Arnold Janssen – Our Founder

Author: Agada Brand, SSpS
Subject: Arnold’s life and spirituality
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: internal
Year: 1994
Saint Arnold Janssen

Our constitutions characterize Arnold Janssea as a man of prayer, of unshakeable trust in God – a man of deep faith. He was ever open to God’s plans offering unconditional surrender to his will. An open-minded man of great apostolic zeal. Arnold responded to the call of the Holy Spirit and the needs of all people. 

Arnold Janssen and His Family

His parents. Gerhard Johann Janssen and Anna Katharina Janssen. raised their children in an atmosphere of deep faith and prayer. The mother was, above all. a praying mother in the fullest sense of the word. The father had a deep veneration of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. At family evening prayer the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John was read often, and the rosary faithfully re- cited. It was a common practice to have magazines of the missions and missionary activities read aloud in the family gatherings each evening. Thus it was within the context of family that the seed of .Arnold Janssen”s prayer-life was sown. This he continued to nurture and develop throughout his life. 

Arnold Janssen, a Man of His Time

Arnold Janssen was very much a man of his time, a time of authoritarian government, and strict social mores. His prayer was bound by structures which were never questioned, inherited as they were from past generations. Devotional exercises blessed by the ancient traditions of the Church formed the main-stay of his prayer. 

At the time of the founding of the SVD. the Kulturkampf was at its height. This represented a clash between die Catholic Church and the secular government, between spiritual and temporal power. It was the time of Emperor Wilhelm JJ and the Prussian Otto von Bismark, German Chanceiler and political enemy of Catholicism. 

The Church of Central Europe faced its hardest test during the decade of the 1870*s. The government considered as enemies of the new empire all belonging to the Central Parry which, under the influence of die Catholic hierarchy, was an unwelcome power for opposition. During 1874-75 five of me eleven bishops were in prison. 3y means of the “May Laws”, the authorities hoped to break the resistance of the Catholics, but their opposition became stronger than ever. 

These laws attacked the religious orders: their houses in the Prussian State were closed, they were forbidden to accept new members and they were ordered to disband within six months. Institutes for education could still continue four years. After that time only those working in the field of health remained, and they were controlled by the State and subject to arbitrary closure. 

This effectively all but ended the new religious life evolving in Germany since the middle of the 19th century. Religious groups emigrated to the USA. Belgium and Holland. 

Arnold Janssen, the Founder of Missionary Congregations

Father Janssen knew how to read the signs of the times and provide, as fruit of his life of faith, viable answers to their challenges. He recognized the situation as coming from the hand of God. from his divine providence, and was prepared to be used as his instrument. 

Arnold had clear goals. Witb the “Lisle Mcssergtr of the Sacred Heart” he hoped to awaken interest in the foreign missions of the Church. Under the adverse pressure of the Kulturkampf. he was inspired to exert even more effort on be- half of the mission cause. 

Seeing the need for priestly personnel in the mission field. Fr. Janssen set about trying to inspire bishops to begin a seminary to prepare young men for this purpose. He considered himself too old and his health too poor to work in the missions, and to found his own seminary was unthinkable. Therefore, he in- tended merely to act as mediator for the project and put himself at its service according to his abilities. To this end, he began a series of personal visits to bishops of Holland. Germany and Austria. He sought their advice and blessings for a seminary and a school to be attached to it. 

In the years 1874-75. thirty-two bishops responded with approval of his plan. Many of them expressed hope that God would inspire capable persons to dedicate themselves to this project. Some bishops, however, pointed out that because of the Kulturkampf this was not the right moment to start such a large enterprise, especially because of the financial aspect. 

The Person of the Founder

Arnold Janssen was of average intelligence, neither a good speaker nor singer, and not especially attractive.

His talent for studies was limited, but he made up for this lack by perseverance and dedication. Mathematics and natural science were his preferences, while languages caused him much difficulty. By dint of hard work, he spoke Dutch reasonably well and French correctly but not fluently. He knew some Italian and English. 

