Episode CCXLVIII – 248: In loving memory of Joopi, first Aruban Bishop

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Each week, Island Insight shares with you a story of Aruba through the eyes of Etnia Nativa, where we welcome our guests to an island experience far beyond their usual expectations. We link you with the mystical aspects of the island, its native culture, and its traditional colonial heritage.

In this episode, we open our cabinet of curiosities to share the story of the first priest of Aruba, who was born at the end of the 18th century into one of the most prominent Protestant families in Oranjestad; however, he was consecrated by the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church as the first Bishop of the Netherlands Antilles. His name was Jacob Lewis Thielen van der Veen Zeppenfeldt.

The Zeppenfeldt family came originally from Germany, from the city of Olpe in the Sauerland area, and later lived in Hildesheim. In the middle Ages, the Zeppenfeldt family was most likely prosperous over time; they expanded their business in several European countries, also settling in the Netherlands, and from there, through the Dutch West India Company, or WIC, they immigrated to the Netherlands Antilles.

This very peculiar story begins when a family member’s van der Veen Zeppenfeldt married into the Thielen family of Oranjestad. On October 11, 1891, Jacob Lewis Thielen van der Veen Zeppenfeldt was born. He was the second child of Lodewick van der Veen Zeppenfeldt and Constancia Maria Thielen, who was one of the many daughters of Jacob Thielen III, at that time Governor of Aruba. Jacob Lewis Thielen, a.k.a. Joopi, was a very studious child who actively believed in the value of human life, practicing benevolent treatment, and assisting those who were suffering.

From an early age, he grew up seeing and experiencing the marked division that existed between the white Protestants established in Oranjestad and the indigenous Catholic natives scattered throughout the interior of the island.

Joopi’s interest went far beyond the color of people’s skin; for him, they were all equal souls that would transcend in the same way to a spiritual life. He enjoyed supporting those who had the least, those who were most helpless, and those who were going through difficult situations, and for them, he always had a word of comfort. He wasn’t distinguishing if the people in need were Catholics, Protestants, or Jews, who at that time did not have a spiritual leader, a Dominee, or a Rabbi. He was always attentive to the needs of all people.

He was intensely curious about the world around him and about humanity; this motivated him to begin his ecclesiastical studies, to his family’s surprise, through the Roman Catholic Apostolic faith, first converting to Catholicism and later standing out in the role of a Netherlands Antillean’s Cleric, becoming the first Aruban priest and Bishop of the six Ducht Caribbean Islands. He entered the Dominican Order, and his priestly ordination took place on August 15, 1918. When Jacob Lewis Thielen Zeppenfeldt was ordained as a priest, many of his family members disapproved, and a division broke into Zeppenfeldt-Thielen’s family since some family members even converted to the Roman Catholic Apostolic faith.

On November 11, 1948, Jacob Lewis Thielen Van der Veen Zeppenfeldt was appointed vicar apostolic of Curaçao and titular Bishop of Acholla. His episcopal consecration took place on December 30, 1948. In 1949, he was knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion. He founded the parishes of Paradera and Brazil in Aruba and consecrated the churches there. He also had many demands for the Alto Vista chapel to be a place of devotion, a story that we will share in future episodes.

Van der Veen Zeppenfeldt was vicar for eight years. He retired on December 9, 1956; he died in Curazao on July 4, 1957. R.I.P., beloved Joopi.

If knowing more about Aruba is on your itinerary, Etnia Nativa is your only choice—a unique native gem! Let Anthony, our acclaimed cultural columnist, guide and lecture you regarding the most interesting and revealing stories regarding Aruba’s uncovering knowledge acquired through generations of native ethnic presence, an beyond beaches learning adventure. Visit his magnificent dwelling that integrates reused materials with nature, bursting with culture and island heritage! Whats App +297 592 2702 etnianativa03@gmail.com