Facts About the Chicago Province

Facts About the Chicago Province

Name in Latin: Societas Verbi Divini
Popularly called: Divine Word Missionaries
Abbreviation: SVD
Founded: 1875
Founded by: St. Arnold Janssen
Divine Word Missionaries arrived in the United States: 1895


Of the world’s ten largest Roman Catholic orders for men, the Society of the Divine Word has been the fastest growing over the past 50 years. Of all orders of Catholic priests and brothers, we rank number six.

Membership worldwide: More than 6,000 priests and brothers
Members in the Chicago Province: More than 250

Divine Word Missionaries serve the spiritual and social needs of people on six of the seven continents. For more than a century, the Chicago Province has educated hundreds of Divine Word Missionaries, some of whom go to other countries and others who serve in Canada, the Caribbean and the United States.

The Chicago Province includes:

Province of Québec
Province of Ontario

British Virgin Islands
Netherland Antilles
West Indies

United States
District of Columbia
New Jersey
New York
West Virginia

Distinguished missionaries

Many of the men who studied at Divine Word schools or have other connections to the Chicago Province have served the Catholic Church and the world in distinguished ways.

Making African-American history
In the early 1920s, the Society of the Divine Word established the first seminary for African American men who wished to become priests and brothers. Church hierarchy chose one of the school’s alumni, Father Harold Perry, as the first 20th century African-American bishop in the United States. He served as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans for 25 years.

An old culture revealed
In 1929, Rev. William Ross led an expedition into the Northeastern New Guinea central highlands, where they found half a million inhabitants who were living in a Stone Age culture.

Asian milestones
Two events in particular marked Asian Catholic history in the 1940s. In 1946, Archbishop Thomas Tien—who later lived at Techny—became the Catholic Church’s first cardinal of Asian descent. In 1949, Divine Word Missionaries founded the University of Nanzan in Nagoya, Japan.

Scientific firsts
Stationed in Ghana in 1957, Rev. John Koster became the first scientist outside of Russia to track Sputnik I. He recorded three orbits of the satellite before the Russians even announced the launch. Father Koster’s work in physics also proved that the Earth’s upper atmosphere is most ionized over the Equator and not the poles as originally thought.

Pioneering linguist
The world beyond the Pacific islands understood little about the region’s language until pioneers such as Rev. Francis Mark Mihalic undertook studies. In 1957, Father Mihalic published Grammar and dictionary of neo-Melanesian. He followed with Introduction to New Guinea Pidgin in 1969 and edited New Guinea’s only national newspaper printed in Pidgin.

Peace Corps connection
In 1971, the Peace Corps turned to the Divine Word Missionaries for help in preparing volunteers who were heading to the Solomon Islands. The missionaries gave them permission to reprint Anthopos, a journal of linguistics and ethnology, founded by Rev. Wilhelm Schmidt in 1906.

After the fall
The Society of the Divine Word was the first religious order in the United States to accept Vietnamese candidates after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

For additional notable events, go to our historical timeline.