July 28, 2003 - Daily Tribune: Brazil RPCV George Van Antwerp writes memoirs

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: July 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: July 28, 2003 - Daily Tribune: Brazil RPCV George Van Antwerp writes memoirs

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 9:58 am: Edit Post

Brazil RPCV George Van Antwerp writes memoirs

Read and comment on this story from the Daily Tribune on Brazil RPCV George Van Antwerp who has written his memoirs. He has led a rich and varied life, from growing up in Detroit when his dad was the city's mayor in the late 1940s, to his missionary work as a Catholic priest in Brazil 20 years later, and finally as a husband, father and grandfather. George Van Antwerp was the Peace Corps state director in Natal during 1971-73, Read the story at:

'Enjoyable life' shared in memoirs*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

'Enjoyable life' shared in memoirs

MICHAEL P. McCONNELL July 28, 2003

ROYAL OAK - George Van Antwerp was a new missionary priest in Recife, Brazil, when he was driving up a hill in the 110-degree heat and saw a local pimp who had threatened to kill him walking along the road.

The man was Joao Noventa. He swore revenge on Van Antwerp because the priest visited a man in jail who had mangled the aerial on Noventa's car in a drunken mishap.

It was 1964 and Van Antwerp didn't know it was a custom in the region to release an inmate after he was visited by a priest. Noventa told anybody who would listen that he would kill the new Catholic priest for freeing the drunken destroyer of his car's aerial.

Van Antwerp hit the brakes on his Jeep and called out to Noventa.

"I said, 'Get in, I'll give you a ride,'" recalled Van Antwerp.

Noventa twice refused before accepting a ride. But he never uttered a word during the short trip and Van Antwerp dropped him off outside the church.

Later that night, Novena came back down the hill to Van Antwerp's church.

"He said he was sorry and would never kill me," Van Antwerp said. "We became friends that night over a couple of beers."

George Van Antwerp has led a rich and varied life, from growing up in Detroit when his dad was the city's mayor in the late 1940s, to his missionary work as a Catholic priest in Brazil 20 years later, and finally as a husband, father and grandfather.

Van Antwerp, 75, of Royal Oak has now written his memoirs in three self-published volumes. Two of the books, "The Ninth Child, Book I: The Early Years," and "The Ninth Child, Book II: Biretta" are now out, with his third book, "The Ninth Child, Book III: Wedding Rings" due in September.

Barnes & Noble bookstores have so far sold several copies of the books and Van Antwerp has sold almost 400 copies himself.

The ninth of 11 children of former Detroit Mayor Eugene I. Van Antwerp, George enjoyed family life on the city's northwest side.

His father was an engineer with a soft spot for life's underdogs. Van Antwerp remembers his father stood one freezing January day with a man too drunk to flag down a bus. The mayor watched one bus pass the man then went and stood with him for 20 minutes and flagged down a bus for him, telling the driver where to drop the man off.

"I wonder how many mayors of large cities would do the same," Van Antwerp said. "Maybe he was humble."

Still, the mayor was also at ease among the higher levels of society and was photographed with U. S. presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

The mayor, elected to one term in 1947, had served in World War I with Harry Warner of the Warner Bros. studio in Hollywood. Van Antwerp remembers when his family visited the studio in 1949 and was given the VIP treatment. He was dazzled by the sets and movie stars and a grand lunch in the executive dining room.

Stars like Gordon McRae and Raymond Massey were nice.

"However, Errol Flynn was so cocky and rude that I was sorry we bothered trying to meet him," Van Antwerp writes.

Van Antwerp became a priest in 1953. And he carried with him his father's sense of duty to those less fortunate. His work as a priest led him to minister to alcoholics on Skid Row in Detroit and the poor in Brazil and other Latin countries.

A loquacious man, Van Antwerp speaks English, Spanish and Portugese, and earned a reputation as an able administrator, fund-raiser and public speaker. Over the years, he has taught high school, started two credit unions, worked with migrant farm workers, and held dozens of jobs in the non-profit sector after he left the priesthood in 1970.

He became a top volunteer in the Peace Corps in the early 1970s and married his wife Mary Lou 33 years ago. They have three grown children and a grandson.

"My wife stopped me from publishing my third book until our second grandson is born in September so his picture can be in the book," he said.

Each of Van Antwerp's books is presented as a compilation of short anecdotal nuggets, the style reminiscent of that often found in many local historical remembrances.

He is now outlining a novel with international intrigue and the dark side of human organ transplants.

"I started to write because I've had such an enjoyable life," he said. "There are people I've known that I don't want to be forgotten. I want to keep alive the memory of some of these people I was honored to meet."

For the two years he was in Recife, Brazil, Van Antwerp says he had no better advocate and protector than Joao Noventa, the man who first wanted to kill him.

Noventa even gave up his whore houses and other shady dealings. When a parishioner would sometimes wake Van Antwerp in small hours of the morning to call on sick church member, Noventa would sometimes hear the commotion from his house just up the hill. He would dress and come down to the church carrying a flashlight in the dark.

Noventa insisted on going with Van Antwerp on those occasions, to make sure nothing happened to the priest he once wanted to kill.

"I was proud of him," Van Antwerp said. "I still miss him."

Contact Michael P. McConnell at mike.mcconnell@dailytribune.com or 248-591-2571.

©Daily Tribune 2003

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