Slippers just one of Toni’s gifts

Bishop Stephen Lowe enjoying slippers made by Toni van Bysterveldt

Just one of the examples of the practical Christianity lived by Te Aroha parishioner Toni van Bysterveldt has been the making of an estimated 3000 pairs of slippers, which she has given away to anyone in need.

Some of the slippers went to priests, which is one of the practical ways Mrs van Bysterveldt, now in her late 80s, has shown her love for them.

Her many decades of service to the Church were acknowledged with her receiving the papal Benemerenti medal at a Mass celebrated at St Joseph’s church, Te Aroha on May 11. Hamilton diocese apostolic administrator Bishop Stephen Lowe presided.

According to letters nominating her for the medal, Mrs van Bysterveldt has been a member of Te Aroha
parish since 1956, when she arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands. She and her husband farmed for
many years and raised a family. He died in 1989, having been heavily involved with the local Catholic school.

Writing in support of the papal award, parish priest Fr Mark Field stated that, in many ways, Mrs van Bysterveldt’s life has centred around the Church.

In his document, Fr Field noted that she has been an extraordinary minister of Communion to the sick for some 40 years, and in recent years has still been taking the sacrament to several people, some of whom live in rural areas, some 15-20km from the church.

“A very concrete example of Toni’s practical Christianity is her knitting of woollen slippers, which have been given, (never sold), to anyone in need. She estimates that she has made 3000 pairs! As well, Toni makes the baptism stoles for all who are baptised in the parish — and they get to keep them,” Fr Field wrote.

The priest also noted Mrs van Bysterveldt’s “great love for the priests of the parish down through the years”, her prayers for them, and her support of them in practical ways also — including slippers.

She has also assisted in many different ways with parish liturgy, including playing the organ for some years, operating the computer to control the overhead projections, and reading the Scriptures.

She has also assisted with catering at funerals and at parish functions.

Another letter of support for her papal award, written by Robin Spencer, chair of the Te Aroha Parish Management Committee, noted that Mrs van Bysterveldt was a leading member of the Legion of Mary, both in the parish and regionally.

“As part of being a member, she made a point of every week visiting parishioners in their homes. Many of these visits were to people who were no longer actively involved in the Church.”

Fr Field wrote that Mrs van Bysterveldt led the legion in the parish for 35 years, and is now the sole surviving member in the parish. But she still visits parishioners as part of the ministry.

Ms Spencer also noted Mrs van Bysterveldt’s involvement over the years in liturgy preparation, her past active membership of the parish council, and her efforts in cleaning the church and tidying the church grounds.

“Toni has a very special faith — and a strong devotion to Mary. She is a very caring person and does her very best to bring God to the people of this town,” Ms Spencer wrote.

Fr Field stated that “Toni has given outstanding service to the Church for many, many years, and significant recognition of that service is both appropriate and deserved”

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Michael Otto

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