With great sadness, the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province has watched the violence that has taken place over the past several weeks. Each time one sees pictures of people killed unjustly and senselessly, the heart breaks. Each time the names of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are evoked, we are reminded that systemic racism still exists.
The 2018 Chicago Province Chapter approved two resolutions recommitting the province to oppose racism and promote equality and to affirm the congregation’s history and commitment to serving the African-American community. In January, we released the Statement on Immigration, Refugees and Racism. In it, we expressed concern over the growing intolerance of people of color.
We continue to be deeply committed to inspiring change in society, promoting equality and striving for unity. In 1905, our founder Father Arnold Janssen informed the Vatican of the congregation’s intent to undertake African-American ministry in the United States. Shortly thereafter, Father Aloysius Heick moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to build churches and schools.
Divine Word Missionaries along with Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters have stood against the racist attitudes that resisted attempts to educate Black children. We spoke out against racism in the Catholic Church, which at the time segregated parishes and pastors and treated Blacks as second-class members. In 1920, we opened Sacred Heart Seminary in Greenville, Mississippi, the first seminary in the United States to train Black men for religious life and priesthood.
We continue to amplify the voices of those who are not heard. During World War II when Japanese Americans were sent to detention camps in the western United States, Divine Word Missionaries went with them.
Following the end of the Vietnam War, many young men from that war-torn country joined the congregation, which allowed us to minister to the Catholic Vietnamese immigrant population in the United States and elsewhere in the world. In the late 20th century, when the Hispanic immigrant population grew in the United States, Divine Word Missionaries served Spanish-speaking parishes and defended immigrants’ rights.
The Society of the Divine Word affirms its commitment to promote just relationships between peoples, races and nations. As the Statement of Immigration, Refugees and Racism declares: “Rooted in a long history of serving the African- American and immigrant communities, the Society [of the Divine Word] continues to stand in solidarity with those facing racism, discrimination and marginalization in the North American context.”
We believe that the voice of the people and the power of peaceful protest will prevail. We, Divine Word Missionaries of the Chicago Province, commit ourselves to building a more just society, one that listens to and advocates for the poor and disenfranchised.