Bishop Joseph Van Reeth, SJ
(1843 - 1923)
First Bishop of Galle



Bishop Van Reeth Scott 1442
SRI LANKA, 2003, the centenary of the founding of the Congregation of the Holy Angels, Scott 1442

Joseph Van Reeth was born in Antwerp in Belgium on August 6, 1843. He entered the Society of Jesus on September 25, 1860, and made his novitiate and his first college studies (1862-1863) in Tronchiennes. He studied philosophy in Tournai and Namur (1863-66), and then taught humanities in Tronchiennes (1866-1870), and humanities, English, and was prefect of music in the college of Mons (1870-1872). He did his theology in Louvain (1872-1876), was ordained priest on August 6, 1873, and made his tertianship from 1876-1877 in Tronchiennes. He was socius to the provincial (1877-1982) , and from 1882 to 1888 was himself provincial of the Belgium Province. From 1888 to 1895 he was the rector of Tronchiennes, master of novices, and prefect of studies. After the diocese of Galle in Sri Lanka was created in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII, Fr. Joseph van Reeth, SJ, then rector of the novitiate at Tronchiennes in Belgium, was appointed, on January 11, 1895, its first bishop, and the diocese, a particularly difficult one because Christians were such a minority there, was given to the care of the Belgian Jesuits. He was also named to be temporarily apostolic administrator of Trincomalie. Van Reeth was consecrated bishop in Antwerp March 19, 1895, and took possession of his see on November 5, 1895n. Of its 865,000 inhabitants, only 4600 were Catholic, and most of these ignorant of their faith. By 1904 there were 8,300 Catholics, and by 1909 10,800 with 24 churches, 16 chapels, and 36 schools. Then he founded a college. When he died there were 14,000 Christians in the diocese. In 1903 Van Reeth founded the Sisters of the Holy Angels. It was the first congregation for Sri Lankan women, a diocesan congregation originally, but now of pontifical status. The building on the right, the first convent of the sisters, was built by Jesuit Brother Polydor Verbrugge. More