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St. Arnold Janssen: The father of missionary congregations

St. Arnold Janssen

For the Catholic Church to deliver the Gospel to all nations, she sends out missionaries to evangelize her flock. St. Arnold Janssen, whose feast is on January 15, dedicated his life to this very purpose, creating three congregations in the service of the Universal Church, especially in times of cultural struggle.

Arnold was born on November 5, 1837, in Goch, a small city in lower Germany. He was born into a devout Catholic family and ordained a priest on August 15, 1861, for the Diocese of Muenster. He was then assigned to teach at a secondary school in Bocholt. There, he became a zealous member of the Apostleship of Prayer and was later appointed as the organization’s diocesan director.

Dealing with the ‘Kulturkampf’

After leaving his teaching post, Arnold became the chaplain of the Ursuline nuns in Kempen. During this time, the cultural struggle between the Catholic Church and the German government, the ‘Kulturkampf,’ was being enforced. The two powers were competing for direct control over education and ecclesiastical appointments within the territory.

Arnold saw this conflict as a call to step up. He decided to use his extra time to publish a monthly magazine. Through it, he promoted the devotion dearest to him—the Apostleship of Prayer and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

After printing his magazine’s first issue, Arnold’s research made him aware of the urgent need for evangelization in other countries, particularly those that were still deep in paganism. This realization inspired him to embrace the work of missioning to the nations.

Spreading the Divine Word

Since Arnold was getting old at the time, he knew he could not leave Germany for missionary work. Therefore, he decided to mentor other people who could do the mission on his behalf.

The Divine Word Missionaries, known as SVD—Societas Verbi Divini—were born on September 8, 1875, when they inaugurated the mission house of their apostolic school for boys in Steyl, Holland. Four years later, they sent their first two missionaries to China.

The mission house soon found itself taking care of both men and women from all walks of life. Eventually, they started their printing press that distributed magazines in Steyl, featuring content about Catholic catechism and faith.

By 1889, the mission house in Steyl was already in full occupancy. Therefore, Arnold set his sights on Austria. He became an Austrian citizen and gained permission to establish a congregation there, the Society of the Divine Word. Arnold and some of his companions built a church there in honor of the Holy Spirit, as well as a seminary building near Vienna.

The mission for women

The ladies who were serving in the household at Steyl took note of Arnold’s establishment of a religious society in Austria. This inspired them to express their desire for a larger role in the organization’s mission work.

Arnold interviewed these women and made them the first Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters on December 8, 1889, a mission congregation for ladies. Arnold first sent them to Argentina in 1895.

The following year, in 1896, Arnold selected some of the sisters to form another congregation. This time, he founded a group of cloistered nuns, the Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration. These women dedicate their entire lives to uninterrupted adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the Church and their two active missionary groups day and night.

The Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters wore blue habits, while the Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration wore pink habits, distinguishing the two congregations from one another. Henceforth, they were popularly known as “Blue Sisters” and “Pink Sisters.”

A strong presence around the world

Arnold died on January 15, 1909, at Steyl. St. Paul VI beatified him in 1975, and St. John Paul II canonized him in 2003.

St. Arnold Janssen made his entire life’s work about missioning, going beyond traditional boundaries, and overcoming the political struggles of his time just to make the Good News known. According to Catalogus January 2024,  more than 5754 Divine Word missionaries are active in 79 countries, and they come from 76 countries in the world. 

Meanwhile, there are over 3,800 missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS) and more than 400 Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (SSpSAP) scattered around the world, putting hard work in the name of evangelization and praying nonstop for the holiness of the Church.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.