Opening universiteit 1923
Opening universiteit 1923

Radboud100: Catholic Stans Küller couldn't wait to study (1923)

The public showed up in droves to witness the opening of the Catholic University of Nijmegen, in October 1923. No one knows exactly who all the people on the photograph are. Was Stans Küller among the crowd that day? Her granddaughter Mar Oomen certainly thinks so. 'My grandmother couldn’t wait to come and study in Nijmegen.'

So much enthusiasm at the thought of studying in Nijmegen! What droves your grandmother?

'My grandmother absolutely wanted to be part of the vanguard that would spread Catholicism further. She was hurt by how Catholics were discriminated against everywhere. All Dutch directors were Protestant, and the number of Catholic professors could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and that while Catholics represented more than one third of the population at the time. Her parents’ generation had silently accepted this subordinate role, but Stans didn’t want to hide anymore, she wanted Catholics to play an active role in the country, and share in decision-making. That’s why she wanted to come to Nijmegen. It was the place where the new Catholic elite would be educated. And it was home to the renowned Professor Gerard Brom, whom Stans knew to be a great champion of her own dream: the lay mission. In the spring of 1923, she worked hard to complete her candidate’s exam in law at Utrecht University in time, so that she could proceed with her doctoral degree in Nijmegen.'

Stans Küller 1923

Your grandmother ended up working for the mission in the Dutch East Indies, as the wife of one of the first Catholic mission doctors. Your grandparents seem to have been motivated by more than an urge to spread the faith.

'Much more. They wanted to combat poverty, to help people live a healthy life, to introduce them to a certain way of life, and to teach them a craft. For Stans, autonomy for women was not in conflict with her faith. She believed that strong women could play an important role within Catholicism. They could act as role models for others, becoming as it were Catholic model women and mothers. Before her marriage, she was the director of the first Catholic social work school in Sittard, aimed at miners’ wives and socially disadvantaged people. As a staunch supporter of what we would now call empowerment, she was actually far ahead of her time.'

At the same time, hers was also a colonial attitude; she taught the local population Western line dances.

'When you’re so deeply convinced of your faith, you want to share it with others. The traditional, and in her eyes immoral, local dances had to be replaced by a more civilised form, the line dance. In the end, she did grow with the times, in part due to all the suffering she witnessed, for instance in the Japanese internment camps where she was imprisoned for two years. She learned that ‘white people coming to explain how things are done’ was not a tenable stance. But it was a long and painful learning process.'

Contact information

This is an abbreviated version of a story from the Dutch book: 2023-1923. Honderd jaar Radboud Universiteit in 101 beelden (or 1923-2023. A century in 101 stories). This anniversary book will appear in May 2023 and will be published by Boom Publishers. Would you like to reserve the book in advance? Please click here.

Mar Oomen is the author of Missievaders (Mission fathers) | Atlas Contact Publishers, 2019 | 320 pages, with many photographs | See also:

Photo at the top of the article: The public at the official opening of the Catholic University, in front of the main university building on the Keizer Karelplein, 17 October 1923. Photograph: Regional Archive Nijmegen