Mark De Caluwe was born in Ghent in 1936, on 28 July – the anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death, as he liked to say. Coming from a large family – he was the second of ten children – he always remained very attached to his family. His father Adiel (1906-1988) was a doctor specialising in gynaecology.
Together with his wife Maria-Antonia De Wael (1913-2007), he moved to Deinze just before the war, where a new maternity hospital was to be built. It was here, on the banks of the river Leie, where farmers still grew flax, that Mark grew up and completed his secondary education at Sint-Hendriks College from 1948 to 1954. During his studies, Mark’s father was a member of the St Thomas Society in Ghent, the student union under the spiritual guidance of Father J.L. Callewaert. The ‘Lion of Flanders’ became a friend of the house, but he was certainly not the only priest to visit regularly. From an early age, Mark got to know different ‘types’ of Dominicans, which made him want to join the Order himself.
On 8 September 1954 he took the habit in Ghent, together with seven other candidates, of whom only Trudo Gielen (†2011) would also remain in the order. Mark made his simple profession on 9 September 1955, his solemn profession on 26 December 1959 and was ordained a priest on 30 July 1961. He crowned his studies in philosophy and theology at the studium in Leuven with the lectorate in 1963. Afterwards, the provincial decided to send him to the Dominican student apostolate in Ghent, the Catholic University Centre (KUC). As a result, Mark had to give up his dream of continuing his studies, but reading and studying – especially Church history and the Fathers of the Church – remained a lifelong passion. After several years of working in youth ministry in Ghent, he was appointed as prior at the Ploegstraat convent in Antwerp in 1967.
There he oversaw the transition to the renewed liturgy. In his early thirties he found himself in a community with a number of ex-servicemen, who welcomed him with the Christmas introit: Puer natus est nobis! In 1970, the provincial Van de Walle asked him to become socius and provincial syndic, which meant that he had to move to the convent in the Avenue de Tervuren in Brussels. A year later, he participated in a general chapter for the first time in Tallaght. In all, he participated in seven general chapters, the last being in Trogir in 2013. Noted for his administrative skills, he was called to Rome in 1974 to become assistant for the European provinces of the Germanic language group. For a time, his responsibilities also included South Africa.
Mark was assistant to two successive Masters of the Order, Vincent de Couesnongle and Damian Byrne, until 1986. This Roman period left its mark on him. There he came to know and appreciate the Order in its international diversity. Later, as guest master in Leuven, he was always happy to speak with international friars in their own languages and to hear news from their provinces.
Within the Order, he probably gained the greatest fame through his work on the Constitutions. He edited the 1983, 1986 and 1998 editions, and collaborated on the 2010 edition. In 1998 he was asked to write an introduction to the Constitutions as a manual for teaching novices. Today, this text circulates in English, French and Spanish versions, and is certainly not only consulted by the novices.
On his return from Rome in 1986, Mark was elected provincial and remained so until 1997. This was a period of downsizing and ageing for the province, and he sought to ensure that all retained a quality of life and worked to include those who had drifted away. In 1999, he took on a new challenge as administrator of the parish of Linden. Shortly after his appointment, a family tragedy occurred within in the parish and, with pastoral competence, he guided the deeply affected village community. In 2010, he said goodbye to his role as administrator, but remained involved in the parish as long as he could. When he decided a few years ago not to drive his car anymore, his concern was not to restrict his own freedom, but rather to not be able to visit some of the sick and elderly parishioners in Linden. For two more terms, Mark served the convent in Leuven as prior (2011- 2017).
His strength diminished, however, and his memory increasingly failed him. His departures – for example from the library, in which he had worked so hard – were difficult for him, but he kept his smile and his sense of humour. Just after Christmas, Mark suffered a brain haemorrhage and had a heavy fall. In the hospital he became even weaker and talking became difficult. In the early hours of Sunday 22 January 2023, Mark died. With St. Basil we pray: Lord, take him now, “your associate who gave himself entirely to the Church, to do only what is worthy of You.” (AM)