The origin of the province of NEB
During the active years of Arnold Janssen at Steyl, 99 Dutchmen and one Fleming studied there for the priesthood. Moreover 57 men from the Netherlands presented themselves to join the SVD as a Missionary Brother. So one should call St. Michael’s rather a German speaking community enjoying hospitality on Dutch soil than an exclusive German missionhouse. It is not surprising that Father Arnold’s successor Father Nicolaus Blum (1857-19191) felt in line with our Founder when he suggested to the General Council to start a house for Dutch candidates. Fr. Blum was known to have a weak spot in his heart for the Dutch.
The presence at the Fourth General Chapter (1 November 1909 -15 January 1910) of three Dutch members, Fr. Theo Vilsterman, (1857-1916), successor of St. Joseph Freinademetz as Provincial in China, Fr. Peter Noyen (1870-1921), missionary in China, and Fr. Francis de Lange (1871-1938) from Techny USA, may have helped to establish a Minor Seminary for Dutch candidates.
In the meantime Fr. Gerard Schijndel, parishpriest of the Dutch village Boerdonk near Veghel, had contacted Fr. Blum in 1909. He asked him to send a teacher of philosophy for the students of his own small missionhouse, ‘unless you want to take over my whole enterprise’. It was Fr. Schijndel who drew the attention of Fr. Blum to a boarding school of the Ursuline Sisters at Uden. This building from 1845 was up for sale. The SVD bought the house for 62.650 Dutch guilders in May 1911.
On August 17, 1911, the Generalate appointed Fr. Peter Noyen as the first rector of the missionhouse at Uden, dedicated to St. Willibrord, a British monk who brought the Catholic Faith to the Netherlands in 690 AD. Peculiar is the stipulation of the Generalate that close attention had to be paid to the study of the German language. Special days had to be observed during which the Dutch community should speak German only. These regulations, however, were in fact (of course) ignored by the Dutch SVD. On the feast of St. Willibrord, November 7 , 1911, the new Minor Seminary, with 38 alumni, was opened.
St. Willibrord at Uden flourished to such an extent that a novitiate was started in Teteringen, near Breda, on September 8, 1915. Soon the need was felt to separate the novitiate from the Major Seminary. So 20 novices entered a new building at Helvoirt, near ’s-Hertogenbosch, on September 3, 1921. On September 8, 1924, a second Minor Seminary was started at Soesterberg, near Utrecht, for the numerous vocations from the Northern (protestant) part of the Netherlands. In the same period (1912) the Dutch SVD took over responsibility for the Catholic Mission in Flores and Timor, Indonesia. How our confrères managed all this, remains a mystery to the present generation.
On November 2, 1924, the Vatican established officially a Dutch Province of the SVD, consisting of four houses of formation.
The buildings of St. Willibrord’s Minor Seminary were completely destroyed by Nazis in September 1944. The community moved to Deurne near Eindhoven in 1954 after stays in Steyl (1945-1951) and Teteringen (1952-1953).
Founder Arnold Janssen (1837-1909) was a German priest, math teacher in Bocholt, Germany, who thought that the German-speaking countries (including, for the sake of convenience, the Netherlands ) should do something for missionary work. Just like France (White Fathers) and England (Mill Hill Missionaries) were doing. However, at the time Germany was ruled by the iron chancellor Bismarck (1815-1898) and a church persecution, known as the “Kulturkampf” (1872-1879), was under way. Arnold Janssen therefore crossed the border to the Netherlands, bought an abandoned inn in Steyl along the river the Meuse, five kilometres from Venlo, and in 1875 founded the mission house St. Michael. This initiative developend into the religious mission congregation the “Society of the Divine Word ‘, SocietasVerbiDivini (SVD), with now over 6,000 members; priests and skilled brother-missionaries.
‘Divine Word’ refers to the Incarnate Word from the introduction of the Gospel of John: “The Word became flesh” (1:14) and not primarily to the Holy Scriptures. The SVD is a “Society of Jesus, projected in eternity”, as a profound Jesuit once said.
Arnold Janssen soon found out that a mission without women can not accomplish much. So in 1891 he founded the Congregation of “the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters”, now with over 3500 members. Arnold Janssen believed in the power of prayer for the mission. To that end he founded the Congregation of the “Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration” in 1896. Now more than 350-members strong world-wide. Until a few years ago some of them were living in the “Cenakel” in Soesterberg. If you add up all these numbers, you get to the 10.000 people who are inspired by Arnold Janssen.
Since 1990 SVD formally considers secularized Europe as a real mission field, where they offer a helping hand according to their ability. Not much is left of the originally German character in the congregations of Arnold Janssen. Fully acting according to Janssen’s spirit, internationalism is now SVD’s trademark. The languages in the spiritual family of Arnold Janssen are English and Spanish. Its international character is also apparent for example by the presence of Indonesian, Indian and Filipino priests and sisters in the Netherlands. They are called “New Missionaries”.