AJSC Newsletter

Newsletter # 5

Steyl - February 12, 2008


     Warmest greetings from the members of the AJSC Central Team in Steyl.  Usually we send our AJSC NEWSLETTER after our half-yearly AJSC Planning Sessions in December and June/July.  This time we are sending it out earlier because of the SVD General Chapter, starting on June 4th.  Two of the Team will be assisting the General Chapter: Mike as main facilitator and Peter as general services manager. In this bulletin:


  1. The Brothers are Part of the Founding Generation
  2. Br. Bernard  --  Little-known Face on Our Website Folder
  3. Indonesia  --  SESAJI
  4. AJSC Activities
  5. Recent Publications
  6. Keeping in Touch


1. The Brothers are Part of the Founding Generation

by  Matilde W. Sacardo

During my stay here in Steyl as a member of the AJSC Central Team the life of the Brothers in St. Michael’s community has particularly impressed me.  They are a happy, praying community and give witness by a life of quiet work.

As I thought about the complex of foundations in Steyl: St. Michael’s Mission House, the Convents of the Mission and the Adoration Sisters, St. Gregory’s (the SVD retirement home) and the printing press, it struck me that it was the Brothers who had built most of these buildings, dedicating their lives for the mission.  And I asked myself: Why are the Brothers not included in the story of the founding generation, and even more, why are the Brothers not included when we study and reflect on the history of the Founder and the Co-foundresses? 

  So I started to do some research on the life of the first Brothers of the Society.  We looked for information about the first SVD Brother, Br. Marcolinus Elskemper, and found that he made his first vows on 23 May 1881.  But we could not get any more concrete information about him, even with the help of Fr. Ommerborn, head of the Arnold Janssen Secretariat.  Inquiring further I discovered that Robert Schwerdtfeger und Martin Juergens were the next two who made their first vows on 30 April 1882. Robert, later Br. Bernard, was the first technical director of the printing press.  He contributed much to the development of the press and was the Founder’s right hand man in this field.

  The Brothers were important in the development of the three Congregations and contributed much also to the retreat movement for lay people in Steyl.  Without them the Congregations would not have developed as quickly as they did in the beginning. In this way were the Brothers foundation stones of the Steyl religious family.  The Founder had first in mind workers for the printing press and then the constructions, but he soon also began to train the Brothers for the overseas missions.  He promoted the training of a variety of craftsmen, who performed valuable service as plumbers, cobblers, tailors, gardeners, etc.  Those who promoted the magazines were called the ‘Reisebrüder’, the travelling Brothers.

  On the occasion of the Founder’s Silver Jubilee in 1886 the Catholic press published the following:  “The impression one gets when one takes part in the morning prayer or the evening prayer of the future missionaries is quite indescribable.  The Mission House comprises 300 members.  Everywhere one notices exemplary order and cleanliness.  The Brothers run the printing press, which is equipped with the most up-to-date machines.  There is also a workshop for paintings and carved wooden figures.  The press, the kitchen and the mill are powered by steam.”

  The Founder made great efforts to instil in the hearts of the Brothers a love for prayer and qualified work.  He used to say: “The first goal of the Brothers is mission work.”  Love and enthusiasm for the missions was the sap which circulated in them and between them and nourished them.  On the occasion of the Jubilee celebration of the first four Brothers, Arnold said: “The Brothers are part of the founding generation.”

  There was a very rapid development at the beginning of the foundations.  In 1892 there were already 191 Brothers and in 1908 312.  Till today Brothers have been pioneers in mission work and dedicate themselves energetically to the Kingdom of God in our great Steyl religious family.


2. Br. Bernard  --  Little-known Face on Our Website Folder

When you open the AJSC Folder in the Public Area of the SVD Generalate website, you will notice the photos of six members of the Steyl founding generation.  Five are familiar to all of us: Sts. Arnold and Joseph, Bl. Maria Helena and Mother Josepha (the two co-foundresses of the SSpS) and Michaela (Mother Mary Michael, co-foundress of the Adoration Sisters). 

  The sixth is perhaps not so well known. He is Br. Bernard (Robert Schwerdtfeger, 1859-1909), mentioned above.  He entered Steyl on 4 October 1878 as the second Brother candidate, though at that time the development of the Brother vocation was still not fixed.  Fr. Arnold simply accepted the first dozen lay helpers with no clear idea as to what form their mission commitment would take. 

