“The Lord Challenges Our Faith to Do Something New”

Today is the Feast Day of St. Arnold Janssens (1837-1909), a German priest who founded the Divine Word Missionaries in 1875. During the Kulturkampf, a government crackdown on the Church, religious orders were dissolved, and a mass exodus of priests and religious from Germany occurred. Janssen suggested that they devote themselves to the missions, arguing that the “Lord challenges our faith to do something new, precisely when so many things are collapsing in the Church.” Soon the Society of the Divine Word (S.V.D.) was sending missionaries to Asia and South America. In 1895 they came to America, where they ministered to African-Americans. In 1923 they opened St. Augustine, the first American seminary founded specifically to train Black men for the priesthood. Located on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, it was founded at a time when most American dioceses and orders barred Black candidates. But the S.V.D’s had a strong supporter in Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), who wrote them: “In your new undertaking you are following the very principle which has always guided the Catholic Church.” May 23, 1934 saw the first group ordination of African-American priests: Fathers Anthony Bourges, Maurice Rousseve, Vincent Smith, and Francis Wade (seen above).

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