The parish church of Our Lady of Perpetual Assistance on the corner of Merksemsesteenweg and Sint-Fredegandusstraat was built in 1966 after a design by the Antwerp architect Alfons Hoppenbrouwers (1930-2001). Hoppenbrouwers was a father architect and director of Sint-Lukas in Brussels, through which he exerted an influence on several generations of Flemish architects. The church is executed in brutalist style and therefore quite distinct, but not protected as a monument, although a procedure has been started.
In the approved church policy plan ‘Pruning to grow qualitatively’ of the diocese of Antwerp it was decided to see Deurne-Noord as one cluster and to go from three to two churches.
Father Thomas Hendrikus, pastor Henri Van Bergen and priest Wim Eckelmans led the last celebration together, assisted by sexton Rudi De Peuter. The Eucharist was graced by the Cecilia choir from Gierle with Rozelien Gabriels from Zandhoven, grandniece of architect Hoppenbrouwers, as soloist.
No heaps of stones and concrete
There was a coffee table atmosphere. Pastor Henri Van Bergen captured well the frenzy of that last celebration. “A church is more than a pile of stones and concrete. There’s a breath in that. People are buried here, people made their first communion here, people got married here. If you say: from now on I will follow the mass on television because the other churches are too far away or it is difficult to park there, then I respect those feelings. But know that you are very welcome in the other churches in the area. When I started as a pastor in Deurne-Noord from Mariaburg, I also thought that it could never become my new home. Now I feel more at ease in Deurne-Noord than in Mariaburg.”
Chiro members, people from the social grocer and from neighboring parishes attended the final celebration. The chapel will remain open on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9.30 am to 11 am as a place of reflection, but not for the time being. Nothing is known yet about a secondary use or repurposing, any more than about a possible desecration. The diocese previously proposed to turn it into a trampoline church due to the high ceiling, but that met with resistance.
The family of architect Alfons Hoppenbrouwers is concerned about the future of the building, a model of modernist and brutalist architecture. “To break this down would be the greatest stupidity they can do,” says architect and professor emeritus Jos Vandenbreeden from Mechelen, a former student of Hoppenbrouwers. “I was in my second year when this church was inaugurated. Hoppenbrouwers was so proud of this church. He was a master of acoustics, and you heard that today when the choir sang. He was a great admirer of Le Corbusier. The winter chapel with the pyramid roof is inspired by a chapel by Le Corbusier in France.”
Marcel and Yvette Van Mol-Van Dingenen contribute to the parish magazine and always come with high celebrations such as Christmas and Easter. Where are they going now? “We don’t know yet, maybe we won’t go to mass anymore.”