Fr. Byman part 2
I was about seven years old, when I heard ,deeply in my interior, a call to the Priesthood, but I told it never to anyone, even to my mother. How could this have happened? May be the three hundred years of persecution by the Protestants had made the Catholics prudent in showing their deepest feelings, but it was too, that I was afraid to be mocked by my parent; or my younger brothers and sisters, when I was quarreling with them in my younger years.
Some Sunday, that I was going to the Mass with another young boy, he scandalized me by telling, that he preferred the Song Mass to the Low Mass. As a child I thought that every Mass was the same, but growing up, I felt no more reason to scandalize myself because of a personal preference.
The year 1917 had come and this was the third year of that long war that had ruined us. My father sold his propriety and his tulips to one who hoped to be more fortunate with them. As son of a farmer, he has decided to take over a farm to can live from the sale of the milk, which gave some guaranty to exist. Every day he looked immediately in the newspaper, when it had arrived, to find one in sale or to rent, and one day he saw the announcement of a farm that was to rent at a distance of about 30 km and immediately he took his bicycle - the quickest transportation at that time - and went away to see it. He had to be in a hurry to arrive on time and he passed on his way another aspirant, who pedaled quietly in the same direction, and arrived, it seemed, as the first to the owner of the farm. Discussing for a time together, both arrived to an agreement, when the man arrived whom he had passed underway, and of course he came too late. He told us this amusing happening when he was home again.
Now we had to move and this was not so simple. The only possible transportation could be made by horse-cart. We did not have horses ourselves, but it was easy to find some neighbor to help us herein. Two carts were charged with all out household effects and they were so much charged, that they could easily be toppled on the narrow roads between their canals or ditches and fall into one of them.A horse stumbling over a stone or a wheel of the cart rolling over the same could be the cause that cart and horses landed into the canal. I have been once a witness of this, but here the only victim was a cat, locked into a box, that drowned. We were happier and after a trip of about six hours we arrived happy at out new home. This was a farm of the Dutch model; square with a roof pointed on the center of which only the fourth part serves for the family and the rest for the animals during the winter. especially for the cows and the horses. Under the roof is the loft for the hay; the principal food for these animals which they received three times a day.
We were now very near to the sea. A string dike was laying between its water and out house, that was itself some twenty feet beneath the level of the sea. The dike itself was at the same time a highway, whereover we had every Sunday to walk to go to The Mass if Hoorn, a small city, but famous in history. Here the conqueror of Indonesia - formerly called East India - Jan Pieterzoon Coen, was born and a statue in the center of the city, represents him always. During the eighty years of war with Spain, a Spanish fleet was sent to Hoorn to conquer from here the country and was here defeated. Here its admiral, the Count di Bossu, was put in jail for a time. Several old buildings are reminders of its great past.
In our house was room for about 20 cows and some horses. They had to stay there from November until April. When the first snow began to fall, they were happy to come under our roof and when after the winter, they were brought outside, they danced from joy coming back on the always green meadows.They have too a good memory. They were milked early in the morning and in the evening, but on Sunday morning one hour earlier than in the other days when being outside inf the meadow they came every Sunday one hour earlier to be milked sometimes from almost a kilometer distance and let themselves willingly be bound by the hind legs, so not to overthrow the bucket under their udders. The milkman came two times a day on his dogcart, pulled by two dogs that made it a sport to run as much as they could with the heavy cart that came from the city.
At that time we were living here, the Spanish influenza came to kill thousands of people. The doctor came on his bicycle to every one and ordered to stay in bed as much as possible. The entire family was sick, except our father. He was the nurse ans did this very well. Happily there was no much hunger to serve the sick during these days. and nobody of us died as in many other houses; all around we heard the church bells sounding, each time a victim was brought to his last place on earth, to his tomb.
We lived here only two years; then my father bought a house in the city and here we became citizens of Hoorn.
I had left the school at the age of twelve years, but the law forbade children to work who were younger than 14 and the police were herein very strict. They were seen in the city almost every hour going on bicycle. In the case that one was detected for working under the prescribed age it was not its father, but the work-giver who was punished. The first winter I found work in a pharmacy. Being tall, I was not detected; I could easily pass for a 14 year old boy. There upon I found work in a printing office, but in two weeks the owner discovered that I was only 12 and send me away. Thereupon, I worked two years in a confections shop and this pleased me the most of all; I was thinking to find some day the same work if a ship to travel the whole world.
