The Society of the Divine Word's rich history began in 1875 with its founding. Since 1895, the region that is now known as the Chicago Province has played an important role in the growth and life of the world's largest religious order of priests and brothers who focus on missionary work.

This timeline showcases highlights in our history from 1875 to 2010. Click on a time span or let the slide show move on its own. To pause on a page, click on the button with two vertical lines. To advance the navigation bar, click on the arrow that points to the right. To go back, click on the arrow that points left.

For more information about the histories of specific communities within the Chicago Province, check out
"Communities of the Word: Stories of the Chicago Province, 1895-2012." Organized by the Chicago Province Robert M. Myers Archives, the Community Histories Project will publish a new chapter each month from now until mid-2015.


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September 1875
In the midst of Kulturkampf—an attempt by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s government to control the Catholic Church—German priest Arnold Janssen founds the Society of the Divine Word.

October 1895
Father Janssen dispatches Brother Wendelin Meyer, uncle of the future Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago, to the United States. He lands in Hoboken, N.J., and begins his assignment of selling German-language magazines published by Steyl Mission Press in the Netherlands. Brother Homobonus Stiller will join him a year later.

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September 1897
Father John Baptist Peil, known as the founder of the Divine Word Missionaries in North America, and two other missionaries arrive in the United States. 

May 1899
The five pioneering Divine Word Missionaries take up residence in a rented house in Shermerville, Ill. (now Northbrook). Father Peil offers the community’s first public Mass, and the parish of St. Norbert, which still exists today, is born.

June 1899
The Divine Word Missionaries finalize the purchase of 337-acres of farmland in Shermerville, Ill., 20 miles north of Chicago. In later years, the missionaries acquired additional land to expand their farm to more than 700 acres.
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April 1900
The missionaries begin excavation for a building that will serve as their residence and as a new trade school for orphaned boys. This building will become the north wing of a larger structure.

September 1900
An estimated 2,000 people from Shermerville (now Northbrook, Ill.) and surrounding communities join the Divine Word Missionaries for a picnic to celebrate the Society’s 25th jubilee.

December 1900

The Divine Word Missionaries in the United States complete the north wing, the first stage of their master building plan that will house the missionaries and their students and provide space for the technical school. Thanks to the labor of the Divine Word brothers, the missionaries erected the building so quickly that Chicagoans call it the new "world miracle of Chicago." Designed by Divine Word priest and architect John Beckert, this three-wing, four-story building will eventually become St. Mary’s Seminary, the first Catholic seminary in the United States to educate young men for overseas missionary work. Today, it is a part of Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center.

Father Janssen gives permission to set up Mission Press, a printing operation that will produce thousands of magazines, pamphlets and books during the next six decades.
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April 1901
St. Joseph’s Technical School opens its doors to ten students from Chicago.

May 1901
Five Sisters of the Holy Spirit—the missionary order of nuns founded by Father Janssen—arrives at Techny to assist the priests and brothers. Another 32 nuns will follow later in the year.

September 1901

Four young American men are allowed to begin novitiate as brothers. At first Father Janssen had said no for fear that the Society of the Divine Word was growing too quickly, but he eventually changed his mind.

April 1902
Enrollment at St. Joseph’s Technical School increases to 25.
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August 1903
St. Joseph’s Technical School receives its first telephone connection.

With an increase in personnel, the Divine Word Missionaries quickly outgrow their chapel in the north wing. They build the east wing (now demolished) with a two-story chapel that has a capacity to seat 250 people.

Father Janssen informs Vatican officials that the Divine Word Missionaries would like to live and work among the African-American population. Shortly thereafter, Bishop Thomas Heslin of Natchez, Miss., invites them to his diocese, and Father Aloysius Heick moves south.
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The missionaries begin publishing The Christian Family magazine.

January 1906
The Divine Word Missionaries’ land officially receives the name Techny when the on-site post office opens and sends its first piece of mail, a postcard to Father Janssen.

July 1906
John Reiner Sr. and 16 other men gather at Techny for one of the first organized Catholic group retreats in the United States. At the conclusion of their second retreat in 1907, they establish the Sacred Heart Retreatants’ League to live out the spiritual benefits of their experience and to introduce the concept of the retreat to a wider public.

The Divine Word Missionaries convert a farmhouse on the Techny property into St. Mary’s Mission House. Chicago Archbishop James Quigley dedicates the mission house and 12 students begin theological training.
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The Divine Word Missionaries found Mission House, another seminary, in Girard, Penn. (near Erie).

As the Society of the Divine Word’s presence in North America grows, the superior general changes its status from a region to a full-fledged province.
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June 1918
About 3,000 people celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi at Techny, Ill.

