On January 12, Fr. Constant Dölle, O. Carm., of the Dutch Province, celebrated his 100th birthday at his present Carmelite convent in Zenderen. Father Constant is currently the oldest member of the Carmelite Order. The celebration began with a Mass of Thanksgiving in the community chapel, after which there was a reception for family and friends who wanted to offer congratulations.
Along with the Prior Provincial of the Netherlands, Fr. Jan Brouns, O. Carm., there were many Carmelites in attendance. The Mayor of Borne, Mr. R. Welten, also joined in the celebration. During this reception, Fr. Edgar Koning, O.Carm., the prior of Zenderen, read two letters: one from the Prior General and another from the King and the Queen of the Netherlands.
Father Constant was born in the north of the Netherlands in 1916. As a young boy his family house was next to the house of the family Hillesum, where Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) grew up. She died in Auschwitz and left impressive diaries and letters of her spiritual way. Pope Benedict XVI referred to her in his general audience on Ash Wednesday [13 February 2013], saying:
“...I am also thinking of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch girl of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. At first far from God, she discovered him looking deep within her and she wrote: “There is a really deep well inside me. In it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then he must be dug out again” (Diaries, 97). In her disrupted, restless life she found God in the very midst of the great tragedy of the 20th century: the Shoah. This frail and dissatisfied young woman, transfigured by faith, became a woman full of love and inner peace who was able to declare: “I live in constant intimacy with God”...”
Although they were neighbours in the city of Winschoten, Constant cannot remember this girl next door, because he was fascinated by the neighbour on the other side of the house who introduced the little Constant to playing the piano. Probably Titus Brandsma and Etty Hillesum saw each other in 1923, when Titus visited the school, the parish priest, and the Dölle family in Winschoten. Father Constant was seven years old when he met Titus Brandsma for the first time. He liked him at a first sight and felt he could trust this man. After his entry in the Carmelite Order Constant met father Titus several times in Zenderen and Merkelbeek. The last time they met was in the beginning of January 1942, shortly before Titus was arrested. After 74 years, Father Constant still remembers the inward smile of Titus, a smile with a presence of pure light. After World War II, Constant became a teacher in classical languages (Greek) and a parish priest. During the war he experienced the liberation of his city with shootings while he was saying mass and gave his lent meditations. This experience made him realize that liberation and death are very close to each other. For this reason he gave his new church the title of Christus Resurgens, when he was asked to build a new church in the city of Dordrecht in the west of the Netherlands. This title emphasises the Rising Christ and not the Risen Christ, because rising is a process that God gives us each and every day.
Because Constant knew Blessed Titus Brandsma personally, he wrote a book on the spiritual journey of Blessed Titus: Encountering the Abyss – Titus Brandsma’s Spiritual Journey (Louvaine, Peeters 2002). The book recounts Blessed Titus’ story with particular emphasis on his spirituality.
Although he can be called a senior of the Order and is facing his 80th jubilee as a Carmelite, he still feels inspired by the Carmelite Rule. Together with members of the Carmelite Family he forms a group, who meets on a monthly basis for reflection on the meaning of the Rule for daily life in the 21st century. This keeps him mentally young and makes him a gift for his community and for the Dutch province.