The Divine Word Missionaries – or, to give the official title, the Society of the Divine Word (in Latin = Societas Verbi Divini = SVD) – is the Church’s largest exclusively missionary congregation. It is made up of just under 6,000 priests, brothers and seminarians, working in 73 countries in every continent. According to our Constitutions, our primary aim is ‘to proclaim the word of God to all, to bring new communities into being within the people of God, to foster their growth and to promote communion among them as well as within the whole church’ (Const. 102).
Irish and British SVDs are working in the most diverse of situations from parish work in the Amazon and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean to running a leprosarium in Ghana; from providing a home for children and old people with severe disabilities abandoned by their families in Argentina to seminary formation and overseeing a university in Papua New Guinea; from pastoral work in the slums of Nairobi and San Paulo to building roads and providing electricity in Nicaragua, etc. etc.. But everywhere, the Gospel is proclaimed and people are enabled to encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament.
Founded in Holland in 1875 by St Arnold Janssen SVD, the Society of the Divine Word first came to Britain in 1931 when in September of that year it set up a minor seminary/boarding school at Hadzor, Droitwitch, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. It was renamed St. Richard’s college after the local patron saint. In 1939, the first priests and brothers came to Ireland, to Donamon Castle, Co Roscommon, in the Diocese of Elphin. That became the Noviciate and eventually the Philosophical Faculty for the seminarians. A school for late vocations was established in Carrog, Wales, which eventually moved to Donamon, before it closed due to lack of vocations.
Other houses were founded in Liverpool, London, Maynooth and two in Dublin.
Initially, most houses were formation/education houses, and some still are, in particular our houses in Maynooth and Dublin. A number of SVD professors and lecturers work at university level, both in Ireland and abroad. Over 100 Irish and British priests and brothers were trained in this province, while hundreds of SVD from overseas have studied English as a foreign language to prepare them for the mission in English-speaking countries. The main centre for this is the Divine Word Language School based in Maynooth. Others have trained in Liverpool and London.
The main focus of the Irish and British Province (IBP) was once the recruitment and training of personnel for the overseas missions, as well as ensuring their continual support and providing for their various needs. This remains a central concern. In the meantime, we have broadened our apostolate in our service to the Church in Ireland.
Central to the SVD’s apostolate from the beginning has been communications and this is also true of the IBP. The Word magazine and Kairos Communications are perhaps the best-known faces of the SVD communications in Ireland. Kairos not only produces various programmes for national TV and radio, but is also involved in the training in communications, offering graduate and postgraduate degrees in collaboration with St Patrick’s College and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Apart from Kairos, individual SVDs contribute regularly to radio, TV, and the printed media in various capacities. Part of that same apostolate is the Divine Word Printing Press situated in Donamon, which is famous for its Christmas cards, as well as Mass cards and cards for various occasions. It also distributes its very popular calendar.
Another characteristic of the SVD has been the Biblical Apostolate which takes the form of various course of introduction to Scripture as well as Lectio Divina. Many confreres are involved in giving Retreats in Ireland and England, which are inspired by the Bible.
Several confreres are involved directly in pastoral work. We run several parishes, such as Blakestown, Dublin, and St Mary-on-the-Quay, Bristol. Others are active in providing chaplaincy to hospitals and pastoral care for the aged in various homes. In recent years, we have taken on the pastoral care of migrants in various dioceses. This is a growing apostolate, involving as it does both priests and brothers from other countries coming to serve in Ireland and Britain.
Working for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation is an SVD priority, which, for the IBP, is centred in Dublin. The priest in charge is also responsible for coordinating this apostolate in Europe and is in regular contact with NGOs including our own NGO at the UN in New York, which goes under the name of Vivat International