Can I ask you: who are you? Are you a priest? What are your
duties in your community?
I am Hans Sevenhoven, born in Gouda (cheese!) 13-07-1946. I
became a Franciscan friar in 1964. When we met in Holland, I
was still a Franciscan. In October 2001, I left the order. Of
course, this process was already on its way, when we talked
with each other. I am not a priest. Within the order, I had
different duties; lastly, I was working at the Franciscan Study
Centre in Utrecht, teaching students of theology, and doing
research in the field of (theological) spirituality.
the community in Amsterdam my main duty was – and still is –
my work on La Verna, Franciscan centre of spiritual development,
30 % of the week.
I was surprised by your reply on the first question. You
entered the order in 1964, when you were 18. And 38 years you
were a Franciscan. But now you left the order. Can I ask you
about the causes of this step?
I can imagine your surprise... Of course there are many
personal factors that brought me to this step. Still, there
are no secrets around my decision. The Dutch province of the
Franciscans directed me to do fulltime scientific work. Following
this, I became unhappy. Then, the labour relation became disturbed.
What does the word 'friar' mean?
'Friar' means (religious) brother. It is the name used in
English for members of the orders of the 12th and 13th century.
Franciscans and Friars Minor are one and the same thing.
'La Verna' - what's this? What does this word mean? Could
you tell me about your organization?
‘La Verna’ is a mountain in Toscane, Italy. In Francis’s of
Assisi’s later years, this mountain was a place for him to retire
and pray, to treat things that refer to God. We think it is
an appropriate name for our centre.
Verna’ as organisation is founded five years ago (04-10-1997)
by the Dutch province of the friars minor ( = Franciscans).
There is a managing committee of four members; the chairman
is a friar. The staff consists of two members, Rob Hoogenboom,
one of the friars, for 50 % and myself. We are assisted by many
volunteers, the other friars in the monastery among them. The
people giving the courses are working free lance, course by
In what year was founded your monastery?
The monastery, in which ‘La Verna’ is accommodated, is founded
in 1997. That is to say: it was built in 1960 for a congregation
(=a religious institution) of friars working in education. They
fulfilled jobs everywhere in Amsterdam. In 1997 the Franciscans
bought this monastery. The friars were getting old… There is
only one member of this congregation still living there, he
is almost 70 years old.
Franciscans were living nearby for about fifty years. This monastery
is a better accommodation. There is an elevator – things like
Franciscans were founded in 1209…
What happened with the friars, which lived in the monastery
until the Franciscans bought it?
Most of the brothers (except one) that lived in the monastery
where La Verna is established went to a house for elderly religious
brothers of their congregation in Oudenbosch.
How many people in your monastery?
There are eleven Franciscans living in this monastery. Then
there is this other friar.
What about average age of members of your community?
Two of the Franciscans living there are under 65 – the Dutch
age of retirement; they are 55 and 56, respectively. The others
are above that. The oldest one is 79.
myself do not live there. I live in Leusden, a small town near
Amersfoort (near Utrecht). When I stay in the community I participate
Can I ask you about the types of activities in the monastery?
Except for the two friars in their fifties, none of the friars
has a job. They do something nevertheless.
van den Eijnden is 56. He is vice-provincial of the Dutch province
of the friars minor (vice head of the Dutch Franciscans) since
one year and for five years to come. That is 40 %. For 60 %
he works at the Franciscan Study Centre, as I did, until last
Hoogenboom is 55. He coordinates 'La Verna' and is minister
of theology students in Amsterdam, both 50 %.
others assist in parishes in the neighbourhood, in activities
of 'La Verna', activities for refugees, and so on, all for a
minor part of their time (under 50 %).
to 'La Verna', I myself work for the Franciscan Movement in
the Netherlands, for a year now.
What about the duties of everyday in the monastery?