August 1918
The missionaries employ architect Herman Joseph Gaul—a protégé of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan—and begin constructing Chapel of the Holy Spirit and the second and final addition to St. Mary’s Seminary at Techny, Ill. This six-story, twin-tower building has 75 bedrooms, classrooms, dining rooms and a 700-seat Romanesque chapel. Today, it houses the Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center.

October 1919
Father Frederick Gruhn and seminarians Robert B. Clark and Clifford King volunteer to be the first American Divine Word Missionaries to go to China.
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Father Francis Markert attends the annual Catholic Press Association convention. During a conversation with Bishop William Russell of Charleston, S.C., he mentions the success of Catholic publications in Spain and suggests that the U.S. hierarchy publically support the Catholic press. Later that year, the bishops’ conference unanimously voted to name February as Catholic Press Month.

The Divine Word Missionaries close St. Joseph’s Technical School.

The Divine Word Missionaries begin building a school, Holy Ghost Novitiate, on Lake Beulah in the town of East Troy about 30 miles west-southwest of Milwaukee, Wis.


Mother Katharine Drexel gives a grant to the Divine Word Missionaries to help build St. Augustine’s Seminary, which was located in Greenville, Miss., and later relocated to Bay St. Louis, Miss. St. Augustine’s Seminary is purposefully built as the first school in the United States to educate African-American men who want to become priests and brothers.

May 1921
Fathers Florian Haas, Joseph Murphy and Peter Weyland become the first Divine Word Missionary priests ordained at Techny. Their classmates, Robert Clark and Clifford King, were ordained in China.
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Father William Ross, who later became the first American missionary in New Guinea, is ordained to the priesthood.

The missionaries found St. Francis Xavier Mission Seminary—also known as Miramar—in Duxbury, Mass., on the coast about 30 miles south of Boston. When the Divine Word Missionaries opened the school on land that they purchased from Boston’s William Cardinal O’Connor, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on their front yard.

In Bay St. Louis, Miss., the Society opens St. Augustine’s Seminary, the first Catholic seminary to educate African-American men who are interested in becoming priests and brothers. Over the years, dozens of African-American priests and brothers graduated from the school, including nine alumni who became bishops. The school closed in 1967—after seminaries began to accept men of all nationalities and races.

June 1923
Very Reverend William Gier, superior general of the Divine Word Missionaries, celebrates the first Mass at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
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Father Thomas Megan, who later became the first American Divine Word Prefect Apostolic in China, is ordained.

Subscription circulation for The Christian Family magazine reaches 125,000.

The missionaries accept administration of Holy Rosary Institute, a boarding school for African-American children in Lafayette, La.
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Fund-raising operations at Techny support 22 missionaries outside the United States and provide 80,000 Mass stipends and more than $55,000 in donations to overseas missions.

The missionaries dedicate St. Paul’s Mission House in Epworth, Iowa, near Dubuque. It is the Society of the Divine Word’s first seminary west of the Mississippi River.

With a school-year budget of $37,000 and food from the Divine Word farm, the kitchen at Techny prepares three meals a day for 420 priests, brothers and students.
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Chicago native and Divine Word Missionary Father Joseph Murphy becomes the first rector of Peking University in China.

Fathers Vincent Smith, Francis Wade, Maurice Rousseve and Anthony Bourges are ordained, making them the first African-American priests educated in the United States.
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January 1935
While traveling to make an annual spiritual retreat, 34-year-old Brother Eugene Frank dies from arrow-inflicted wounds in New Guinea. An Illinois native and the second American Divine Word Missionary to arrive in that South Sea island nation, Brother Eugene readily adopted his new home during the summer of 1929. Before his death in the upper Simbu, he put his skills as a carpenter to good use in Mount Hagen, building houses, schools and churches.

Shortly after ordination, Father Gerard Hofstee becomes the first American Divine Word Missionary priest assigned to India.

The Divine Word Missionaries open a mission seminary at Conesus, N.Y., in the Finger Lakes region between Syracuse and Rochester.

Brother Vincent (Louis) Webb professes vows and becomes the first African-American Divine Word brother.

A graduate of St. Mary’s Seminary and a scholar of vertebrate paleontology, Father Harold Rigney becomes the first of several Divine Word Missionaries to earn a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He later authored "Four Years in a Red Hell." The book chronicles his being charged with espionage and imprisoned in a Chinese jail during the 1950s.
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June 1940
The North American Province has grown so large that Society of the Divine Word leaders decide to form three new provinces out of the one with headquarters in Techny, Ill.; Girard, Penn.; and Bay St. Louis, Miss.

