Born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1823, Father Theophile Verbist had ambitions to be a priest since young. So, while his twin brother looked towards becoming a lawyer, he headed straight into a priestly vocation after his studies. In the course of his formation, he was a prefect in the minor seminary in Malines, a chaplain at the Belgian Military Academy and a diocesan priest in the archdiocese of Malines-Brussels.
His first serious thoughts of being a missionary came when he was 37 years old.
Inspired by the work of the Holy Childhood which took care of abandoned children in the Far East and other parts of the world, Father Verbist felt that he, too, should do something more for the poor and needy in China.
Numerous obstacles and strenuous efforts later, his Belgian mission in China was finally approved by the Pope, with its first formation house located in a chapel in Scheut, in the municipality of Anderlecht, an old pilgrimage place. From here, its name: 'Scheut Missions'.
In 1865, Father Verbist and four other zealous contemporaries mapped out the final preparations for their mission in China, arriving in the winter of that year in Siwantze, Inner Mongolia.
There they set up base, getting to work immediately on plans to adminster the vast territory that lay before them, organising small Christian communities, attending to an orphanage and school as well as training seminarians.
"It's difficult. Such a pity that we are so few," Father Verbist used to voice to himself whenever he looked at the task ahead of him. But guided by the Holy Spirit, he and his team were able to overcome the obstacles - not the least of which were the harsh terrain, severe weather, immense distances between the remote regions and the local language.
The missionaries also faced many a critical situation, including sickness, accidents, and martyrdom. Father Verbist himself died of typhoid fever in 1868, just three years after arriving in Mongolia, in Lao Hu Kow at the age of 45. Father van Segvelt, the co-founder of the Congregation, had succumbed earlier in 1867, also to the dreaded disease of typhus.
Though not a canonised saint, the fact that his foundation has grown to what it is today is testimony of the love and work of Father Verbist and the power of the Holy Spirit in him.
"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations," Christ said to his disciples...and Father Verbist was one who lived by that command and continues to inspire others to do so to this day.