The abbreviation SVD comes from our official Latin name "Societas Verbi Divini," which means Society of the Divine Word.
Born on November 5, 1837 in Goch, a village on the lower Rhine in Germany, Arnold Janssen was ordained a priest in 1861. He had a passionate interest in the missions. Since the "Kulturkampf" was raging in Germany and the government was putting obstacles in the path of the Church, Arnold Janssen crossed the border into the Netherlands and founded his mission congregation in the little village of Steyl.
Fr. Janssen named his congregation the Society of the Divine Word because he pictured the Incarnate Word sowing missionaries around the world. Above all, he thought of Jesus Christ who is referred to in the beginning of John’s Gospel as "the Word":
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. [Jn. 1:1-5]
He knew that women were just as important in the missions as men, and founded the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit. Convinced of the need for prayer as one of the "tools" of mission, he also founded a cloistered community, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration.
Fr. Janssen died in 1909 in our motherhouse in Steyl. In 1975, one hundred years after the founding of the Society of the Divine Word, Fr. Arnold Janssen, the founder, and his first missionary Fr. Joseph Freinademetz, SVD were beatified in Rome by Pope Paul VI. Fr. Freinademetz reached China in 1879. He served as a missionary for 29 years, dying in 1908 after devoting himself wholly to the Chinese people. He never returned to Europe. In the summer of 1999, four Polish missionaries were beatified by John Paul II. They are martyrs killed during World War II in concentration camps for witnessing to the Gospel.
In the meantime, Arnold Janssen’s work continues to grow. All three of the congregations he founded have since become international, multicultural communities. At present, there are about 10,000 members in the Society of the Divine Word. Blessed Arnold Janssen’s missionary Priests, Brothers and Sisters are working in 62 countries around the world.
Saint Arnold founded three missionary congregations: