St. Arnold Janssen and his missionary poverty
How he dealt with money
By Father Stanley Plutz SVD
St. Arnold Janssen knew the value of a good investment—both financial and spiritual. And he knew the worth of a coin. He inherited a sense of fiscal responsibility from his parents. With this wisdom, he developed the first Divine Word mission house at Steyl, Netherlands, and set an example for Divine Word Missionaries to follow.
His father, Gerard Janssen, owned a small farm. With a wagon, he hauled freight to supplement the income from the farm while his wife Catherine tended to their seven children who survived early childhood. Arnold was the second oldest child.
Arnold went to the seminary on a half-scholarship. For higher studies, his efforts to obtain a state grant proved unavailing. He did, however, receive a Prussian equivalent of a $50 loan from the trustees of a student foundation. (During St. Arnold’s lifetime, Germany currencies included talers, gulden and deutsche marks. For the sake of this article, the currencies have been converted to the equivalence of U.S. dollars.)
When studying at the university, he received a prize worth $50 for winning a mathematic contest. He used the prize money to invite his father to come to the university and take a trip with him on the Rhine River.
On a teacher’s salary
Assigned to a school after his ordination to the priesthood, St. Arnold lived on a small government salary for teaching and a small amount of money from the parish to which the school was attached and where he helped.
He used part of this first salary to buy his mother a new coat for her name day, the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria on Nov. 25.
As a teacher, he bought teaching aids for the subjects he taught, among which were apparatus for his science classes. He purchased books and established a teachers’ library that included the first six volumes of Brehms Tierleben (Brehm’s Animal Life). He likewise subscribed to periodicals of general science and the latest findings in physics.
As soon as he could, he repaid the money advanced to him for his studies. In 1865, he sent his youngest brother John to the seminary and paid for all his studies, including books.
Father Arnold raised money to buy a statue of our Blessed Mother to create an atmosphere in the auditorium when he gave religious instructions to the youth.
He raised the money by giving a series of lectures on electricity and charging a small fee. The school board, however, would not allow a statue of our Blessed Mother in the hall. Because of this incident, Father Arnold resigned from his teaching position with the bishop’s permission. Before he left, he added up what he had spent for the teachers’ library and asked that the school reimburse him.
He then found a position at an Ursuline school for girls. As chaplain for the nuns and teacher for the girls, he received free board and lodging.
A writer’s life
Father Arnold entrusted all his financial matters to St. Joseph, who had provided for the Holy Family even in times of great difficulty.
While still teaching in the government school, at his own expense he had written and printed a booklet on the Apostleship of Prayer, a movement he had joined and was promoting.
He sent the profit from the booklet to Bohemia to have 49 Masses offered, 35 in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and 14 in honor of the Holy Spirit. Counting all the reprints and editions, the booklet for Apostleship of Prayer reached about 90,000 copies. A prayer book, which he composed next sold 6,000 copies. The First Friday manual sold in all perhaps 60,000 copies. His St. Joseph booklet sold about 14,000 copies. The prayer leaflets reached about a 100,000 in their various printings.
Later, he sold his publications and established a revolving fund so that the profit from his previous writings could fund the printing of his next writings. To some half dozen workers who were hard up for money he lent $500 most of which he never got back. He sent $50 to Bishop Daniel Comboni in Africa for the baptism and upbringing of a child.
In his devotion, Father Arnold offered a monthly Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart and another Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit without a stipend. This practice he perpetuated in the Society of the Divine Word, which he later founded.
To his brother John, he sent a list of Scripture readings and theological books that he could order and read. For these he paid with the recommendation: "Use your time well. Your stay at Bonn costs money…."
While at the school of the nuns, he started a mission magazine entitled "The Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart." He had 10,000 copies of the first issue printed. Many of these were used for promotion. Some he gave for free; others he sold.
At the end of year, he had 3,000 subscribers with all expenses paid and a small profit from the sales. He also received $300 in donations for the missions, which he kept in a separate account. In subsequent issues of the magazine, he seriously appealed for donations for the mission seminary.
Beginning of the seminary
When the donations reached $20,000, he bought an old inn for $17,000 and used the remaining amount for repairs on the building. Among donations were $9,000 dollars from the Poor Clare nuns.
In the old inn, Father Arnold started a preparatory mission seminary to train boys who wanted to become missionaries. He had graduated and was certified as a high school teacher and of course, had 12 years of experience as a high school educator.
One of the first applicants was Henry Erlemann, a carpenter. Mr. Erlemann had to make needed furniture, such as a table and chairs, before he could study full time. Father Arnold taught him Latin while he worked. Father Arnold also had him make a wooden cover for over his bed, which could serve as a table and desk during the day and when folded a bed for the night.
The women of the village were of great help. Some volunteered; others made themselves available for chores when asked.
Boys and young men learned about the mission seminary through the Sacred Heart Messenger and applied to become missionaries. Those accepted had to have a willingness to serve in the foreign missions. For boys from poor families, the price of board and lodging could be negotiated. For these poor boys Father Arnold appealed to benefactors.
Brother Juniper, Father Arnold’s blood brother and a Capuchin brother, received permission from his superior to join Father Arnold during the first years of the mission seminary. He was a good beggar, and he also cooked.
Later on, Father Arnold requested a community of the Sisters of Divine Providence to do the cooking and laundry. The order sent several sisters.
The seminarians had not only to study and pray but also to work. The mission press started as a hand press purchased for $2,032. Benefactors and Father Arnold himself paid for it. A printer, Joseph Stute, was hired for $9 a week and given free board and lodging. Joseph Alt, a handyman became a lay employee at $6 a month, which soon was raised to $12.
Father Arnold sent Brother Juniper to town to buy a chime clock to signal the quarter hour so that the community could be reminded to pray acts of faith, hope and charity. Before Christmas, he was sent to purchase a nativity set for $33 from a convent of sisters.
As rector, Father Arnold notified the readers of the Sacred Heart Messenger that a new building was needed because of the many boys who applied to become missionaries, and no space being available for them. He wrote, "We will need a large amount of money to build."
A man and his two sisters came to the entrance one day and asked to see the Father Arnold. The man said that he and his sisters had saved $500 each from their weaving. They wanted the money to be used for Masses after their deaths and in the meantime to receive interest every year. Father Arnold agreed. The first Divine Word charitable gift annuity began.
He relied heavily on lay help, for example, Mr. Frederich Vogt, a carpenter and contractor, was engaged to draw up the plans for the new building. Mr. Vogt came regularly to Steyl, Netherlands, to discuss his plans and settle their disagreements. He charged only for his travel expenses. In gratitude, Father Arnold promised that a Mass every year would be offered for the deceased members of the Vogt family.
When Cardinal Herbert Vaughn of Great Britain visited the seminary, he was struck by its great poverty. Father Arnold always wore the same cassock. It had become faded but was clean.
Yet Father Arnold did not always pinch the penny. At times for special occasions, he would splurge. One example occurred in August of 1876. In spite of the lack of money, on the occasion of Father John von Anzer’s first Mass and the groundbreaking for the new building, Father Arnold bought two kegs of beer—about four gallons each—for the community and guests.
Another time when Father Arnold went to visit the bishop of the diocese, he had only one dollar in his pocket which he gave to a beggar who asked for alms.
His fruitful use of funds continued. In 1878, he hired Emmerich Hermes as treasurer and office manager. For his services, Mr. Emmerich received free board and lodging with a salary of $25 a month.
Alms for the poor
Beggars who came to the entrance of the seminary were given a meal. This became a policy in all of the Divine Word mission seminaries. Father Arnold gave frequent conferences about care for the poor.
Some construction workers were hired and others volunteered. Soon among the volunteer workmen, a few requested and others were invited to become postulants for the brotherhood. Of these men the founder formed two groups: the postulants and the workmen.
Donations kept coming in from the readers of the Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart. Then a Dutch printer and publisher named Henry Bogaerts offered to lend the plates of his pictorial weekly to Father Arnold. After prayer, deliberation and consultation, the priest accepted the offer and used the pictures in Stadt Gottes (City of God), a German-language, family magazine that sold for $8 a year.
The payment for the tickets for the first two missionaries to China, Fathers John von Anzer and Joseph Freinademetz, came mainly through donations from benefactors. In spite of all his great expenses for publishing and construction, Father Arnold sent $1,500 to Anzer for the hungry people of China.
When in Rome to negotiate for a mission in China, he wrote back to Steyl that he had celebrated Mass in the room where St. Ignatius wrote his rule and sent forth St. Francis Xavier. He added, "After Mass, I bought a roll and a cup of coffee in front of a restaurant, where it is quite inexpensive."
Father Arnold applied the same thrift to land purchases. He acquired a farm near Steyl in return for an annuity contract.
When a high church official visited Steyl and learned that the members were not allowed to smoke, the official pleaded with the founder to permit the missionaries to smoke. In response, Father Arnold gave the number of members and the daily cost of a cigar for each man to an accountant to calculate the cost. After a pause, the accountant replied, "Keep the non-smoking rule."
To encourage his brother John in Rome (whom he appointed superior of the small community) to keep accounts, he wrote, "From my arrival in Steyl, I kept a record of every penny." Father Arnold sent a total of 53 priests, one of every ten ordained, to Rome over the years and spent good money for their advanced studies. He did this because he wanted good teachers for the seminarians.
