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Living from the study of Augustine - Conversation with Bernard Bruning

At college

Bernard Bruning was born on the feast of Saint Ambrose, December 7, in 1943. He was born in Menen and he had 2 sisters and 2 brothers. His father was of Dutch descent and came from Geldrop. He ended up in Menen looking for work and got married there. He was a rather restless man and there was not much money at home. "I have always been able to maintain good contact with my family, especially my sisters," says Bernard.

The family moved from Menen to the coast, to De Haan. There was a parish there led by the Augustinians. Young Bernard became an altar boy. He could study well, but there was little money. Moreover, he was attracted to religious life. That is why Bernard went to Sint Rita college in Kontich as a teenager. 'I had a hard time with that in the beginning and sometimes there were tears. Still, I had a good time there.' He also felt over the years that he was drifting away from the family, and the experience of his vocation also had peaks and valleys. Yet he chose to join the Augustinians. There were several Augustinians at the college. Bernard had the most contact with Brother Bernardinus, but there was no specific Augustinian who was decisive for joining. On his father's side he had an uncle Eliseus who was a Franciscan and who had meant a lot to church music. The church father Augustine was also hardly known at the college. For Bernard, there was no specific choice for the Augustinians, but they were the ones most in focus.

Bernard in the middle at a play at Sint Rita College 1962


When he entered the order he took the name Eliseus, from his uncle. But when the religious names were abolished shortly after his entry, he was simply called Bernard again. After the year of novitiate in Bouge, he went to Ghent for philosophy. Theology was taught in Heverlee. Fellow friar Tars van Bavel was a driving force there. 'He had a great influence on my life. It was precisely because of him that I felt drawn to the works of Augustine. 'At Van Bavel's insistence, Bernard continued his studies and continued to focus on Augustine. "There are many texts by Augustine that are beautiful, but if I have to mention something it is 'I fell in love with you far too late.'" Although he continued to study, Bernard did not find writing articles that easy. He ultimately obtained his doctorate at Augustinus much later.

Bernard's work was mainly connected to the work of Van Bavel. The Augustinian Historical Institute was founded and Bernard played a major role in it. He also remained active in the library as well as in the organization of Augustine's Day. He also gave retreats to religious, but also to fellow friars in Congo. He always paid close attention to studies. 'Not only Augustine, but I was also very interested in modern theologians. I have also always had a special interest in the psychology and psychoanalysis of Herman Vergote. His ideas had a great influence on me.'

'I grew up religious in the 1960s. I was someone who wanted to change things, I was also a pioneer in it. I think love and friendship in community life are important, and if that is not the case, I am critical of that. Already in secondary school I was critical of teachers who wanted to keep us in line.'

Bernard in Rome in 1975

Study and pastoral care

'I was ordained a priest, but I was certainly not very active as a priest in the beginning. Parish work wasn't really for me. When Father Louis Claessens had to retire in Heverlee, we formed a group with a few Augustinians who took care of the affairs of the parish. I spent a lot of time preparing the sermon, but I don't consider myself a great preacher. I preferred to have conversations with people, even one-on-one. I think I am a good listener and I am interested in my fellow human beings.'

'I became prior both in Heverlee and later in Ghent and I was also a member of the board for a long time. Later I was also a master for the students. The atmosphere in Leuven was good in the early days and I think I really contributed to that.'

Around 2005, Bernard left his beloved Heverlee for Ghent. He was always impressed by the immense building. The confreres in Ghent were somewhat different than in Heverlee. There was a great Rita devotion, but he was less interested in that. He also worked in the parish here in Ghent, although he puts his influence and contacts into perspective. He did not naturally feel like a pastor. 'I think it is especially important that people learn to listen to themselves.'

The first foreign brothers came in training around 2010. He thought it was a broadening of perspective to invite these students. His life has been more quiet for Bernard in recent years. His health is failing and especially his memory. But he still enjoys living here in the community and being able to live and pray together.

Tars van Bavel and Bernard Bruning in Heverlee