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Why did Fr. Arnold chose Steyl and not another place for the founding house?

Author: Saju George Aruvelil, SVD
Subject: Actualized Mission
Language: English, Spanish
Year: 2020

We are about to commemorate the founding day of our Congregation again. We know the circumstances of the foundation of the congregations of San Arnold. However, I think it is worth revising that historical fact from nowadays. Because the pandemic has hacked the entire world. Although the pandemic is not over yet, life and activities are resuming as they were before. It is a challenging new opportunity for all of us: the consecrated men and women missionaries and the lay partners of this great Arnoldian family. Yes, it is for a new beginning for the Church going forth (Evangelii Gaudium) and walking together and working united in the spirit of synodality of our shared mission.

As a starting point, let us ask ourselves why Fr. Arnold precisely chose Steyl? Were there other places that would have been better? It would give us a first impression that Fr. Arnold, as a man of vision and wide-ranging knowledge found Steyl as a more favorable and neutral town, in a socio-political-religious situation, especially overshadowed by the kulturcampf. In addition, he also found a cheaper building to buy, as if this were not enough, it was close to the seaport. It would make us think that, for those reasons, it was the appropriate and most practical place. In my opinion, there were also other much deeper ecclesial reasons.

Arnoldo was a man of deep prayer. Thus he sought inspiration in the Word of God and found: “the harvest is great, but the workers are few” (Mt 9: 35). Steyl was in such a situation. This prompted Fr. Arnold first and foremost to opt for pastoral commitment there. His desire was to announce the Good News in places where it has not yet reached and those where it has not been sufficiently proclaimed. He later wrote “for we have been sent to proclaim the glory and love of the Triune God” (SVD Constitutions, 405). This also reveals that that small town Steyl needed ecclesial workers.

Similarly, Arnoldo wanted to form a people with a missionary spirit and in this way he also wanted to reap the fruit of his effort, thanks to his adoration of the Incarnate Word, the Holy Spirit, and the veneration of the angels, the Virgin Mary and the patron saints. Thus, he wanted to evangelize in the local church and then from there, extend it to the universal Church. For him it would be unethical if he only recruited candidates for his own congregations, without collaborating with local ecclesial needs. He didn’t want to fish in the fish tank. In short, as Jesus went to Galilee, Samaria, Tire, Sidon and other outlying areas, he also sought to strengthen and nurture the faith of Catholics in Europe, arouse interest for foreign missions, gain resources and new vocations for the missionary cause.

Arnold grew up in an agricultural area, so he knew well that a fertile land needed for sowing that would give a good harvest. Speaking metaphorically, fertilizing the spiritual soil consists, first of all, in the family prayer for vocations to the consecrated life. Yes, the family is the first place for the inculcation of the faith and there it is obviously fostering the vocation to religious life as well. He taught that prayer is fundamental both for the christian life and for the consecrated life in particular. He did not make any important decisions without spending enough time in prayer. Because the missionary life always finds its fundamental strength in prayer and afterwards in other resources.

Secondly, being a teacher, he knew that educational centers are also other excellent fields for evangelization. Along with education, they also provide extensive training for future families, rooted in evangelical values ​​and specially to foster vocations for the local church and also for religious and missionary life. I confirm it from my own experience of educational ministry -during two decades-.

One of the innovative features of Arnold’s foundations was the organization of retreats for the laity, which proved to be an excellent means of procuring vocations. For Arnold, the missionary vocation is “to glorify the Triune God among the nations.”

Along with them goes the apostolate of the press. The first issue of The Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart (January 1874) informed German-speaking Catholics to become aware about the need for foreign missions and collaborate beyond the local church. The St. Michael’s Calendar primarily spread the missionary idea and news about the Steyl mission house among Catholics, and annually recruited new friends and vocations. Yes, the apostleship of prayer was a milestone in Arnold’s growth as a missionary and founder of our congregations.

To summarize, the choice of Steyl to begin the mission home was not limited merely to practical reasons. Arnoldo as a generous and committed priest knew that the place of the local ecclesial ministry is also a place to have the abundant vocation. In the same way, he also knew well that if one is faithful with a little, the Lord will entrust him with more (Mt 25: 14-30). That is why, above all, choosing Steyl was an act of faith and dedication, mysticism and practice at the same time.

The current situation shaken by the pandemic is the new Steyl, Galilee, Samaria, Tire and Sidon, with a lot of harvest. They are the current places of our mission with golden and challenging opportunities. They consist of the renewal of families, communities, also the incorporation of our spirituality, the Arnoldian dimensions and characteristic areas, etc. It is to form disciples and missionaries with the new updated ecclesial spirit, as he did in Steyl. We are called to continue the exodus from Bocholt to Steyl and from Steyl to the world. Happy and blessed foundation day! May live the triune God in our hearts and the whole of humanity.



Saju George Aruvelil, SVD

Saju George Aruvelil, SVD is from India. He is one of the first OTP who has gone to Argentina. He finished his theological studies for the priesthood also there. He then began his service in the education field in our SVD institutions. He obtained a licentiate in Spirituality from Pontifical University of Comillas, Madrid. He also holds a doctorate in Theology from the Pontifical University of Argentina, Buenos Aires. He also helps in the formation of laity and religious candidates. He gives retreats and leads workshops, seminars, etc. He has a radio program and writes in a local newspaper. At present he is a promoter of Laudato Si Movement for caring for the Earth together with his parish priestly pastoral activities.

3 responses

  1. Thank you so much Fr. Saju for this beautiful and insightful article. Aside from the cheaper price of the house and land he purchased in Venlo, allow me to contribute few points in lieu of this topic based on my research and reading. In Analecta 35, in the article “Arnold Janssen Founder of Three Missionary Congregations 1837-1909” (page 48), Fr. Fritz Bornemann, the author, presented few reasons why Fr. Arnold chose Steyl and not another place for the founding house. 1. “The mission seminary…would not have to be located in a large city like other mission seminaries were. A quieter place would do,” a place free from political turmoil unlike in Germany. 2. Holland, because of its liberal educational system. 3. To take advantage of the large number of German priests who had no assignments during that time due to the political restrictions. The mission seminary would be an avenue for their formation and re-training. Those who were interested would be invited to work in the foreign countries and be sent to the mission. 4. The Bishop of Roermond was very supportive to Fr. Arnold. This support of the Bishop, I believe, was very advantageous in the future missionary endeavors and objectives of the Founder.

    -Greetings from Arusha, Tanzania.

    1. Father Eric, thank you very much for your comments. I will also add a few words from myself. Of course, the decisive factor in the choice of the Netherlands was the question of the restrictions imposed on the Catholic Church in the German Reich. Point 3 of your comments is very important. Ironically, out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of priests and seminarians who had to leave Germany because of the Kulturkampf, only one Capuchin came to Steyl – and it was the brother of Arnold Janssen. Only in later years did a few professors appear from among the exiles. It is a very beautiful moment in the life of St. Arnold: God did not give him the people Arnold counted on, but gave him those he chose and called to do the work. And there weren’t enough of them. Fr. Eric, God bless you in your service!

  2. Muchas gracias Saju George Arubelil por este maravilloso artícuulo. Nos encantó el pasaje bíblico que menciona, Mateo 9:35 ” Es mucha la mies y pero pocos los obreros”, tanto por reflexionar con esto. Tantas cosas y tantas palabras para llevar al prójimo.
    ¡Que bueno es llevar la palabra de Dios a todos lados! Cada semilla que sembramos en tierra fértil, será germinada para luego cosechar. (Siempre hablamdo de la palabra)

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