This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15 - Blessed Arnold Janssen

Otto von Bismarck's a complex character for me. Yeah, I know this is supposed to be about Arnold Janssen, but bear with me. Father Janssen was born and lived in nineteenth century Germany, so the relevance of Bismarck is large and direct.

Bismarck was trying to build a single nation out of most of the little German kingdoms. I don't blamed him for this; the Germans had been used and abused by the the French for a century or more. And the Austrians, who ought to have been helpful (being German themselves) were indifferent at best, complicit at worst. The Papal States (the Pope's kingdom used to be larger than a couple of city blocks) was plugged into the French power structure and thus called itself to Herr Bismarck's attention as he struggled to erect Germany. I don't find it hard to be sympathetic to Germany's struggle for national self-determination, but subsequent history makes it somewhat ironic. But that's beside this point.

One of Bismarck's policies was called the kulturkampf, the culture struggle. Bismarck knew that Catholicism would be an internationalist force in his Germany, and under Pope Pius IX, it would be sympathetic to France. To break the back of Catholicism in his country, he imposed many restrictions, resulting in the ban on many religious orders, closure of many monasteries and seminaries, and the exile and imprisonment of thousands of clergy and lay people. Not surprisingly, the Polish minority in Prussia suffered collateral persecution.

Thanks for sticking with the story. Arnold was a sweet, studious young man who attended Borromeo College and then Bonn University. He was ordained a priest in 1861, ten years before the kulturkampf started. He taught math and natural sciences for a decade, but felt called to be more active in missionary activity. [Throughout his life, he encouraged religious leaders to study the natural sciences, later co-founding the Anthropos Institute and a journal of the same name for members of the Divine Word Mission.]

Janssen proposed that the priests expelled from Germany begin missionary work, or at least work training others to be missionaries. They told him he was asking for trouble, but he replied, "The Lord challenges our faith to do something new, precisely when so many things are collapsing in the Church." Gotta love his enthusiasm in the face of crushing state repression.

At this point in a lot of saints' lives, the cops bust him, he gets tortured in prison, and either dies of pneumonia from inactivity in a musty dungeon or is drawn, quartered, and beheaded. Not our man Arnold, though. He jumped the border and opened his school for missionaries in Holland. It became very successful, eventually forming its own Order, the Society of the Divine Word. Its members went to exotic places all over the world -- China, Japan, Latin America, even Techny, Illinois and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. A seminary in the latter city produced well over 100 African-American priests, six of whom have become bishops.

Eventually, the kulturkampf ended and Blessed Arnold Janssen was offered the exclusive right to establish mission seminaries in Germany and to conduct the missionary activities in German colonies. This may have been wise in in that age of nationalism and imperialism, and there was probably no one they could have better trusted to be apolitically focused on religion, but such favoritism was just the other side of the coin.

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