Of course, the Franciscans living in Amsterdam have their everyday
duties in the monastery. That includes prayer, shopping for
drink and food, cleaning the house, hospitality - for all those
people visiting La Verna, settling in the neighbourhood, and
so on. They are well known in the district, as well among the
people from Turkish and Moroccan origin as among the Dutch.
No job means no professional work...
Could you tell me about the courses in your monastery?
We have courses which ask for an increasing commitment: from
lectures, meditation courses, reading texts, drawing and painting,
art and spirituality, dance and bodywork, music and spirituality,
pilgrimages, and a course in integral living.
together, we organize 40 courses twice a year.
use many creative means to reach the level of spirituality of
use many modern ways to deal with spirituality next to ancient
use eastern as well as western methods.
use Christian and other ways and let those ways meet and provoke
dialogue and integration.
How many people visit this courses? Many of them living
near of the monastery, isn't it?
The half year that is now coming to an end, we had approximately
450 participants. That is to say: some people attend different
courses and lectures. So, there are maybe 250 – 300 different
the course in integral living people come from all over the
country. Participation varies. This has to do with time and
duration of the courses.
course of one or more evenings gets participants from nearby.
A course of days and/or weekends may get participants from all
over our (small) country.
season we will have an investigation in the participants, where
they come from, and so on. This is done by an anthropologist
of a university in Amsterdam. He has already done participating
research in La Verna.]
Your monastery is disposed in a new district of Amsterdam.
In your opinion, the appearance of people is changing from appearance
of modern houses distinct from what are disposed in the centre
of Amsterdam, for example?
We do not attract the followers of ‘spiritual fashion’. Still,
we attract more people of above then under 40 years old, more
women than men, more well educated people than people with only
little education, more ‘white’ people than others, and so on.
are mainly three groups in our district: people form Dutch origin,
people from Turkish origin, and people from Moroccan origin.
As far as possible – which is not very much – we try to promote
a fruitful dialogue between these groups.
What you can say about people coming on the courses? What
do they want to learn?
The people who come to our courses strive for things like:
integration: becoming a more complete person;
other – and maybe better or more far-reaching - things than
just properties and possessions;
finding their roots (back);
a way to live.
I was present at your lesson of prayer-meditation of St.
Francisc. This prayer is mainly for the Franciscans?
My lesson was not just meant for members of the Franciscan
movement. Some of the participants of our courses are attracted
to old, solid ways of meditating and living in a society, which
is disparate. They do not want just to play the roles society
asks for; they want to become a self. They want to (re)discover
the art of living…
may show them part of their way, or John of the Cross, or Etty
Hillesum, and so on.
fact, there come less members of the Franciscan movement to
our courses than I expected before we started. Still, most of
our volunteers are members of the Franciscan movement.
Could you tell me about "meditation"? Is this the practice
of East fathers-hesuchasts?
‘Meditation’ means something like considering or exercising.
This question may get an answer of a book or of a few lines…
start with ‘becoming aware of’, ‘becoming receptive of’, ‘development
of attention’, ‘becoming silent’ and so on. The reason behind
this is that in our culture people do not develop these attitudes,
which are important in coming to yourself. Then, we teach the
participants different ways to meditate – with texts, sounds,
pictures, whatever. The reason behind this is that people are
different and have different needs before they are able to discover
their deepest longings and desires. Then, we promote the establishment
of habits – meditation on certain recurring times, on the same
place, and so on. In this way, meditation become an important
knot in the embroidery of a day, a week, a month, your life.
The methods we use stem from different traditions. Hesychasm
is one of those traditions, which I suspect was dear to Francis.
He may have discovered it in monks in the neighbourhood of Assisi,
and later on in Camaldoli.
What attention is given to young people in your centre? Or
the activity of centre is directed on the people more age of
Some years we organized special courses for younger people.
The result was low. Part of the reason is our own age. We will
restart this when we dispose of a fellow worker of a younger
Thanks for this interesting talk…
Peace and all good to you and the readers of this interview.
September 2001 - July 2002
The Netherlands - St.-Petersburg, Russia
- Marina V. Vorobjova.