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The Society of the Divine Word

What makes the Society of the Divine Word unique?
Where are you located?
What type of work do you do?
Where do you serve?
How does the Society of the Divine Word compare in size to other Catholic religious orders?
How do you describe the personality of the organization?
Are you known by other names?
How do I find out more about the Chicago Province Divine Word Missionaries?
What do I do if I am interested in joining your congregation?
Is there an age limit requirement for joining the Society of the Divine Word?
Does the Society of Divine Word have programs for laypeople who are interested in becoming lay missionaries?

The men of the Society of the Divine Word

How many brothers and priests do you have?
What’s the average age of the Divine Word Missionaries?
What’s the predominant country of origin of the Chicago Province Divine Word Missionaries?
From where are most of the new brothers and priests coming?
Why do the men of Society of the Divine Word not wear a specific habit?

Our history

How and where was your congregation founded?
When did the Divine Word Missionaries arrive in North America?
How did Techny get its name?
What are some of the most noteworthy accomplishments of the Divine Word Missionaries in North America during the first 100 years?
Where can I find the historical photos that appear in your timeline?
Who was St. Arnold Janssen?

Frequently Asked Questions

The Society of the Divine Word

Q: What makes the Society of the Divine Word unique?

A: We are the world’s largest congregation of Catholic missionary priests and brothers. Divine Word Missionaries transcend borders to help people in need. Since our founding in 1875, we have prided ourselves on being culturally sensitive. We respectfully seek to adopt the ways of resident populations as we listen to their beliefs and share our own.  We intentionally live and work together as men from various cultures, celebrating and giving witness to the inclusiveness of God’s reign.

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Q: Where are you located?

A: We have residences, ministry sites and parishes across the entire region. The Province Center, which is the headquarters of the Chicago Province, is located at Techny. Techny is about 20 miles north of downtown Chicago and sits between two northern suburbs: Northbrook and Glenview. Our street address is 1985 Waukegan Rd., Techny, IL, 60082, USA.

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Q: What type of work do you do?

A: Our work can be described as contemporary missionary work.  We follow the Second Vatican Council’s "Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity" in our efforts to bring the Gospel message of salvation to all people while simultaneously respecting their human dignity and cultural heritage.

Within the Catholic Church, we are known for working with indigenous people, immigrants, refugees and the disenfranchised. Our specific ministries vary because we respond to the needs of the individual communities in which we serve.

In some corners of the globe, we have helped to develop education systems. In other parts, we provide humanitarian and social development programs. We also give pastoral care, which includes working as retreat directors, counselors and chaplains. The common thread that binds us is that we recognize the sacred in each human being and attend to those most in need.

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Q: Where do you serve?

A: The Chicago Province covers 14 states, nine Caribbean islands and two provinces in Canada. Our territory extends from Montréal to Montserrat and from Nebraska to Massachusetts.

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Q: How does the Society of the Divine Word compare in size to other Catholic religious orders?

A: Of all the Roman Catholic male religious orders, we have the sixth largest membership. We also are the largest congregation of priests and brothers to focus on mission work.

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Q: How do you describe the personality of the organization?

A: Divine Word Missionaries value multiculturalism. Throughout our history, our members have made decisions that purposefully have made it a multicultural organization. We also tend to attract men who are adventurous—not only in the traditional sense of the word but also in not being afraid to challenge the status quo externally and within themselves.

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Q: Are you known by other names?

A: Yes, we are known by several names. In English-speaking nations, we commonly are known as the Divine Word Missionaries. In Rome, they call us Verbitas.

And that’s just the beginning. As part of our missionary tradition, we often become one with the communities in which we serve. At times, those communities have given names to us that have a special connection to the location. For instance, in Germany the Divine Word Missionaries are known as the Steylers because the Society of the Divine Word’s first and foremost mission house is located in the Dutch town of Steyl.

Since the base of the North American missions began at Techny, some Catholics of northern Illinois have known our members as the Techny Fathers and Brothers. In South and Central America, the people call us Verbiti. In some African countries, they call us Verbites. And some people simply refer to us as SVDs, which are the initials that come after our names and indicate that we are members of the Society of the Divine Word, which in Latin is Societas Verbi Divini.

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Q: How do I find out more about the Chicago Province Divine Word Missionaries?

A: Read more about us on our website and that of our Vocation Office or call us at (847) 412-1600 and ask to speak with the public and media relations director.


If you have specific questions, check out How to Reach Us for the department that can answer your questions.

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Q: What do I do if I am interested in joining your congregation?

A: Those interested in joining us in our missionary work, should contact the Vocation Office at 800-553-3321 or to go the website, www.svdvocations.org.

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Q: Is there an age limit requirement for joining the Society of the Divine Word?

A: The qualifications for admission to the Society of the Divine Word, including age guidelines, are best obtained by contacting the Vocation Office.

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Q: Does the Society of Divine Word have programs for laypeople who are interested in becoming lay missionaries?

A: The Vocation Office conducts lay mission experience trips of varying duration and location. They also can refer qualified individuals to the Volunteer Missionary Movement (VMM) and similar programs for people interested in longer programs.

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The men of the Society of the Divine Word

Q: How many brothers and priests do you have?