As a teacher. Janssen was too dry and rigid to be loved by his students but he did earn their respect. 

How. then, did Arnold Janssen become the Founder of three congregations? For one thing, he worked with what he had. then he allowed himself to be led by God. A strong will, combined with perseverance and a deep sense of responsibility, enabled him to carry out what he perceived as God’s will for him. 

Humanly speaking, it was difficult to discover his greatness and most people doubted his abilities and qualifications: he himself would have been the first to deny them. He was criticised by his collaborators for the heavy schedule imposed on men and the students, and for the too centralised form of government within the new societies, and by outsiders for his uncompromising character. In spite of this. Father Janssen gave a solid formation to the members of his congregations. 

Characteristics of Arnold Janssen

Father Arnold Janssen was noted as a man of: tirelessness in seeking the will of God: Once he perceived an action as God’s will he never lost sight of his objective and the means to achieve it. 

In the Decree of Beatification. Paul VI praised his perseverance in seeking God’s will: “Open to the signs of the rimes and attentive to God’s voice, he recognized God’s will…Once he recognized God’s call he would leave everything aside, forget himself and dedicate his whole being completely to its fulfillment…” 

deep prayer life: his decisions were the fruit of genuine sincere prayer, which accounted for his perseverance and tenacity in following them. (These were quite often judged as self-will and stubbornness.) 

life of faith and union with Cod: through these he saw the world, and was enabled to perceive the urgent needs of the moment in the context of the future needs of the Church. With a world-vision beyond provincial limits, he proved to be far ahead of his times. 

frankness in his observations: the Founder insisted upon his collaborators being trust- worthy, co-responsible and reliable. 

charity and humility: when criticized and opposed he would remain silent rather than further offend his detractor. He was heard to remark that criticism began the day superiors were appointed. With wisdom and compassion he listened to both sides of disagreements.

love for truth: he was straight forward in all his words and actions. 

clear-sightedness: in selecting candidates he held to these criteria which he deemed essential to religious life: love for prayer and closeness to God. humility as the sign of genuine union with God. and love for ones companions with a readiness to serve others. 

Foundation of the Three Congregations

From Father Arnold, his “family” has received a rich heritage that includes a deep spirit of faith and prayer, devotion to the Holy Trinity with veneration of the Holy Spirit, and a deep attachment to the Word of God. 

He became a real apostle of universal prayer through promoting the Apostleship of Prayer of which he became a member in 1865. His pamphlet on mis subject was re-edited several rimes reaching almost ninety-thousand copies. During the Easter and autumn seasons of 1869 he visited 160 parishes of the Munster diocese to spread this practice. By 1869 when he made his final report as Director of the Apostleship. 300 of the 350 parishes of the diocese had been registered as members. Thus Father Arnold became a missionary and apostle of prayer. 

Gradually Janssen began spreading this Apostleship and the devotion to the Sacred Hean. another of his attachments, beyond the boundaries of Germany, enlarging his vision and horizons. Reserved by nature with a strong tendency towards the contemplative life. Arnold soon found it necessary to overcome these tendencies, giving a new direction to his life: the missionary aspect. Thus in 1875 he founded the Society of the Divine Word for priests and brothers, in 1889 the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, and finally in 1896 the Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration. 

Charism and Spirituality

As time passed. Arnold Janssen penetrated ever more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. He studied above ail die books of the theologian J. M. Scheeben. particularly “The Mysteries of Christianity”. As his missionary spirit grew, participation in the “sending of the Son” and identification with him became an essential element of our charism and spirituality. Identification with Christ leads us necessarily to glorify and manifest the Trinity. Thus Father Arnold’s legacy to his sons and daughters: a distinctly Trinitarian spirituality. 

Over the years. Arnold Janssen also grew in his veneration of the Holy Spirit and openness to his action. The early constitutions of the SVD’s show his grow- ing surrender to the influence of the Spirit. In 1887. Fr. Arnold consecrated himself to the Holy Spirit in the SVD church of St. Vincent near Vienna. In 1889 the laying of tile cornerstone of the Church in honor of the Holy Spirit near Vienna was to be a permanent expression of gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the extraordinary graces given to the SVD’s as a whole. The founding of the Servants of the Holy Spirit in 1889 climaxed this manifestation of his devotion to the Spirit. And finally, he founded the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration. 