The seminary in Steyl was overflowing with seminarians, and there was no room to build. Continuous additions had been made to the original building at Steyl until it had four wings with a courtyard in middle.
On one side rose the double church with its twin towers. Father Arnold looked for a property in Austria near Vienna to build another mission seminary for the Society of the Divine Word. He placed an ad in the papers as an anonymous buyer. A widow painstakingly screened the offers for Father Arnold. She belonged to a charismatic group, led by Father Medits, a Vincentian priest who was a friend of Father Arnold and the first novice master of the Society of the Divine Word.
The best offer seemed to be 14 acres for $7,000. A member of the charismatic group provided the money.
Father Arnold usually traveled by train, third class. Later in life, he rode in second class. He preferred to splurge in other ways. Once when a companion priest caught a cold, he gave him his scarf. Another time when taking a transport from the train station back to Steyl, he gave the driver a generous tip, saying to his companion, "This is more powerful than a sermon."
Father Arnold Janssen financially supported not only the priests, brothers and professed seminarians of the Society of the Divine Word, but also the two congregations of sisters that he had founded.
The missionaries in China and other missions received some financial help from Steyl when they were in need, but in general they, too, had generous benefactors who paid for their living expenses and missionary projects.
Seminary in his homeland
For the purchase of the property for the Holy Cross mission seminary in Silesia, Germany, the Huch family provided half of the money.
As applicants continued to apply to become Divine Word Missionaries, additional seminaries were established—St. Wendel in Germany and later St. Rupert in Austria. Likewise a convent was built for the sisters.
To save money, the founder deferred painting the interior of the church in Steyl. After 12 years, a young man, an artist, applied to become a brother. He was given the task of painting and decorating the church.
Father Wilhelm Schmidt, a priest with special talents whom the founder had sent to a university for studies, began to publish a scientific magazine, which he named Anthropos (humankind). Father Wilhelm collected articles from Divine Word Missionaries. Missionaries from other religious congregations also contributed articles.
Rumor has it that the founder went down on his knees with a plea. Father Arnold begged Father Wilhelm to place the publication under the name of the Society of the Divine Word instead of the anthropologist’s own name. This action assured that the publication would continue beyond the life of Father Wilhelm.
Growth beyond Europe
New missions were undertaken after China got started, first in Argentina and Togo, followed by other missions in South America, namely, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Paraguay. After these missions came ones in North America, Japan and the Philippines. All involved contracts and finances.
Before undertaking any new project Father Arnold gathered detailed information, consulted experts, and talked matters over with his council. Eventually, he appointed a procurator general and a mission procurator to help him with financial matters.
At the peak of the Society of the Divine Word’s development, Father Arnold annually sent about 70 to 80 missionaries to other countries. He supplied them with clothing and paid their fare to get to their various foreign assignments. To raise the money, he appealed through his magazines for help from benefactors.
When the missionaries in the missions were in need, they wrote to and asked the founder for financial help. He gave what he could to help them.
In the later years of his life when the Society of the Divine Word continued to grow, Father Arnold carried on vast correspondence. He had one or two young priests to help him. Letters were written in long hand. And copies had to be made. One of these secretaries heard about a new invention: the typewriter.
The young priest knew that the sisters seldom asked for something that they did not need and thus their requests usually were granted. So, he persuaded the sisters to request a typewriter.
When it came, this clever young priest asked if he could borrow it for a couple of days. He typed a letter and made several carbon copies. He presented his typed letter to Father Arnold. And when asked to make copies, the young priest immediately presented the carbon copies to Father Arnold, who simply said, "You better buy a typewriter for us too."
Let Father Arnold’s business acumen be a lesson to us today. Throughout his life, Father Arnold Janssen remained wise with money. He used it for his studies to become a priest. As a priest, he used the money that he earned or was given to him to promote the Kingdom of God. He did not spend money on luxury or on any selfish pleasure.
Arnold Janssen (1837 – 1909)
Founder of Three Missionary Congregations
Arnoldus Press, Manila
Translated by John Vogelgesang
Remembering Arnold Janssen
Edited by Fritz Bornemann
Arnoldus Press, Manila
Translated by John Vogelgesang
Editor’s Note: Father Stanley Plutz served as vice postulator for the Cause of the Canonization of St. Arnold Janssen. A native of Wisconsin and a missionary in the Philippines for decades, Father Plutz is the author of four books: "Our Founder: A glimpse into the Inner Working of Our Founder’s Mind" (2002), "The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Arnold Janssen Ardent Devotee" (2002), "Spirituality of Saint Arnold" (2004) and "St. Arnold Janssen Memories" (2004).