In response to the call of the Holy Spirit and the needs of peoples where the services of women are crucial, on 08 December 1889 in Steyl in the Netherlands, Arnold Janssen, the Founder of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), together with Mother Maria, Helena Stollenwerk, and Mother Josepha, Hendrina Stenmanns, lays the foundation of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS), as a religious-missionary community dedicated to the life-giving Spirit. In 1896 he establishes yet another congregation, Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (SSpSAP). Initially the two foundations for Sisters are one Congregation with two branches depending administratively and financially on the SVD.
A man of vibrant faith and missionary zeal
“Vivat Deus Unus et Trinus in Cordibus Nostris” – “May the holy Triune God live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people” is the prayer motto of Arnold Janssen, which becomes the driving force behind his missionary zeal. He is a man deeply rooted in God, and the mystery of the Blessed Trinity takes hold of him completely. His personal and profound experience of the Blessed Trinity leads him to the awareness of an indwelling God, who is communion, and is in every person and in all creation. This experience stimulates him to dedicate his whole life to sharing God’s mission – to making the compassionate love of God known to all people.
Father Arnold was canonized by Pope John Paul II on 05 October 2003 together with Joseph Freinademetz, one of the first SVD missionaries to China.
Unconditional surrender to God’s will
“To God the honor, to my Sisters the benefit and to myself the burden”, writes Helena Stollenwerk in her notes; “This is to be my motto and also my earnest goal.” She strives for this day by day, even to the point of sacrificing her dearest dream and her heart’s desire to go to China, to save ‘poor souls’ and bring them to God in the Sacrament of Baptism. Imbued with the missionary spirit, she transfers to the cloister where she remains in constant adoration, deep silence and prayer with the Beloved, coming to the awareness that it is not an idea that calls, but God himself. We need not look for an ideal when God calls; instead we need to discover who and what we really are, and where and how we can be a blessing for others. This is what she stands for, becoming a blessing in every situation of her life – the true meaning of being a missionary today.
Mother Maria was beatified in Rome on 07 May 1995 by Pope John Paul II.
“Both feet on the ground, heart anchored in God!”
Every breath of a Servant of the Holy Spirit is to be –“Veni Sancte Spiritus”. Hendrina Stenmanns, whose longing is to be a missionary, writes to Arnold Janssen, “I desire nothing more than, with the grace of God to be the least and to offer myself as a sacrifice for the work of spreading the faith.” Her “breath” becomes the life-giving Spirit, who directs every action, word and deed; she radiates her missionary presence of peace, warmth and joy to every person she encounters. She becomes one of the least, giving herself, her very being and her life, thereby laying a solid foundation for the beginning of the Mission Congregation of the Servants of the Holy Spirit.
Mother Josepha was beatified in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. The Church celebrated the beatification on 29 June 2008, when the papal decree confirming the beatification was read by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins CMF, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, during the celebration of a special Mass in Tegelen, Netherlands.
Arnold Janssen’s personal dedication to the Holy Spirit, made in Vienna, Austria on 3rd October 1887, is a concrete expression of his desire to come to know the greatness of the Spirit’s love. This desire is born of his deep rootedness in the Trinity.
Two years later when he gives the new women’s congregation the name Servants of the Holy Spirit, he confirms his dedication to the Spirit, and acknowledges the Spirit’s central role in the Church.
In his faith journey, Arnold comes to understand the Holy Spirit as the Father of Love; and the life-giving and unifying love of the Holy Spirit as the true source of the Church’s missionary dynamism.
Our Founder’s ultimate desire is that the Spirit’s love be an inspiration to others. He describes the special aim of the Sisters as follows: “to love the Holy Spirit as the Father of Love and the Dispenser of graces, to adore and glorify Him, and to try to spread love and devotion to Him in others.” He even calls the Holy Spirit the Father of the Congregation.
In 1914, for various reasons the name ‘Society of the Servants of the Holy Spirit’ (in Latin SSSS) which was customarily in use, is changed to the ‘Congregation of the Servants of the Holy Spirit’ (SSpS). When the revised third edition of the Constitutions are submitted for approval in 1925, the Congregation, which is now distinct from that of the SSpSAP, is referred to for the first time as ‘Mission Congregation of the Servants of the Holy Spirit’. By the time of the definitive approval of the Constitutions in 1938, ‘Mission Congregation of the Servants of the Holy Spirit’ has become the Congregation’s official name.