  He asked permission to study for the priesthood.  Fr. Arnold suggested that he first spend some months working at a trade before making such a decision.  During these months he became so interested in his work that he happily saw his vocation as a Brother rather than as a priest.  This decision had immense implications for the development of the Society.  He set the trend for a new image of the lay brother  — highly qualified men called to commit themselves to the missions through their work. 

  He had learnt the trade of hat making, but Steyl didn’t need a hat maker!   So Bernard  was assigned to work in the small printing press.  He soon displayed a particular talent for printing and Fr. Arnold sent him for training. He returned to Steyl with great enthusiasm.  He managed the primitive equipment and was exceptionally good at training the apprentices. When other Brothers came to help, he turned his full attention to the printing machines.  Here he really found himself in his element.  What the gifted Fr. Abel was in terms of editing the Steyl magazines, Bernard  was for the technical side.  They formed a good team.  As the press developed, fresh problems were constantly arising, but Bernard  was quite ready to face them. 

  This was clearly seen when about 1890 the rotary press was installed.  Only a few printing houses in Berlin and Leipzig had dared to take such a step.  He simply said:  “If they can do it, so can we!”   Fr. Arnold trusted Bernard’s judgment and gave his approval.  Installing the huge machine brought many difficulties and only Bernard’s persistence brought it to success.  It was a tremendous step forward and enabled them to produce a larger and better magazine.  The circulation increased enormously so that one rotary press was soon not enough.  A two-color press was bought, then a five-color press.    Installing these machines brought a lot of new tasks for him.  He had to learn how to operate them and then to train the young Brothers.  Naturally, the other departments also grew. Bernard was the soul of the whole enterprise. Nothing seemed too difficult for him, always striving to make the press more efficient and competitive.  His last great undertaking was the electrification of the printing press in 1908-09. 

  Under his direction the tiny press had grown into an impressive business concern; a team of qualified brothers had been trained.  For 25 years he was the confidant of Fr. Arnold.  On the very day of the Founder’s burial, a wagon came to deliver paper for the press.  Bernard helped with unloading and in the process his hand was bruised.  It seems this led to blood poisoning.  In summer a small but very painful open sore developed on the leg and would not heal.  Cardiac inflammation set in.  He died on 14 September 1909. The large crowd who came for the funeral showed how loved and respected Bernard had been, one of the finest of the early Steyl Brothers.  


3. Indonesia  --  SESAJI
                                                                                                                                                            by Simon Bata

For the SSpS and SVD Indonesia is very important, both because of the work there and the large number of members.  From the beginning the AJSC Team conducted many programs for spiritual animation, paying special attention to forming SATs in the provinces.  Since the country comprises many provinces/regions (4 SVD and 5 SSpS plus the new East Timor Region), the SATs work together according to the three larger islands.  They have regular meetings for reflection, planning, running the programs and evaluating the activities.  As in Timor so in Jawa there is one SAT, working as a team. In Flores besides the province SAT, an SSpS and an SVD were appointed to be responsible for the common spiritual animation in the four provinces.

  On the national level they established SESAJI. It is an acronym in Bahasa Indonesia and means  the Arnold Janssen Spirituality Secretariat Indonesia. The word ‘sesaji’ itself is very striking. Sesaji or sesajen is an offering made to the Divine, or also to a person who is highly respected because of the presence of the Divine in him/her (e.g a king or queen, a spiritual person, etc) . The verb means to serve, to offer food to others and to serve during the meal. Therefore the word sesaji  reminds us very strongly how the ministry of spiritual animation should be. It’s about serving our sisters and brothers, about respecting every person as a dwelling place of the Divine, so that each one can grow in awareness of the presence of God in him/herself, and then become a person serving others.

  The provinces take turns in leading this Secretariat every three years. The SSpS-SVD Timor provinces are currently responsible. National programs, such as the three month renewal program or Indonesian Tertiate, are conducted by SESAJI.  The SATs and SESAJI have run spiritual animation programs for various groups: those in leadership, the SAT team itself, those in initial formation, those under ten years in perpetual vows, the elderly (over 60’s). Also common programs with specific themes offered for all, or the yearly retreat both preached and guided. Sometimes the participants are lay people, who are close to us and support our common mission. In most provinces this group of lay people has the name ‘Soverdia’.

  I had the opportunity to visit all the provincial/regional leaders and the SATs in their respective provinces (except SSpS Kalimantan Region). I also met the SSpSAP Superior.  From the sharing, one thing is very clear to my mind, namely, that spiritual animation needs both the zealous spirit of the SAT members and also the commitment of the superiors. Aware that spiritual animation is their main task as superior, they are very supportive of the work of the SATs in various ways, e.g. spending time with the SATs and SESAJI for reflection, planning and evaluation.  May it continue!  


