“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Our name in Latin: “Societas Verbi Divini”, abbreviated: SVD
Our name in English: “Society of the Divine Word”
Popularly known as: Divine Word Missionaries
We are an international congregation of Catholic missionary priests and Brothers founded in 1875 by Arnold Janssen. We work primarily where the Gospel has not been preached at all or only insufficiently and where the local Church is not yet viable on its own.
Historical Developments: The historical developments of the SVD were championed by a German Diocesan Priest Fr. Arnold Janssen which culminated with the founding of the Congregation in 1875. Fr. Janssen was a teacher who became more and more interested in the foreign missions. Resigning his teaching position, he accepted a chaplaincy work and in 1874 began to issue a mission-oriented publication, The Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart. In its columns he reported news on the home and foreign missions, and gave expression to his own developing ideas about missionary needs and methods. At that time, Germany had no missionary seminary. Janssen thought it needed one, and since nobody else volunteered to found such a school, he decided that he should do so himself. Unfortunately, in the 1870s, anti-Catholic laws in Germany forbade such religious schools. He therefore crossed the border, found an old inn at Steyl in the Netherlands, and there set up his first seminary in 1875. For the Society of the Divine Word, which came into existence in this humble setting, Father Janssen assigned a double aim: to train missionaries and to cultivate the Christian sciences. These objectives reflected both the zeal and the scholarship of the founder. While his project was novel, the number of candidates rose rapidly. Janssen’s practical trust in divine providence also proved very effective: funds were available for the asking, he argued, and he proved his point. His own generosity inspired generosity in others. Finally realizing the importance of publicity, he expanded his Little Messenger and launched also the popular magazine Stadt Gottes (City of God), which still remains the largest illustrated Catholic family magazine in Germany. He likewise enlarged the scope of the order to include lay brothers, who soon outnumbered the priest members. In 1892, he established a women’s order, the Holy Spirit Missionary sisters, and in 1896 formed a contemplative branch of the same community. The mission objective of the SVD, as stated in 1886, was to work particularly among the non-Christians in the Far East. Fr. Janssen sent his first two missionaries to Hong Kong in 1879. Others were soon missioned to China, Togo, Papua New Guinea, and Japan; then to Ecuador, Brazil and Chile. In Europe he eventually inaugurated missionary seminaries in Germany, Poland and Austria. Just before his death he set up an American SVD seminary at Techny, Illinois. From this point the Society expanded rapidly with new foundations in Germany as well as new mission territories.
The following are just a few selected significant dates in the history of the Society of the Divine Word.
- Sept. 8, 1875 – The Society of the Divine Word is founded in Steyl, Holland.
- Jan. 1876 – The first issue of Stadt Gottes is published.
- Mar. 2, 1879 – The first missionaries, Fr. John B. Anzer, SVD, and Fr. Joseph Freinademetz, SVD, missioned to China.
- 1883 – The first SVD Brothers leave for the missions in China.
- 1888-1913 – Rapid expansion: New houses established at St. Raphael’s college in Rome (1888), St. Gabriel’s Mission House in Austria (1889), St. Wendel’s in Germany (1889), St. Mary’s Mission House, Techny, IL, USA, (1909) St. Augustine’s in Germany (1913)
- 1889 – First missionaries from Steyl leave for missions in Argentina.
- Dec. 8, 1889 – The Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (known as the Blue Sisters after their distinctive blue habit) open their first foundation at Steyl, Holland.
- Dec. 8, 1896 – The Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (known as the Pink Sisters after their rose-colored habit), open their first foundation at Steyl, Holland.
- 1892 – Missionaries leave for Togo, Africa.
- 1895 – Brother Wendelin Meyer, SVD, is the first Divine Word Missionary sent to the United States.
- 1896 – Missionaries leave for Papua New Guinea.
- 1909 – The first seminary in the United States whose mission was the training of candidates for the priesthood and brotherhood for service in the foreign missions was opened on a farm north of Chicago, known as Techny.
- 1912 – Missionaries leave for Indonesia.
- 1923 – The SVD opened St. Augustine’s Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to establish the first seminary in the United States for African-American men to study for the priesthood.
- 1936 – Missionaries leave for India.
- Feb. 18, 1946 – Consecration of Thomas Cardinal Tien Ken-sin, SVD, Archbishop of Beijing and first Chinese Cardinal.
- Jan. 6, 1966 – Bishop Harold Perry, SVD, becomes the first recognized Afro-American Bishop in the United States.
- 1985 – Fr. Joseph Tri Vu, SVD, first Vietnamese priest to be ordained as an SVD.
- 1998 – The St. Joseph Congregation of Brothers merges with the Society of the Divine Word to extend a strong SVD presence in Vietnam.
- 2003 – First SVD house established in Russia
- Oct. 5, 2003 – Arnold Janssen and Joseph Freinademetz canonized in Rome by Pope John Paul II.