Willem Hellemons is without hesitation the spiritual father of the Oudenbosch Basilica. He wasn't just the initiator and inspirator of this dominant construction in Oudenbosch, he also organised the finance of the construction of the Oudenbosch Basilica.
Let's review the life of Willem Hellemons, where and why he got inspired and how, together with his allies, he built the church we now know as the Oudenbosch Basilica of the Holy Agatha and Barbara.
Name: Willem Hellemons
Place of birth: Roosendaal
Date of birth: 17th of April 1810
Date of death: 12th December 1884
Willem Hellemons was born in Roosendaal, in the western part of Noord-Brabant, where he was baptised one day after he was born. His parents, Cornelis and Antonia were faithful people. It didn't raise any eyebrows that Willem Hellemons himself was attracted to religion as well. At a young age he became choirboy and altar boy.
The local Pastor, Mutsaerts, helps him start his religious studies in Turnhout, Belgium. In Turnhout his call for a religious life, grows stronger. After finishing his study in Turnhout he registers as a novice in the Cisterciënzer Abbey in Bornem, Belgium. He is one of the first men to register, after a decade of standstill because of the prohibition of Abbeys and Monasteries during the French Age.
19-year old Willem Hellemons decides to travel to Rome to finish his seminary in the Cisterciënzer Abby of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Upon arrival he is overwhelmed by the city's architecture and it's churches in particular. From his dormitory he looks out onto Saint Johns Lateran Basilica with it's beautiful sculptures.
In 1833, 4 years after he arrived in Rome, he finishes his seminary and receives his priest ordination on 23th of March in Saint John Lateran. About one year later, he is appointed Chaplain in Oudenbosch.
After the Pastor of Oudenbosch, Joseph Hellemans , dies in 1842, Willem Hellemons is appointed Pastor of the Oudenbosch Parish. As Chaplain Hellemons allready did a lot for the community in Oudenbosch. Together with the Franciscan Sisters from Roosendaal he created a new congregation for girls: St. Anna. A few years later he did the same with Father Vincentius. They started the Boys School St. Louis. From Oudenbosch, both congregations grew to organisations with multiple locations all over the world.
In 1860 roept paus Pius IX gelovigen op om de Kerkelijke Staat te verdedigen tijdens de Resorgimento, de eenwording van Italië. De oproep vindt gretig gehoor in Nederland, vanwaar bijna 3.200 jonge mannen naar Rome reizen. Willem Hellemons gaf een groot deel van deze mannen hun onderdak in Oudenbosch, vanwaar de treinreis naar Brussel voor de militaire keuring, begon. Deze mannen, Zouaven genoemd worden nog steeds herdacht in het Nederlands Zouavenmuseum in Oudenbosch.
This call by the Pope and the following deployment of Zouaves reminded Hellemons of his time in Rome. The Zouaves inspired him to build a new parish church, honouring the great Roman churches: Saint Peters and Saint John Lateran.