For more than one and a half centuries already the Brothers CMM have been working in many countries in the fields of education, youth work and building up the Church community. Their attention is especially focused on poor people and on youth growing up under difficult circumstances.

Sketch of CMM History

The Congregation of the Brothers CMM was founded in 1844 in Tilburg (The Netherlands). The Founder, Bishop Joannes Zwijsen, was deeply moved by the poverty that he encountered in this quickly growing industrial town and in the countryside around it. Many children hardly received any education and there were only very limited means to help the sick, the elderly, the orphans and those who were handicapped. Zwijsen gathered a number of men and women around him: people who were eager to dedicate themselves to improve the living conditions in the town and to work on it from the setting of a religious congregation in the Catholic Church.

Zwijsen was very successful in this effort since the Congregations of Sisters and Brothers he had founded were attracting many members. Around 1850 there were already almost one thousand sisters and more than one hundred brothers engaged in numerous social and Church projects. These projects were mostly initiatives to assist the poor and to support Catholic education, projects which Zwijsen called “works of charity” (liefdewerken) and “works of mercy” (werken van barmhartigheid).

That was the very reason why Zwijsen bestowed on both his congregations a name related to mercy: they are called Sisters and Brothers of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy. Popularly they are usually referred to as Brothers of Tilburg and Sisters of the Oude Dijk – the name of the town /street where they used to live. These names stuck, even after they had started working at many more places.

Thus the history of the brothers stretches over a period of about 175 years. In total, there have been over the years more than 3500 brothers (nowadays there are about 270, living and working in 8 different countries).

On these web pages we present a short thematic overview of the history of the Brothers CMM, in six different parts (click on the images):

Bishop Zwijsen (1794-1877)

Expansion (1844-1940)

Missions (1885-1963)

Back to the roots (1960-1994)

Completion (from 1970)

Brother Andreas (1841-1917)

History writing

The most recent book on the history of the congregation is currently available in English only. This work is published in separate editions, of which part 1 and 2 have already been published:

Charles van Leeuwen, History of the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy (Valkhofpers, Nijmegen 2014).

Volume 1: Bishop Zwijsen and his First Brothers.
Volume 2: Conscientious and Caring. A Portrait of Father Superior de Beer [1821-1901].

Dutch and Indonesian translations are in preparation to be published.

Brothers today

At the moment there are around 270 brothers in eight countries worldwide. Apart from the Netherlands and Belgium, where the congregation has its origin, there are communities in Indonesia, East Timor, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, and Brazil.

International community

Because of our presence in eight different countries and four continents, we can truly call ourselves an international congregation. However, the situation has changed rapidly in recent years: in Western countries, the number of communities decreases, while there is growth in Indonesia, East Timor and Kenya. This has consequences for our management, the communities in which we live and the projects in which we work.

Challenges and opportunities

More than before, as brothers, we want to carry out the projects of our mission and formation with teams representing different nationalities. Gradually there will be more mixed communities in which brothers from different countries live together: this can be a great enrichment, but it also confronts us with special challenges. After all, we must learn to deal with language and cultural differences in relatively small communities. This is noticeable from the kitchen to the chapel, from the furnishings of our living rooms to the way we spend our spare time and seeking relaxation. In our education and training programs we pay attention to the process of “internationalization” of our congregation. For example, we organize international meetings, exchanges and internships, so that we can become more familiar with the international aspect that features our community life: with the questions that it poses and the opportunities it offers us!

Towards a better world

‘Internationalization’ is a concept that marks the history of brothers. If we work as brothers on internationalization, it is not because we want to become a “well-oiled multinational,” but we have to look at it in the light of our (borderless) evangelical calling: our love for Christ and being moved to work for a better world. We are one worldwide family of brothers who work together, within the Church, on one great mission of mercy.