Grandmother Jansen-Vanderdonck’s first communion took place on 18 May, 1881, at the church of St. Rosalia in Rotterdam. This would have been the family’s parish church, and it was, from all accounts, a beauty.
Notice that grandmother would have been nearly 12 years old. It was only later that Pope Leo XIII (for whom Leo House in New York was named) would lower the age of first communion to 7 and encourage the faithful to receive it frequently.
Notice, too, the spelling of “van der Donck” on the holy card. This is how the Dutch would spell it; the Belgium would be “Vanderdonck”.
Built between 1777 and 1779 — the time of the American Revolution — St Rosalia was a Franciscan church located in the Leeuwenstraat. The priests lived on Westewagenstraat, right near the Vanderdonck family. It was the work of the Italian architect JCF Giudici, who lived and worked in Rotterdam for many years.
The Baroque church was described as “attractive, but stylistically not overloaded” by one of the priests there during the bombing of May 14, 1940. Father Kruitwagen called it “the most beautiful church in Rotterdam,’ and it was undoubtedly one of the most important monuments lost in the bombing.
Of course, we looked for the church when we first arrived in Rotterdam, to no avail. But in the archives we found several pictures that reveal how beautiful St. Rosalia’s really was. You can see the influence of Michelangelo, the visual echos of St. Peter’s in Rome.
Thanks to the archivist, Michele Ball, for his help in finding these.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for grandmother, nearly 50 years after running away from Holland, sitting in her home in New Jersey while German bombs fell on Rotterdam and destroyed her beautiful, historic parish church. Or to learn that her country had surrendered to the Germans. Yes, Utrecht — the Germans’ next target — was saved. As was Amsterdam. And Leiden. And Delft. Their homeland was occupied by the Nazis. A chilling reality for them, I’m sure.