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Pierre Joseph Triest, called the Belgian Vincent de Paul by many, charted a trail of caritas and knit a network of facilities for the care of the poor. He was the first person after the French Revolution to take several initiatives in the Ghent area as from 1803 that would fully involve the Church once again and even provide a leading role for her in the care for the poor and the sick. In 1800, he set up a workshop for orphans in Ronse, and three years later, as a parish priest in Lovendegem, he started a new congregation with a group of women for the care of the poor, the sick and the education of children – the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.
1807 was an extraordinary year for the 47-year-old canon: on 11 July 1807, he was put in charge of the Civil Hospital of the Byloke. Less than a week later, he became a member of the ‘Comité d’ordre et d’economie’, so as to have better overview of the financial management of the several institutions of the city, and on 17 October 1807, he became a member of the Commission of Civil Hospices and the Poor Relief Committee, and finally, on 12 December of the same year, he was appointed as the administrator of the Small Hospices and the Foundlings and Abandoned Children Bureau.
As a result, Triest had a role in managing the poor and sick relief work in the city of Ghent. He occupied a prominent position in this role for about 30 years. He also began a second congregation with a few young men, at the Byloke this time, where the care for the poor elderly was extremely inadequate. They became known as the Hospital Brothers of Saint Vincent, and later as the Brothers of Charity, to be recognized as a religious community of brothers on 26 November 1811. With them, Triest took over the care of the mentally ill at Gerard the Devil’s Castle in Ghent in 1815, and by doing so, gave the go-ahead to the development of the care for the mentally ill.
Education and care for persons with disabilities was also undertaken by Triest and his congregations. In 1815, the Sisters of Charity started their first school in Zafelare, and the Brothers of Charity followed their example at the Byloke one year later. In 1820, school projects were started for deaf girls and in 1825 for deaf boys.
For domiciliary care, Triest founded a third congregation in 1825: the Brothers of Saint John of God, and a fourth congregation in 1835 one year before his death: the Sisters of the Childhood of Jesus – for the relief and the care of foundlings and abandoned children. The beatification process of Servant of God, Peter Joseph Triest was opened in 2001.