The deeper Arnold Janssen went into the theology of the Divine Word, the more clearly he saw the close relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit opens the mind and heart of humankind to what the Logos, the Word made man, communicated in word and action. In prayer and studies, Arnold recognized the interaction – with and for – between the Word {Logos) and the Spirit (Pneuma). 

He perceived the Holy Spirit more and more as Mediator between God and man. and also as Mediator of the Incarnate Word to humankind, as movement of life between God and his people. 

What is specific to Arnold Janssen is expressed in the name “Divine Word”, which he gave to his Society: he contemplated God as a God that shares, who reveals himself as Person: a God who shares his thoughts, who shares himself. – the Divine Word! 

God speaks the Word and in Him gives himself and expresses himself totally. The Word returns all to the Father in love. This giving and receiving, a movement of Life and Love, is the Holy Spirit. Thus the Blessed Trinity is the true basis of the whole spirituality of Arnold Janssen. 

His meditations on the mystery of the Blessed Trinity could have led him to the mystical and contemplative way of life because of his temperament. Yet, the Word urged him towards the apostolic and missionary dimension of commitment. His whole spirituality eventually took on a missionary character. 

However, Arnold Jansen did not stress the Divine Word exclusively. He cultivated intensively the veneration of the Holy Spirit as we saw earlier. For him it was clear that the power and strength of the Word of God was dependent on the Spirit. He understood that the Divine Word sent the Spirit precisely to make the Word of the Father more efficacious and dynamic. 

It is important to realize that the spirituality of Arnold Janssen was a living and dynamic process, which kept growing. 

True. Father Arnold took specific aspects of religious life from other congregations: concern for a well celebrated liturgy from the Benedictines, the preaching of the Word from the Dominicans, a special devotion to the Child Jesus on Christ- mas, and to the Suffering Lord (Stations of the Cross) from the Franciscans, retreats, and the centralised structure of the SVD from the Jesuits. Even so. his spirituality was distinctive and well integrated.

Today we see expressed in the Being and Sending of the Church: the Trinity, the Word, the Spirit. Mission and Community. This is the Good News that we. SSpS/SVD, are urged/privileged to announce. 

Specific Contributions of Arnold Janssen to the Life of the Church 

Arnold Janssen: A Man of Today Apostle of Our Times 

Besides having founded three missionary congregations, Arnold Janssen made the following contributions to the world Church: 

– formation of mission awareness among the German Catholics specifically through the press and the retreats given in our Mother Houses and in other houses of the congregations. 

– in ecumenism which was already his concern during his early days in the priesthood, and was one of his objectives in writing “The Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart”. 

– in the promotion of the lay apostolate. of which he was a tireless promoter. 

– in the apostolate of the Catholic Press through: publications for the Apostolate of Prayer. Steuit Cones, and Michaeiskaiender. Besides the German Michaeiskaiender one was printed in Dutch. Since 1907. the Dutch missionary newspaper.”Catholic Mission” was also printed in Steyl. In Argentina the ” Argentinische Volksfreund” was published and in the USA.thc “Amerikanische Missionsblaif. and since 1906. the “Christian Family”. 

From the beginning Arnold was the editor, writer and author of his newspapers. Since 1876 he used his own press, making the newspapers and magazines interesting with a variety of topics, not only religious ones. 

– In the retreat movement, he was a pioneer, especially in retreats for lay people. 

– In the field of anthropology, through the Institute Anthropos. with studies in ethnology and linguistics, he helped to foster a deeper understanding of other peoples, cultures and religions. Through all of this he prepared the ground for inculturation and dialogue. 

– in the acceptance of vocations from among the local people. 

– in the trend towards one world family through the internationality of our congregations.

