A grateful Diocese honors missionary order marking 125 years since founding
Currently in the Diocese of Trenton, the worldwide religious missionary order Society of the Divine Word (SVD) serves three parishes with wonderful priests from its Chicago-based province:
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Lakewood (Ocean County):
Rev. Pedro L. Bou, SVD, pastor
Rev. Pelagio Calamba Pateno, SVD, parochial vicar
Rev. Guilherme Andrino, SVD, parochial vicar and NJ District Superior
Rev. Jan Patuszczak, parochial vicar
St. Ann Parish in Browns Mills (Burlington County):
Rev. Krzysztof Pipa, SVD, administrator
Rev. Pierre Claver Lunimbu, SVD, parochial vicar
Mother of Mercy Parish in Asbury Park (Monmouth County):
Rev. Miguel Virella, SVD, pastor
Rev. George Koottappillil, SVD, parochial vicar
Rev. Brandon Hiep Nguyan, SVD, resident
Founded in 1875 by St. Arnold Janssen, a German-Dutch Catholic priest of the Diocese of Muenster, Germany, the Society of the Divine Word is also known as the “Divine Word Missionaries.” On Oct. 15, 2020, the missionary order celebrated the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first SVD missionary, Brother Wendelin Meyer, in North America (Hoboken, New Jersey) in 1895.
Unlike the order’s first missionary outposts in China, Togo, Ecuador, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Chile and Japan, the United States was not considered “mission territory.” In fact, Brother Wendelin did not come primarily to do mission work but, rather, to sell subscriptions to SVD publications to raise funds from among German speaking immigrants, who had an increasingly large presence in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, to support the order’s missionary activities.
By 1897 a total of five SVD priests and brothers had come to New Jersey and had moved westward, first to Milton, Pennsylvania, and then to Techny, Illinois, north of Chicago. In the course of their travels, these first SVD missionaries discovered many opportunities to pursue their mission of proclaiming the Word of God and to care for the poor here while cultivating priestly and religious vocations. In 1909, they established a boys’ technical school and, later, a seminary on the farm they had purchased from the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1899, which today serves as the headquarters of the SVD Chicago province.
The number and works of Divine Word Missionaries steadily increased as did their fundraising efforts in the first several decades of the 20th century, creating a major source of financial support for SVD missionary endeavors throughout the world. SVD missionaries had already begun working in Mississippi among African American parishes and the order soon spread to other African American parishes in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and California. In 1927, the order created a Mission Center in Techny which is currently responsible for supporting more than 6,000 SVD missionaries in over 70 countries worldwide. It is the largest religious missionary order in the Catholic Church.
Here in New Jersey, in the Diocese of Trenton, the SVD order has been a presence since 1941, when it opened Divine Word Seminary in 1947 on the Point Breeze estate purchased in 1816 by Joseph Bonaparte, the exiled brother of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. A beautifully landscaped property, the seminary was considered a perfect location for study, prayer and reflection for SVD candidates preparing for the priesthood and a suitable home to ten SVD priests.
From this location, SVD priests served two African American parishes in the Diocese of Trenton: Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish (later merged with Blessed Sacrament Parish and is now part of Sacred Heart Parish) in Trenton, and St. Peter Claver Parish (later merged with Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Holy Spirit Parishes, and is now part of Mother of Mercy Parish) in Asbury Park.
Although the SVD seminary ceased operating as a seminary in 1983, it remains a retirement residence for a small number of SVD members. Efforts to sell the property are currently underway.
The SVD order remains very active in the Diocese of Trenton. Its priests continue to keep their mission alive and visible 125 years later through service and evangelization in the three parishes mentioned at the onset of this article.
On behalf of all the clergy, consecrated religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Trenton, I extend profound gratitude to these members of the Society of the Divine Word and to their predecessors, for their extraordinary service and ministry to the Church of Trenton, and heartiest congratulations on the 125th anniversary of their first foundation in the United States. Ad multos annos!