Celebrating our brothers

St. Arnold Jansen recognized the value of the brother vocation from the beginning
Divine Word Missionary Brothers continue to write a proud chapter in the story of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), making significant contributions to the success of the world’s largest Catholic missionary order. Since its earliest days, the SVD has benefited from their skills and leadership abilities—especially since Vatican II.

When St. Arnold Janssen founded the society in 1875, he recognized the importance of the Brothers. In fact, at the time of his death in 1909, Brothers outnumbered priests in the society.

St. Arnold established a progressive formation program for the Brothers, who profess the same vows as the priests. The difference is that Brothers can focus on the tasks needed to advance the work of the SVD without the requirement of sacramental duties.

“First and foremost they should be religious men and they should feel that they are religious, even in the midst of their technical activities,” St. Arnold said about the Brothers, perhaps knowing that it takes religious understanding as well as capable hands to support a missionary order. St. Arnold also placed a high priority on professionalism.

“When he was studied for canonization, St. Arnold was praised for the fact that he gave Brother’s a really high level of training in the traditional trades,” said Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD, director of the Tri-Province Mission Center.

For instance, after professing his vows in 1882, Bro. Bernard (Schwerdtfeger), SVD, became the brains behind the printing-press operation that produced the society’s many publications—the main source of funds for the missions.

Bro. Wendelin Meyer was chosen by St. Arnold to be the first SVD in America, in 1895. Bro. Wendelin

Bro. Wendelin Meyer, SVD

quickly made friends for the society and played a pivotal role in acquiring the property that became Techny. It got its name because initially it had a “technical” school to train area youth. It later included many sources of income for the society and served as a place to train Brothers. Over time, they began to push for more educational opportunities, which the SVD addressed in the early 1960s. Bro. Tony Kreinus, SVD, assistant librarian at DWC, was among the first to benefit.

“In the summer of 1963 I was approached by the rector of our community, asking if I would be like to go to school with the intention of studying English and then teaching in our high school,” he said. He later earned master’s degrees in English and Library Science.

The SVDs efforts to offer more academic opportunities for Brothers were accelerated by Vatican II, which was perhaps the pinnacle moment in the advancement of Brothers.

“When the Holy Spirit blew open the doors of the church, it also blew open the doors of the society and the Brotherhood itself,” Bro. Bernie said. “1968 was a watershed year for the Brothers and the society.”

Today, Divine Word Missionary Brothers are well rounded men, who are able to combine their spirituality with a liberal arts education and advanced degrees. This allows them the flexibility to do a variety of ministries.

“I truly believe that Jesus walked this earth as a Brother,” Bro. Bernie said. “He was trained by his father to be a carpenter, but was so flexible that he could use over 80 different stories to help people relate to the Kingdom of God."