Women of Bethany Fund

Congregation donates more than € 1 million to Tilburg University Fund

Women of Bethany Fund puts women and religion on the map again

University Fund 3 min. Melinde Bussemaker

The Tilburg University Fund is delighted to report that the catholic congregation of the Women of Bethany has donated an amount of € 1,050,000. With this gift, the congregation and Tilburg University draw attention to women and theology and to religious education. “We want to continue our legacy in a place that spans time.”

Mariet Rijk, one of the last eleven Women of Bethany, explains how the Roman-Catholic congregation came to its decision to donate. “For more than a hundred years, the Women of Bethany have offered religious counseling to people from all walks of life. Over the years, we have built up a capital that we would like to spend in a way that suits our objectives. You can support small-scale projects but they will be concluded after a few years. That is why we have opted for a long-term purpose.” Since 1967, several Women of Bethany have been educated at theological institutions in Amsterdam and Utrecht. These two institutions have now merged with the Tilburg University School of Theology. That is one of the reasons why the Women of Bethany decided to seek collaboration with Tilburg University. 

In this way, we contribute to the education of good academics

Endowed professorship and more

The donation of € 1,050,000 to the Tilburg University Fund is the largest gift to the foundation to date. The donation is a Named Fund within the public benefit organization (ANBI), the Women of Bethany Fund. This Named Fund has a specific purpose: instituting and funding an endowed chair on ‘Moral Education’, a Senior Research Fellowship, a PhD researcher in the broad field of religious instruction, catholic education, new evangelization, new apologetics, a fellowship on ‘catholic social thinking and/or catholic theology’ for advanced study by students, and a training program for young theology teachers. 

Women’s emancipation in the church 

One of the things that the donation will make possible is an extra focus on women in theology. “We are a congregation of women and we have been at the forefront of women’s emancipation,” Rijk explains. “From 1919 onwards, our Women have worked ‘to elevate’ people in their own life and work situation,” Riet Spierings adds. "At the end of the 1960s, the first Women of Bethany studied theology at the new institutions in Amsterdam and Utrecht. In the years that followed, women’s studies and feminist theology emerged, for instance, with a new, female perspective on the bible and more awareness of the meaning of female figures in the Scriptures. Moreover, spirituality was recontextualized within theology.” The theme of women’s emancipation links up with Tilburg University’s diversity policy, which, in recent years, has focused on the appointment of more women professors, as part of the Philip Eijlander Diversity program.

Mariet Rijk

Study offers a solid individual basis for the work you do

Mariet Rijk

Basis for work

That the donation is made to a university is also consistent with the Women’s heritage. “Study offers a solid individual basis for the work you do,” Rijk argues. “In this way, we contribute to the education of good academics.” Besides study, work is central to the lives of the Women of Bethany. Spierings: “A strong basis enables you to guide others on their spiritual path by organizing lectures, meetings, and meditations and by initiating dialogues.”

Use your creativity to establish new connections or strengthen existing ones

Riet Spierings

Riet Spierings

Going with the times

“We think it's important to connect with the times we are living in,” Rijk continues. “As Women of Bethany, we have always tried to help the faith to take root precisely in areas where it had not yet germinated. We served the faith and we ministered to people with respect for their contexts. We worked for all people, be they factory laborers or students, and sick or healthy. We helped people in their quest of the things they wanted to share with the world.” 

Young people are needed

Many students are going through a rough patch now, with Covid-19. What advice do the Women have for them? Spierings: “It does not matter whether you are old or young, everyone benefits from connection. Look out for each other. Listen to each other. We are people, not islands. We need each other and we become ourselves through connection with others.” Rijk would like to encourage young people. “We need you so! See if you can find each other by discussing a topic that is close to your heart and that lifts you up. Studying is mostly about learning and receiving, embracing and expressing our Western culture. So also during your studies, go and do something that suits you, even if it is at a distance.” Spierings nods: “Use your creativity to establish new connections or strengthen existing ones.” 

Women of Bethany’s heritage

The Women of Bethany are a religious congregation within the Roman Catholic Church, founded in the Diocese of Haarlem in 1919, inspired by Jesuit Jac. van Ginneken. The congregation's aim was to employ well-educated women in faith education and catechesis, preferably for young people from working-class families. The Women's work was characterized from the outset by a great openness to people with different views or of other faiths. ‘Yet let Thyself be found by those who do not seek Thee,’ used to be, and still is, their prayer.

At the moment, the congregation has eleven members in the Netherlands and three more in Austria, Spain, and the US. A number of them continue to be very active, despite their advanced age.

Become a donor

With your donation to the Tilburg University Fund, you can support various Tilburg University projects. Projects that can achieve just that little bit more with a financial impulse. Or initiatives that require a financial contribution to get started.

Date of publication: 4 February 2021