Retreats at Steyl

It was only in the 19th century that one heard about retreats for lay people, and even so they were rare and held in only a few places. In the middle of the century, first the Franciscans, then the Jesuits began giving retreats. But then came the Kulturkampf and put an end to that ministry for a time in Germany. In 1877, Steyl held retreats for priests and lay men but only for men. Later on lay retreats were given for women also.

In 1893 the SSpS started offering retreats for women. Their convent became an important center of retreats for women. In the first group were 102 women, and in the second 87. This strong retreat movement in Steyl went on for 12-15 years before others started to give them too. The Jesuits began in Holland in 1894 and later on in Germany. The Capuchins started in 1893 and also the Sisters of St. Joseph in Trier. 

At the beginning of this century, the ground for retreats was prepared. Priests and lay people alike who made their retreats in the early days at Steyl, agreed that if Arnold Janssen had done nothing else but promote the retreat movement – its revival and promotion for all groups – he would still have earned the name “Man of Providence”. When the Dutch Jesuits wanted to open the retreat house “Manresa” in Venlo. in 1908. Bishop Drehmans of Roermond advised them: “Get in contact with the Superior General Janssen of Steyi. He did a great work in this field and has rich experience. He can help you.” 

Arnold, however, never thought of himself as a pioneer. For him. retreats were indispensable means for the renewal of the life of faith. He promoted them, following his heart, not as a great organizer, but as a humble instrument of God. As in all other things, also in this he attributed all glory and success to God. 

Another factor in the wealth of blessings from the retreats of Steyl was the atmosphere which existed in St. Michael Seminary, Mother House of the SVD. Many sacrifices were borne by the community during all the retreats, and the rctreatants were drawn into close contact with the life and prayer of the community. 

Though there were 30 to 45 groups of retreatants per year, with some 6000 or more participants, there was no real retreat house. In the Mission house of St. Michael, as well as in the Herz-Jesus-Kloster of the SSpS. the retreatants were welcomed in the cloister. The members of the community then went to the attic if there was no other place. In the Chapel, the benches were given to the retreat- ants and the members of the house would remain standing. The community would take their meals after the retreatants were served. Even recreation places and the gardens were made free for the retreatants. They had their own schedule, but the morning prayer, evening prayer and the Eucharist were together with the community. 

Besides this, there was the added work of arranging the rooms, cooking and serving the meals, caring for the house and the laundry, etc. When one realizes the community consisted of about 750 members, and the retreatants at times like Easter and Pentecost numbered as many as 250 to 300, one marvels at the Broth- er cooks who sometimes catered for 1000 people. 

The many sacrifices made by the members of the house community surely were a source of blessings. Since the majority that came for retreats were lay people, this living together with the community members was of great importance in in- fluencing the retreatants’ lives. What they heard in the conferences, they saw being lived concretely. They had a concrete example of how to put theory into practice. 

On the other hand, the ending ceremonies of the retreat, the solemn consecration to the Sacred Heart in front of the altar which was festively decorated with candles and flowers, the solemn liturgy and singing with the community and choir, the whole assembly going to communion, the Te Deum as thanksgiving — all this made a strong impression on the community as well. 

For those preaching the retreat, to speak to 30 or 300 made no difference. For confessions and personal direction, there were many other priests available. 

For those who preferred to make a retreat in smaller groups, there were many opportunities. Yet. there is no doubt that the big retreat groups were favoured by many even when mere were already some 200 retreat houses in Germany. It happened many times that 100 or more applicants could not be accepted, even in 1927. when the movement was already in existence 50 years. For Pentecost 1927. 650 men applied and only 340 of them could be accommodated. 

Those who made their retreat in Steyl, became in turn the best benefactors of Fr. Arnold’s work, for they spread the news everywhere of their rich spiritual experience. This in turn brought in many vocations to carry on the work. 

When the Founder died in 1909. Steyl had already given 592 group retreats with 63.513 participants.

Fr. Hermann Fischer SVD. *Seit 50 Jahren Exerziuen in Stevl* – Steyl. 1927

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