Gezelle Rector and Assistant Priest in Bruges



The English College (1860-Easter 1861)

In August 1860 Gezelle’s teaching career in Roeselare came to an end. He dreamed of going to England as a missionary, but the bishop sent him back to Bruges. Anglican England was short of Catholic schools. As a result of the intense contact between the Catholic superiors in England and the West-Flemish prelacy, many Catholic families sent their children to be educated in Flanders. At first the students went to a special department of the school in Roeselare where Gezelle used to teach. In 1860 a special college was established in Bruges. It was situated in the Wijnzakstraat, 1.

GGA 9319 F

Joseph Algar Cox

Gezelle and Joseph Cox Algar were responsible for the English boys. They took their lessons in the “Collège St Louis”. The Englishman Algar was a language teacher, colleague and friend of Gezelle at the Minor Seminary in Roeselare. As the son of a rich Anglican reverend he was educated at Oxford. The project of the English College only lasted for a year until Easter 1861.

GGA 8960 John Sutton

The English Seminary (1860-1865)

Gezelle became a teacher at the English Seminary in Bruges. John Sutton erected the English Seminary in 1858 supported by the English Catholic church leaders. Sutton was a converted English Catholic and a baron who had inherited a large fortune in 1855. He founded or renovated schools, church buildings and Catholic institutions. In the English Seminary, English, Scottish and Flemish young men were educated to become missionaries in England. Gezelle’s brother Jozef was also registered as a student there for a while.

Professor and vice-rector

The English Seminary was originally situated along the Langerei in Bruges just across from the Major Seminary. Later it moved onto the other side where there’s a school now, Saint-Leo’s. Gezelle was appointed professor of philosophy on the 26th of august 1860. He would stay there for 5 years, as a vice-rector from 1861 onwards. In a letter of 1892 he looks back upon the seminarians.

“I have known the seminarians to live next to the forge of Mr. Rooms, northward, if one is in front of the seminary and one crosses the Duinen bridge. Two or three days before I arrived there were already 6 or 8 English seminarians, with their vice-rector Dr. Leadbitter, they came home from the city about midnight climbing through the windows so to enter the house. The move to another house had to be at the end of those 6 months, I lived downstairs next to the chapel of the sailors, in the direction of the seminary.”
Guido Gezelle - letter, 1892

Gezelle talks about the seminarians

Foto Gezelle audiobijgesneden
Guido Gezelle
letter 1892
GGA2605 K 000voorplatr Gezelle’s notebook he used during the time at the English Seminary with lesson plans, questions, rules, etc.
GGA 8896 Fbij Frederic William Faber

Professional and Social Climax

Due to this appointment Gezelle reached a professional and social climax. In his profession he met with prominent English clergymen such as Nicholas Wiseman and Frederick William Faber. Cardinal Wiseman visited the English Seminary on the 19th of august 1861. He invited Gezelle to England. On the 13th of September Gezelle travelled to London for the first time, accompanied by a former pupil Gustaaf Verriest. Six more trips would follow such as the trip in 1862 whith his favorite student Eugène Van Oye.

Assistant Priest (1865-1872)

Guido Gezelle became an assistant priest of St Walburga Church in Bruges, on the 12th of October 1865. Gezelle’s daily duties as an assistant priest were quite heavy. After his death Canon Rommel testified in his elegy to Gezelle’s extraordinary efforts during the cholera epidemic in Bruges in 1866.

B OB 050 4336 Funeral speech delivered by dean Rommel in the main church of Bruges. Bruges: L. De Plancke, 1899

Rommel about Gezelle in funeral speech

Hendrik Rommel
funeral speech 1899
Jemima Hazeland Stroud J. Hazeland, English immigant

English Immigrants

Gezelle was also closely involved with English immigrants in Bruges, many of whom lived in his parish. In the 19th century Bruges became an ideal residency for the Roman Catholics who wanted to avoid Anglican England. It is called “the English Colony” in Bruges. A lot of the Englishmen lived in the parish of Saint-Walburga. Gezelle who had mastered the English language completely had connections with a lot of prominent English friends such as James Weale, Wilfrid Robinson and the print collector John Steinmetz. He kept a lively correspondence with them. The Gezelle Papers contain some 700 letters from English correspondents, most of them English families living in Bruges or English students.


In addition to his busy pastoral work, he was active as an editor of the political news paper ‘t Jaer 30 (The Year 30) and the cultural weekly magazine Rond den Heerd (By the Fireside). This was part of the Catholic press offensive against the secularization of public life in Belgium.

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In 1872 Gezelle was transferred from Bruges to the parish of the Church of Our Lady’s in Courtrai. Financial problems, gossip and a journalistic incident concerning the secular cemetery in Sint-Denijs played an important role in that decision.
His nephew Caesar Gezelle testifies:

“In Bruges life was intolerable: enemies, slanderers and envious people lurked about and tarnished him and mocked him. It went too far. The police even searched his house and confiscated his books. He had to flee, so to speak!”
Caesar Gezelle - 1928


From the Life and the Country of Guido Gezelle

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