The Divine Word Missionaries open a seventh North American school, St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary in Bordentown, N.J., located along the Delaware River in the southwestern part of the state.
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Divine Word Missionary priest Joseph Kotrba, who was ordained at Techny in 1939, is interrogated by Japanese soldiers and beheaded as a spy because he had been an auxiliary chaplain for American troops stationed in Wewak, New Guinea, before the Japanese occupation.

March 1943

Somewhere in the seas off of New Britain, New Guinea, 62 captives on the Japanese destroyer Akikaze—most of whom are German Catholics—are hoisted above the deck, shot and flung into the ocean. Among them are Bishop Joseph Lörks, SVD, from Germany and two American Divine Word Missionaries, Father Arthur Manion and Brother Victor Salois.

General Douglas MacArthur takes 20 American Divine Word Missionaries from Australia to New Guinea to continue the development of the modern school system there.
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Two Techny graduates distinguish themselves: Divine Word Missionary Adolph Noser becomes the first bishop of Accra, Ghana, in West Africa and Father Daniel Driscoll opens the first Divine Word Missionary seminary in Australia.

Techny alumnus Father Thomas O’Connell returns to his native Ireland to found a Divine Word seminary in County Roscommon.

The recently widowed Baroness Maria Von Trapp and her family, whose story is immortalized in "The Sound of Music," accept an invitation from their friend Divine Word Father Bruno Hagspiel. They make Miramar their base while they spend the year performing concerts across the United States.

July 1948
Divine Word Missionary priests Stephen Appelhans and Leo Arkfeld celebrate their episcopal ordinations in Techny’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit, the place where they prayed as students. They become the vicars apostolic of Eastern New Guinea (Madang) and Central New Guinea (Wewak), respectively replacing German-born Divine Word Missionary bishops Franz Wolf and Joseph Lörks who were killed during World War II.

The Divine Word Missionaries establish their first missionary seminary in Canada, St. John the Baptist Minor Seminary in Granby, Québec Province.
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After undergoing surgery for a heart ailment, Divine Word Missionary Cardinal Thomas Tien, the Roman Catholic Church’s first Asian cardinal, is unable to return to China because of the Communist takeover. He becomes a resident of Techny.

April 1953
Cardinal Francis Spellman presides over the Episcopal ordination of Divine Word Missionary Joseph Bowers, making him the first of nine St. Augustine graduates to become a bishop. He is consecrated as bishop of Accra, Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast), succeeding Bishop Noser who is transferred to Papua New Guinea and becomes the archbishop of Alexishafen.

The Divine Word Missionaries open minor seminaries in Riverside, Calif., and Perrysburg, Ohio.
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January 1960
After 60 years of operation, Mission Press is destroyed by fire. The presidents of two of Chicago’s largest printing companies—R.R. Donnelly and W.F. Hall—offer to make the Society of the Divine Word’s publication needs a top priority.

The Divine Word Missionaries establish Verbum Dei High School in the Watts District of Los Angeles.

June 1964
The Society of the Divine Word establishes a fourth North American province, based in Riverside, Calif.
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The Miramar seminary closes, and the buildings become a retreat house.

Very Reverend John Musinsky, originally from Pennsylvania, becomes the first American superior general of the Society of the Divine Word.

Father Harrie Vanderstappen, the first ordained Catholic priest to hold a faculty position at the University of Chicago, receives a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to produce "T.L. Yuan Bibliography of Chinese Art and Architecture." This reference book catalogues every piece of Western writing on the art of China. During Fr. Vanderstappen’s distinguished career, the University of Chicago named a professorship in Chinese art history in his honor.
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Divine Word College welcomes the first class in Epworth, Iowa. Today, it is the only Roman Catholic undergraduate seminary in the United States that is dedicated to preparing brothers and priests for missionary work.

September 1965
Pope Paul VI appoints Divine Word Missionary Harold Perry, a graduate of St. Augustine’s Seminary, as an auxiliary bishop of New Orleans. He becomes the first African-American bishop in the United States in the 20th century.

After several years of declining enrollment, the Divine Word Missionaries close their minor seminaries in Conesus and Girard.
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The Society the Divine Word’s North American major seminary moves from Techny to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Bishop Joseph Bowers, SVD, requests and receives Divine Word Missionaries for work in the Caribbean.

Bishop Joseph Hodges of Charleston, W. Vir., makes a plea for more clergy; a total of 22 West Virginia counties are without priests. Divine Word Missionary priest Edwin Daschbach answers the call and becomes pastor of St. Thomas in Gassaway, W. Vir.
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In Epworth, Iowa, 16 Vietnamese immigrants enter Divine Word College as seminarians. These young men represent an eventual wave of Vietnamese candidates.

