Society of the Divine Word celebrates centennial of first American missionaries sent abroad

Seminarians Robert Clark and Clifford King pose for a photo with Father Frederick Gruhn (seated) on Oct. 1, 1919, the day they embark on their assignment to China.
© Chicago Province Robert M. Myers Archives

By Father Thomas Krosnicki SVD

One hundred years ago at Techny, Ill., the Society of the Divine Word held the first mission sending celebration of American missionaries.

On October 1, 1919, three Divine Word Missionaries were sent from the United States to China—the first foreign mission of the Society of the Divine Word established by its founder St. Arnold Janssen. The young missionary trio sent from the United States included one priest and two seminarians.

Father Frederick Gruhn (1883-1970) accompanied seminarians Clifford King (1888-1969) and Robert Clark (1895-1923). King and Clark were a part of the first seminary class in the United States. Founded in 1875, the Society of the Divine Word established roots in the United States in 1897.

King and Clark were ordained in China, having already completed their theological training at St. Mary’s Seminary in Techny, Ill., before leaving for China.

Father Gruhn later returned to the United States and was assigned to teach high school seminarians at Divine Word Seminary in East Troy, Wis.  Eventually, Father King returned to Techny and later volunteered to work with the Society of the Divine Word in Papua New Guinea. Father Clark died in China at the young age of 28.

During the past 100 years, hundreds of Divine Word Missionaries have been trained and missioned from the United States to minister among peoples in many lands around the world.

Today, more than 6,000 Divine Word Missionaries live interculturally and serve the needs of the poor and marginalized in 84 countries around the world.

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