The role of Mother Placide Van der Gauwen cannot be underestimated, especially in the realm of religious life. It is true that she is less well known than P.J. Triest. This is due in part to the fact that the sisters carried out their tasks anonymously and that very rarely attention was drawn to an individual sister, even a superior, by name. It was also the result of the outlook of the times, which relegated women to the second place in society.
Maria Theresa Van der Gauwen was born in Etikhove on 16th January 1769 of a well-to-do family of gentlemen-farmers. Little is known of her early years or education. In all likelihood she received a good education before entering the convent. It seems clear that she was a novice in the Cistercian Abbey of Maagdendale near Oudenaarde until the political and religious upheavals forced her to leave the convent. She experienced the consequences of the Revolution and was aware of the great poverty and suffering. Many people struck down by incurable diseases received neither help nor relief. Mentally-ill patients, men and women, were held in chains in mental asylums. Delinquency among youth, abandonment of children and prostitution were social scourges. In the beginning of 19th Century, illiteracy was deplorable. Eighty per cent of women were illiterate in Belgium!
Mother Placide was 33 years old when on 5 May 1804 she presented herself to the young religious community at Lovendegem. At first she was sent away by the sisters on the grounds that she could not spin. Later, she was accepted through the intervention of Fr. Triest himself as he saw in her a valuable collaborator. The same year she was elected superior/leader of the community and, in 1807, Superior General of the Congregation in Ghent. She outlived Triest by eight years. During the 40 years of her administration, this deeply spiritual woman of courageous faith eventually founded, in collaboration with Father Triest, 18 religious communities in order to assist people in the above stated situations. She also laid solid foundations for her 500 religious sisters who were to influence the future development of the Congregation. Her death on 28 September 1844 was a great loss to the Congregation.
We feel honoured to have had as our founders two such sensitive, competent, faithful and prayerful persons.