WHAT IS SVD? SVD is a Latin abbreviation which means Societas Verbi Divini. In English, it is Society of the Divine Word, popularly called The Verbites or the Divine Word Missionaries, and sometimes the Steyler Missionaries. It is a religious missionary congregation of Brothers and Priests in the Roman Catholic Church. As of 2017, it consisted of 5985 priests and brothers. It is one of the Seven largest missionary congregations in the Catholic Church with her priests and brothers serving the neediest of God’s people in over 80 countries around the world. Founded in Steyl, Holland in 1875 by Saint Arnold Janssen, SVD continues to follow the direction of the constitutions he established, which calls upon its members to go “…first and foremost where the Gospel has not yet been preached at all or only insufficiently, and where the local Church is not yet viable on its own.” OUR HISTORY The Society of the Divine Word (SVD) was founded by St. Anorld Janssen. St. Arnold Janssen was a German diocesan priest, born at Goch, on 5th November, 1837. He made it his one prodigious concern to pray for the world and train missionaries who would work around the world. As a young student at the University of Bonn, he was so brilliant that he qualified for professorship at twenty-two (22) years of age. The University of Berlin offered him a teaching position in the natural sciences, an offer which he rejected. He chose to be a priest, endangering the restiveness of a life spent for the salvation of the many. He was ordained a priest on the 15th of August, 1861 at age 24. His first assignment was to teach mathematics and the sciences in the high school in Bocholt, Westphalia. While handling these secular tasks, he managed to act as the director of the apostleship of prayer in the diocese of Muenster, finding no incompatibility between the two tasks. As he worked and prayed deeply, two desires grew in his heart: he wanted to work for the reunification of the divided Christians in Germany and the propagation of the kingdom of Christ in the mission lands. These aspirations finally moved Fr. Janssen to give up his teaching position.
At this time, Germany was torn by political storm and strife, a period of dictatorial leadership historians call the Kulturkampf. It was a time of cold rationalization, of autocratic compulsion, of deification of the state. In May 1873, the Prussian state passed laws affecting the whole religious structure. It became a criminal offense for any priest to exercise his priestly functions without authorization from civil power. Seminarians were declared subject to military service. Subsequently, fines and taxes were collected. Prison sentences were meted out. Bishops and priests were thrown into prison. Those were times that tried the church and in many ways cleansed her soul in the fires of struggle. Those times had a strong impact on Fr. Janssen and like many churchmen of his day, he came out purified and burning with new fire. The power that he saw rise into the heights of evil led him to seek the good in the depths of total service for God and man. He recognized the power of authority in the humble service to broken man. He saw the true empire in the rule of the meek man of Nazareth, who came not to lord it over men but to lay down His life so that others may have life abundantly. He did not see the good in the desire of his country for world-wide conquest but in the desire of Christ to build a Kingdom worthy of His Father and man. He saw the vision of the Kingdom of the gospel and made it his mission to help in building it up in the world. His time devoted to the publication of the magazine, Messenger of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Janssen kept all these thoughts in his heart and at an opportune time, he started to take proper steps. He called on all the priests, exiled by the German regime, to work for the missions. In his magazine, he put out the challenge: "Is there no one who feels the call to devote himself to the cause of the missions? Would it not be possible for German priests to band together and found a German Mission Seminary in some safe region outside the homeland?" But how could one entertain the idea of missions during a Kulturkampf? It was all so seemingly ill-timed that a bishop newly released from prison answered: "We live in a time when everything is threatening to collapse and you want to build up something new?" Another bishop exclaimed: "Janssen is either a fool or a saint." And events showed that the humble and modest Arnold Janssen was not fool. He opened his first mission seminary in 1875 in an old dilapidated inn across the border in Steyl, Holland. This was done under the most modest circumstances. Fr. Arnold made strict demands on those he admitted: first of all a spirit of prayer and humility, then hard work and a simple style of life in evangelical poverty; missionaries would have to be prepared for great sacrifices. Yet numbers steadily increased. In 1889, after a prolonged period of preparation, he founded a congregation of mission sisters in the service of love - the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit (S.Sp.S.). In 1896 he formed the branch of the cloistered sisters for contemplative work - the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration - since 1917 an independent congregation. The founder never left Europe, but his priests and brothers soon set out to make the world their parish: in 1879 he sent the first two to China; in 1892 the first were sent to Togo; in 1896 to New Guinea; in 1905 to the colored in North America; in 1906 to Japan; in 1908 to the Indians in Paraguay. From 1889 onwards he sent men to several of the priest-impoverished countries in South America: Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile. Shortly before his death, he made arrangements to send priests to the Philippines. When he died on January 15, 1909, his initial community of four had expanded to the big Arnoldus Family of three congregations working all over the world, building God's Kingdom. He was beatified in Rome by Pope Paul VI in October 19, 1975 was canonized on October 5, 2003 by Pope John Paul II. Janssen was canonized after the healing of a Filipino teenager living in Baguio who fell from a bike and was not expected to recover from a head wound. According to her relatives and the Church, she was healed miraculously following prayers to Janssen.
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