his blood was taken, and you have done nothing for him. You never even thought of him?” kept coming to him.

Jan’s life drastically shifted in the following years, being inspired by many people who radically followed the way of Christ, such as Charles de Foucauld, Teresa of Lisieux, Vincent de Paul, Don Bosco, and Francis of Assisi. He retreated to the forests in a self-built cabin for prayer and reflection. After a year, Jan felt it was time to return to Brussels. He again would aid the abandoned of our society, albeit in a completely different way.

He soon experienced many things that profoundly shaped Poverello. He even saw a man die on the streets of Marolles, known for decades for its poverty, without any notice from the surrounding people. Confrontations like this only made him aware of the poverty so close to home, but also his own comfort. Why did he have a bed, food, heating and a family while others did not?

In 1978 Poverello’s first welcome place opened. Poverello grew and spread out over Belgium under 20 years of Jan’s guidance and love. Now approximately 400 volunteers help at Poverello’s houses open to welcome all. Despite the responsibility he carried, he didn’t see himself as being more than others, but as a poverello, a little poor one. In 1998 our organisation was shocked when Jan Vermeire passed away after a brief illness. We continue working on what the organisation was founded for: make everyone, great or small, rich or poor feel at home in Poverello.

But it’s not easy to speak about love,

About the unique Source of life,

To those who have been hurt,

By a love for money,

By a love for pleasure,

By a love for ambition,

To speak about hope,

To those who are drowning because of repetitive setbacks,

That is not the time to speak beautiful with words,

Not the time to persuade,

But just to be present in simplicity and to listen,

And to ask for the wisdom and love to answer the needs.

Jan Vermeire, June 1992

A free translation