Founder of Society of the Divine Word to Be Canonized

Germany’s Father Arnold Janssen

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 18, 2003 ( On Oct. 5, John Paul II will preside over the canonization of Arnold Janssen, the German priest who founded the Society of the Divine Word.

Arnold Janssen was born on Nov. 5, 1837, in Goch, Germany. Ordained a priest at 23, he was assigned to teach natural sciences and mathematics in the secondary school of Bocholt, where he became known as a strict but fair teacher.

Because of his profound devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he was appointed diocesan director of the apostleship of prayer. In this capacity, he was also open to Christians of other denominations.

In time, Father Janssen decided to dedicate his life to awaken the Church in Germany to its missionary responsibility and so, in 1873, he resigned from his teaching post. He then founded “The Little Messenger of the Heart of Jesus,” a monthly review which featured mission news and encouraged German Catholics to do more for the missions.

At that time, Otto von Bismarck unleashed the “Kulturkampf,” which was translated into anti-Catholic laws, the expulsion of priests and religious, and the imprisonment of several bishops.

Given the situation, Father Janssen suggested that some of the expelled priests be sent to the missions or help in the formation of missionaries.

Encouraged by the apostolic vicar of Hong Kong, Father Janssen realized that God was calling him to undertake this difficult task. In 1875, with the support of several bishops, he inaugurated the missionary house in the Dutch town of Steyl, and started the congregation of Missionaries of the Divine Word.

The first two missionaries left for China in March 1879. One of them was Joseph Freinademetz, who will also be proclaimed a saint on Oct. 5.

Aware of the importance of publications to attract vocations and funds, Father Janssen installed a press just four months after inaugurating the missionary house.

Thousands of generous lay people dedicated time and effort to the missions in German-speaking countries, distributing the reviews published in Steyl. From the start, the congregation developed as a community of priests and brothers.

Aware of the importance of women in the missions, Father Janssen founded the congregation of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters on Dec. 8, 1889. In 1896, he founded a cloistered branch, the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, to intercede for the Church and, especially, for the other two missionary congregations.

Father Janssen died on Jan. 15, 1909, at age 71. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975. The motto that guided the priest’s life was “May the Divine Heart of Jesus Live in Our Hearts.”

More than 6,000 Divine Word missionaries work in 63 countries. The Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters number more than 3,800, and there are over 400 Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters.

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