October 1975
Pope Paul VI beautifies the Divine Word Missionary’s founder and its first missionary, Father Arnold Janssen and Father Joseph Freinademetz.

The government of Papua New Guinea posthumously honors Father William Ross with a commemorative postage stamp in his likeness. Father Ross’s picture also hangs in a gallery of pioneers in the Mount Hagen Town Hall, Papua New Guinea.
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March 1984
Under the leadership of Father Francis Kamp, the Techny Land Committee is formed to study and develop parts of the Chicago Province’s 770 acres of land that are no longer needed to feed and house missionaries, students and seminarians. The committee later sets aside 246 acres to lease and gives an additional 92 acres to the Northbrook Park District.

May 1985
Father Joseph Tri Van Vu becomes the first Vietnamese Divine Word Missionary to be ordained in the United States.

May 1985
Chicagoan Robert Kisala, who eventually becomes the first foreigner to complete a doctorate in religious studies at the University of Tokyo, is ordained to the priesthood at Techny.

June 1985
The Eastern and Northern Provinces of the Society of the Divine Word merge to make the Chicago Province with headquarters at Techny, Ill.

The seminaries at Perrysburg and East Troy close.
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Wendelin House for Brothers opens in Washington, D.C. Fourteen years later, the Divine Word Missionaries will close the residence and relocate the Brothers Formation Program to Chicago.

December 1994
Pope John Paul II appoints Archbishop John Bukovsky as papal delegate to the Russian Federation. Archbishop Bukovsky, who was ordained to the priesthood at Techny in 1950, also served as the first apostolic nuncio (Vatican ambassador) to Romania after the fall of Communism.

Emperor Akihito of Japan decorates Chicagoan and Divine Word priest Edward Grzenia with The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette, a medal of merit in recognition of his contribution to education in Japan.
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American Divine Word Missionary John Wald receives the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope John Paul II, the Independence Medal from Papua New Guinea, and the Office of the British Empire Medal from Queen Elizabeth II. The honors recognize his work in establishing the modern education system in Papua New Guinea.

The Chicago Province establishes a residence in Memphis, Tenn., where Divine Word Missionaries live together in one residence while serving as pastors in several parishes and in other diocesan ministries.

October 2003
Pope John Paul II canonizes the Divine Word Missionary’s founder and first missionary, Blessed Arnold Janssen and Blessed Joseph Freinademetz.

March 2004
The Divine Word Missionaries name Kitty Collins as the first lay executive director of Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center.

September 2004

Dr. Naomi Franklin, who received her doctorate from Duke University, and Divine Word Missionary priest Bernard Latus found the St. Jerome Biblical Studies Institute, a Catholic institute with ecumenical outreach on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.
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The Divine Word Missionaries expand their ministry in Canada beyond French-speaking Québec by agreeing to minister at multinational parishes in Toronto, Ontario.

July 2007
The Chicago Province is accredited by Praesidium Religious Services for achieving the highest standards in child abuse prevention.

August 2008
Divine Word Father Richie Vaz, who is superior delegate of the Chicago Province, becomes a leader in the cause to stop atrocities exacted by Hindu extremists on the poor in the Indian state of Orissa.

October 2008
The Province Archives is given the name of its founder, Father Robert M. Myers. Begun in 1995, the archive holds important documents regarding African-American Catholic history and vital materials that chronicle the story of Divine Word Missionaries in North America.

October 2008

In conjunction with Monmouth University, the Divine Word Missionaries present a symposium that highlights many of the 10,000 artifacts found during an archeological dig on their Bordentown property. In the early 19th century, the property was the site of an estate owned by Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother and one-time king of Naples, Sicily and Spain.
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June 2009
St. Anselm, which is one of the oldest African-American parishes in Chicago and has had a Divine Word pastor since 1932, celebrates its 100th anniversary.

June 2009
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire and Divine Word Father George Agger dedicate St. Patrick Church on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The new structure replaces churches destroyed by the Soufriere Hills volcanic eruption of 1997.

August 2009
The Divine Word Missionaries name Ginny Mulligan as the first lay executive director of Techny Land Development, which oversees and manages the development of leased Techny land.

March 2010
Bishop Joseph Bowers, a native of Dominica, celebrates his 100th birthday. In 1953, he became the first black bishop to be episcopally ordained in the United States. At the time of his birthday, he is the world’s fourth oldest living Catholic bishop.