4. AJSC Activities since our Last Newsletter

The combined SSpS-SVD Tertiate (20 Feb-19 May; Spanish/Portuguese-speaking) began in Steyl for three weeks and then moved on to Oies and Nemi.  Matilde was co-director with Tony Pates.  Franziska and Emmie helped with input on our spirituality in Steyl, and Mike with the retreat in Nemi.  Mike had been in Brazil and Argentina giving seminars to the Adoration Sisters.  He also spent an additional month in Sao Paulo studying Portuguese.  This will help him when he works with future Spanish/ Portuguese-speaking tertiates.  It will also be an added benefit for his work at the coming General Chapter. 

  Besides giving a seminar on contemplative prayer, Franziska has been working on a guide to the Upper Church in St. Michael’s in Steyl.  The church is very much as it was when built by the Founder and the new book aims to bring out the main features of the spirituality of Arnold and the founding generation as expressed in the church’s art work.

  Emmie and Peter were in Poland to give a longer seminar to prepare SSpS-SVD SAT members from Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Russia.  It was a smaller group than usual since the seminar was in English.  But the participants are enthusiastically planning a similar seminar later this year in Polish/Slovak for a larger group. Peter stayed a bit longer for an SSpS-SSpSAP guided retreat and a seminar for the Adoration Sisters.  It was very cold in Poland and snow covered the ground all the time we were there.  Emmie is now experiencing quite a different climate since she is presently in India for her home leave.

  As reported in our last Newsletter Simon went home to Indonesia for his mother’s funeral.  He stayed on to meet with the superiors and SAT members to plan future AJSC programs.  Simon is presently working for two months in a parish in England to deepen his knowledge of English and to gain  some experience of parish life.  


5. Recent Publications

Reflections on Mother Josepha.  During “The Year of Mother Josepha,” as preparation for her beatification in 2007 the SSpS Generalate are preparing monthly reflections on her significance for us today.  Numbers 1 and 2 (in English, Spanish, Portuguese) have been sent out so far.  SVDs who are interested can contact the SSpS provincial/regional leader or the Generalate.  

Bibliography concerning St Arnold Janssen and St. Joseph Freinademetz compiled by Manfred Mueller SVD.   83 pages.  It lists all articles and books by or about our two saints according to languages, so searching for useful material is made easier.  It is only in electronic format.  You can find it on the SVD Generalate website in the SVD History Corner in the Members’ Area.

Divine Word Spirituality  An Ascent through the Human Word  by Paul G. La Forge SVD.  Preface by Henry Heekeren.  Pages xix + 401. Published by Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra, Indore, 2005.  The book is the fruit of the author’s reflection on how his spirituality developed during many years as a missionary in Japan as a teacher of foreign language and business ethics at Nanzan University and on the development of mission and spirituality in the SVD from the time of St. Arnold Janssen up to our own day, including the 2000 General Chapter.

Witness to the Word  Readings on St. Arnold Janssen and the SVD Mission by Leonardo Estioko SVD.  142 pages with illustrations.  (Logos Publications, Manila, 2005).  The title is the slogan of the Divine Word Educational Association of the Philippines and the book is meant as supplementary readings for students of religious education and theology in our DWEA schools.

The 1-3-5-3 Bible Key by John Shevlin SVD.  This 8-page leaflet provides a key to the great underlying story of the Bible.  


6. Keeping in Touch

FAX  KAPUT !   Our AJSC fax machine (326 1330) has retired.  In future please use the House fax number:  +31 77 3261 362.  If you have sent us faxes recently, please get in touch with us again; it may be that your fax did not come through.  Thank you.

We are continuing to put articles in the AJSC Folder which is in the Public Area on the Generalate website: http://www.svdcuria.org    Click on  Site Map/Mapa del sitio, then click on  AJSC–CEAJ.  You can read and download the material.

If you have material (articles or program modules) that could be useful in the work of spiritual animation please send it to us and we can post it on the internet in this way, so that others can have access to it.  Please send such material and also news about the programs you have given, using the following address: ajscinfo@steyler.nl

The AJSC Newsletter is sent out in five language versions: English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Indonesian.

We look forward to hearing from you.

  With best wishes for your work,

 Franziska Carolina,    Matilde,    Emmie,    Simon,   Peter   and   Michael.