Yes, my calling was a mixture of contemplation and longing for God’s presence, and the desire to do something for the “mission.”
When someone asks Brother Tarcisius de Ruyter, SVD, his name, his response is always the same, “Just call me ‘Brother’.” Throughout Ghana, in villages, towns, and cities, you can hear, “I am going to Nsawam to see Brother.” Though his life started eighty-three years ago in De Bilt, near Utrecht in the western part of the Netherlands, Bro. Tarcisius has been in Ghana for the past forty-eight years. For him, Ghana is home.
Brother’s call to religious life came in 1943. In spite of having a good job and a promise of taking over the real estate and insurance business from his boss, he knew he was being called to another type of life. As he expressed it, the call was “away from future business, away from girls, up to Jesus.”
Although Bro. Tarcisius came from a long line of shoemakers (beginning in the sixteenth century on his father’s side), he did not want to be a shoemaker. However, his novice director decided that shoemaking was what he should do. The struggle began, and a compromise was found. Bro. Tarcisius was the first Brother to be given permission to study. He started with a private teacher within the safe walls of the cloister, then soon advanced to trade schools, all kinds of side courses, a teacher’s diploma, and finally to orthopedics and physiotherapy.
Over the years, Ghana has benefited greatly from Brother’s determination and skills. When Bro. Tarcisius came to Ghana in 1961, polio was endemic and he immediately had his work cut out for him. He began his task of training young Ghanaians to be shoemakers, brace makers, and limb makers. They learned from him the theory and had supervised study. Slowly, the workshop was established where they began to use their skills to manufacture orthopedic appliances for the physically challenged of Ghana. The center grew from the workshop to a mobile unit that was initiated in 1965. This mobile unit made it possible for the center’s services to be extended to all of Ghana. Approximately 3,600 patients were seen by the mobile unit team in 2008. In 1967, a children’s department was established to provide facilities for those who need intensive therapy. In 2008, 250 children were admitted.
Bro. Tarcisius had heart surgery and received a pacemaker in 2004. With his determination and hard work, he was able to return to Ghana six months after the surgery. In June 2008, he had a slight stroke, but he is doing very well. Bro. Tarcisius still acts as a consultant and continues to see patients.
No written or spoken words can better express Brother’s vocation than his own: Yes, my calling was a mixture of contemplation and longing for God’s presence, and the desire to do something for the “mission.” Slowly my task unfolded, often opposed, but always relentless, because of the crying need of the many physically challenged children and adults. I love the story of Jonah because I also told God to find someone else to do this work. I even remember having a kind of aversion to physically challenged people, yet I am living among these children and adults and I love them. I don’t see deformities, but only people and all kinds of personalities to be restored to acceptance of themselves and helped to take their rightful place in society. We form a wonderful family together—staff, patients, myself—God has blessed all of us. I praise the Lord for His providence and for using me as a tool to help so many. I believe that I will be asked at the end of my life, “Did you double the talents I gave you?” I pray that I will be able to answer “Yes.”
Article written by: Sr. Elizabeth Newman, SSND