Father Triest founded the congregations of the Sisters of Charity and the Brothers of Charity in 1803 and 1807, which were both concerned with the care for the ill and the poor. They took care of mentally ill patients in the vrouwenweeshuys and the Gerard de Duivelsteen and offered them humane surroundings.
Petrus Jozef Triest
Petrus Jozef Triest (1760-1836) was born in Brussels. He took holy orders in 1786. Later, he founded the Sisters of Charity in 1803 and the Brothers of Charity in 1807. Both congregations focused on care for the sick and the poor.
From his activities in various other areas of the health care industry in Ghent, Triest was also confronted with the inhumane conditions in Ghent’s asylums. To put an end to these abuses, he took over the management of the Vrouwenweeshuys orphanage in 1808, together with the Sisters of Charity. Being confronted with these mentally ill patients was hard. First and foremost, the Sisters tried to provide the sick with humane accommodation, although at least equally important was their intention to reintegrate the sick into society. The nuns tried to mitigate the madness of the mentally ill by offering them structure, a full-time job, decent food and, from time to time, shock therapy that they had developed themselves. Triest was also aware of a number of formulas for preparations used to treat mental disorders, so these were probably part of the treatment.
Similarly, in 1815, he sent four Brothers of Charity to the cellars of the Gerard de Duivelsteen Castle to care for its mentally ill, male residents. In 1828, Triest appointed the young doctor Joseph Guislain chief physician of both of the asylums in Ghent. This meant that the care provided by the brothers – which thitherto had been based on philanthropy – could now be scientifically substantiated.