The Spirituality of Arnold Janssen

Author: Peter McHugh, SVD
Subject: Arnold Janssen
Language: English, Spanish
Painting of Arnold Janssen praying kneeling (color)
Painting of Arnold Janssen praying kneeling (color)

It is clear that Arnold Janssen did not initiate a new school of spirituality in the classical sense of schools of spirituality such as that of the Dominicans or Franciscans. But it would be false to conclude, from such a premise, that his spirituality contains nothing distinctive and proper. A spirituality is a living synthesis of diverse elements, evangelical principles and human values.

The essence of Arnold Janssen’s spirituality lies in considering God as the God who communicates, who reveals himself. “Revealing” should not be taken here in the mere sense of communicating information, but in the sense that a person transmits his ideas, informs about himself, communicating something of his true self. To proclaim The Word (the Divine Word) is to assure that in God this type of self-communication is seen as the most sublime. God pronounces his Word, his Word, which fully contains and reveals his whole being. It is here that our spirituality becomes a charism: that of missionary service. This is the charism of the Founder: to proclaim the Gospel close to the realities of the men and women of today.

The Prologue of the Gospel of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word…”, was for him a prayer learned from childhood. The Eucharist and Sacred Scripture infused renewed vitality into his attitudes of adoration and gratitude. As a man of his time, he experienced the influence of certain devotions on his prayer life. These meant availability to the will of God, which manifested itself in his dedication to the apostolate of prayer and in his special veneration of the Holy Spirit. Such devotions took on various nuances as Janssen advanced in love and service and were expressed concretely in the foundation of three Congregations.

The Holy Trinity constituted the real foundation of Arnold Janssen’s whole spirituality, because this Divine Word spoken by the Father from eternity was pronounced in time to us, men.

Blessed Arnold Janssen’s life also became a Word, a word of response to such a generous offering of Love. If he loved me wholly, he used to say, the only adequate response I can give is to love him wholly.

Arnold Janssen was not only captured and tensed by the Divine Word, but he also possessed an extraordinary devotion to the Holy Spirit. It came partly from his own personal inclination. He understood that the power and demand of the Word of God becomes the power of the Spirit. He came to see clearly that the Divine Word sent the Spirit to make precisely the Word of the Father an effective and dynamic Word, uniting him to the Divine Word and, through him, to the Father. These two great devotions – to the Divine Word and to the Holy Spirit – are Janssen’s prototypical contribution to his spirituality.

Arnold Janssen centered his spiritual life, basically, in the Christian Mystery; from it his spirituality takes its characteristic strength, its depth and endurance. The Holy Spirit worked the Incarnation of the Divine Word; that same Divine Spirit can realize the incarnation of the ideals of the Divine Word in our Christian and missionary commitment.

When the time came to found the Congregation of the Sisters, her vision had matured so much that she saw no incongruity in calling one Congregation “Divine Word” and the other “Handmaids of the Holy Spirit”. On the contrary, this expressed more deeply and fundamentally her perspective of the same mission of Christ, the Son. This explicit way of expressing the union of the Divine Word and the Holy Spirit is Father Arnold’s characteristic contribution and shows how deep was his theological idea in this regard.

“I prayed that the Holy Spirit would enlighten and strengthen all of you and unite you with the bond of love, just as He responds to the will of the eternal Father of love.

May He bless us all and grant us those virtues that He expects from us!”

(Arnold Janssen)


Father Peter MCHUGH was born in Liverpool, England. He entered the Congregation of the Divine Word and had his first assignment in the Philippines. From 1971 to 1975 he served as formator in the Philippine Central Province (PHC), from 1975 to 1978 he returned to the Province (England/Ireland (IBP). From 1978 to 1994 he served as secretary general for SVD formation and education in Rome. From there he was called to collaborate in the Arnold Janssen Spirituality Center (1996-2011) in Steyl. Since 2011 he collaborates with the spiritual direction in Nemi, Rome.

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