But now my vocation to become a priest???
I was forgetting it... I was not 15 years old and the Good Lord gave me a sign. I had lost my first attraction until the day that a missionary had come to our church to preach and to make collections for his mission. During his sermon his words went directly to my heart. I was in a moment quickly decided to become a priest and a missionary, but this would take a long time for its realization. I said nothing to my parents, but talked the first about to my confessor and he came in a few days to our house and told my parents that I would become a priest. That was a surprise, but they were happy to hear of what they were not thinking while I had never said a word of it to them.This same year all was arranged for my departure to the seminary of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. known to me by their bulletin that came every month to our house. This seminary. called in Holland "Small seminary" was in reality a Latin school destined for future priests as a preparation for the so - called Grand seminary. Both were divided in six years. The first was to learn the most difficult language, the Latin which must be well known by the future priest to study in the Grand seminary in Latin the sciences of philosophy and theology. In the Small Seminary we had moreover to learn four other languages. the ancient Greek, and French, German and English to become able to can sent everywhere into the missions, and moreover some other sciences. The English, much related to the Dutch language, seemed to be in the beginning very easy, but in practice very difficult because each word has its own pronouncement.
I came into a class of 63 pupils and I was the oldest which I would always remain. This gave me some responsibility. As being the oldest, I had the task to ask the Superior some favor in name of my class. of which the first was the right to smoke a cigar which was only permitted on some special days. Cigarettes were not permitted because they damaged the brain. I had then to go to the superior who lived on the second story whole beneath all were waiting. If I had obtained it, I gave a sign through the window and beneath this was received with cheers.
At that time Holland was a country where smoking was almost a general use for men. My father smoked the entire day. Getting up in the morning, he put first his socks and then the pipe in his mouth and smoked while making his toilet. So he worked some two hours before he took his breakfast. He died of cancer, but this may have saved his life in the Spanish Influenza crisis. But he was a very pious man who recited every evening the Rosary with the whole family each one kneeled before a chair and prayed after it almost half an hour alone. Then came his pipe again in his mouth and smoking, he prepared himself to go to bed.
Today all had changed, like in many other countries many gave it up to smoke; this may be the only good thing that modernism has brought us. but in my youth you saw in many houses in Holland a decoration plate with the inscription: "Het is geen man die niet roken can":(It is not a man who cannot smoke) and this scandalized nobody. In the trains were compartments for smokers and not - smokers.
The first years of my study had passed peacefully. but then came a tragic interruption. In the study hall I shared my bench with a boy who was always coughing. Finally it turned out that he was tuberculous. He was send home and died in a short time. But I had been contaminated and I began to cough at my turn. I also had to go home, but happily, the infection was negative and no positive because it came from contamination. After a certain time being home, there was found for me a place in a sanatorium where I stayed six months. After that time I seemed to be cured and I was happy to have been permitted to return to the seminary. I had lost with this two years of study and had to re-begin in the class that was two years younger. Thus again forwards; It was God's Holy Will.
The last year had come. My class was full of the outlook for the Novitiate; at last a last trial to give the prove to be acceptable to become a priest. The last examinations were made and the last day had come to depart on vacation for the last time and it was on this day that I began again to cough and to spit blood. All went home and I was alone, in my bed. What to do with me? The fathers had also to go on vacation. They decided to send my home alone. Very imprudent! It was a trip of 200 km by train and costed almost a whole day to come home, but this was providential. Nothing happened underway. but not far from my destination was a small pilgrimage that had survived the persecution of the Protestants and here when the train stopped, I went out to visit the miraculous Virgin Mary to ask Her for my cure if it was according to God's Holy Will. I had come walking and spitting blood underway and after having prayed a while, I went back to the station to take a following train and came home. my parents were waiting for me, not knowing what had happened and I told them nothing and talked with them until after midnight. The following morning I stood early up and went to the Mass and thereupon to the physician, a specialist who had treated me and was not Catholic. He examined me after I had told him what had happened; examining me he wondered and told me that there was nothing wrong with me. I would not tell him what I had done during my hometrip; he would not have believed me. I was cured by the Most Holy Virgin.
Then I wrote to the seminary that the Holy Virgin had cured me but they did not believe me. This was to expect. Priests do not so easily believe in miracles; they are more prudent herein than most lay people. Holland had so many priests ans vocations. Here was no more place for me. My vocation was for another country.