A: Worldwide, the Society of the Divine Word has more than 6,000 members, and we continue to grow. In the Chicago Province, our numbers change from time to time because our priests and brothers come and go as directed by the Generalate in Rome. Our leaders continually evaluate the personnel needs of communities around the world and respond accordingly. Since the mid-1990s, the Chicago Province has remained constant at about 250 priests, brothers, seminarians and novices.

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Q: What’s the average age of the Divine Word Missionaries?

A: Globally, our average age is 47. The average age of Divine Word Missionaries in the Chicago Province is higher: 58. Many of the men who studied at Techny and spent decades abroad are now retired and live in the Chicago Province. Hence, the average age of the missionaries in the Chicago Province tends to be higher than the Society of the Divine Word overall.

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Q: What’s the predominant country of origin of the Chicago Province Divine Word Missionaries?

A: The Society of the Divine Word is international and multicultural in nature. In the Chicago Province, roughly 50 percent of the members were born in the United States. About 20 percent originally came from Vietnam, and the remaining 30 percent represents 25 other countries of birth.

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Q: From where are most of the new brothers and priests coming?

A: Throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, the majority of Divine Word seminarians and brother candidates are of Vietnamese descent or other immigrant communities, as is the case with most other religious orders and dioceses. Worldwide, we have especially robust vocational programs in Indonesia, India and Poland.

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Q: Why do the men of Society of the Divine Word not wear a specific habit?

A: The Society of the Divine Word is an international congregation. Working in more than 70 countries, Divine Word Missionaries follow the local practice for Catholic clergy and religious regarding the wearing of distinctive garb. In some countries, they walk the streets in cassocks; in other countries, secular authorities prohibit priests from wearing religious clothing. In the United States, Divine Word Missionaries wear proper clerical attire when they serving in a pastoral or sacramental role.

The truly distinct religious habits like those of the Franciscans and Dominicans date back to the founding of those orders many centuries ago. Religious communities founded more recently, such as the Society of the Divine Word, tend to use a simple black cassock or, more frequently today, black pants and the clerical shirt when engaged in ministry.

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Our history

Q: How and where was your congregation founded?

A: St. Arnold Janssen, whom Pope John Paul II canonized in 2003, founded our religious order in 1875. A German diocesan priest, Father Janssen recognized the need for a German missionary order. Because of friction between the Catholic Church and the Bismarck government, he had to establish his base in the Netherlands in a little town named Steyl. At the time of his death in 1909, the Society of the Divine Word had missionaries in 15 countries on six continents. Today, we serve the people of 71 countries on six continents.

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Q: When did the Divine Word Missionaries arrive in North America?

A: October 1895

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Q: How did Techny get its name?

A: For two decades, the Divine Word Missionaries ran St. Joseph’s Technical School, a training center for orphaned boys. As lore has it, when railway train conductors approached the station on the Divine Word property, they called out "Techny."

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Q: What are some of the most noteworthy accomplishments of the Divine Word Missionaries in North America during the first 100 years?

A: In the early 20th century, the pioneering Divine Word Missionaries established a dynamic community in northeastern Illinois. It came to be known as Techny.

Within 25 years of purchasing farmland north of Chicago, they built a mission house that eventually would be home to 500 students and missionaries, a seminary that supplied hundreds of brothers and priests to missions abroad, a printing press that annually published thousands of magazines and booklets, and a working farm that fed the entire community.

In the 1920s, the Society of the Divine Word became the first religious order that accepted African American candidates for the priesthood. In the 1970s, we were the first male religious order in the United States to accept Vietnamese candidates after the fall of Saigon.

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Q: Where can I find the historical photos that appear in your timeline?

A: Many of the photos that illustrate our timeline are part of collections that are held by the Robert M. Myers Archives, which is part of the Chicago Province. Others come from the Society of the Divine Word’s Generalate Archives, which is located in Rome. For more information about the photos, please see the Robert M. Myers Archives holdings.

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Q: Who was St. Arnold Janssen?

A:

Arnold Janssen was born on Nov. 5, 1837 in Goch, a small city in southern Germany. One of ten children, his parents instilled in him a deep devotion to religion. After studying mathematics, natural sciences, theology and philosophy, he was ordained a priest in 1861 for the Diocese of Muenster and was assigned to teach mathematics and natural sciences in a secondary school in Bocholt. Due to his profound devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he was named diocesan director for the Apostleship of Prayer. This apostolate encouraged Arnold to open himself to Christians of other denominations. 

Little by little he became more aware of the spiritual needs of people beyond his own diocese, and he developed a deep concern for the universal mission of the church. It was then that he decided to dedicate his life to awaking in the German church its missionary responsibility. In 1875, he founded the Society of the Divine Word.

Books are available about his life and work, including Fritz Bornemann's "Arnold Janssen: Founder of Three Missionary Congregations, 1837-1909: a Biography" (Arnoldus Press:1975), Frederick M. Lynk's "Father Arnold Janssen a Modern Pioneer in Missionary Work" (Westminster, London: Alexander Ouseley, 1934), and "A History of the Divine Word Missionaries" (Rome: Apud Collegium Verbi Divini, 1981) by Fritz Bornemann in collaboration with other writers.

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