The Society of the Divine Word (Latin: Societas Verbi Divini, abbreviated SVD), popularly called Verbites or the Divine Word Missionaries, and sometimes the Steyler Missionaries, is a missionary religious congregation in the Latin Church, one of the 24 sui iuris churches which make up the Catholic Church. As of 2015 it consisted of 6,023 members composed of priests and brothers. It is the largest missionary congregation in the Catholic Church.
The Society was founded in Steyl in the Netherlands in 1875 by St Arnold Janssen, a diocesan priest, and drawn mostly from German priests and religious exiles in the Netherlands during the church-state conflict called the Kulturkampf, which had resulted in many religious groups being expelled and seminaries being closed in Germany.
In 1882, the Society started sending missionaries into China’s Shandong Province, where their aggressive methods were part of the chain of events that led to the Boxer Uprising in the late 1890s. In 1892, missionaries were sent to Togo, a small country in West Africa. The Togo mission was particularly fruitful for by 15 years later the Holy See had appointed an Apostolic prefect. The Society’s third mission was to German New Guinea (the northern half of present-day Papua New Guinea). In 1898 a fourth mission to be opened was in Argentina, an historically Catholic country where the Society quickly assumed responsibility for several parishes, schools and also seminaries in four dioceses: Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, La Plata and Paraná all of which are now archdioceses.
At present there are 575 SVD’s working in 16 African countries.
Many religious orders and congregations have certain characteristics or traits that make them known. The Divine Word Missionaries are recognised by what are called the four characteristic dimensions:
Nairobi, March 13 – 14, 2018
With regards to the missions, what makes the SVD unique from many missionary institutes is that mission areas or regions are not the sole responsibility of individual provinces, but of the whole Society. The SVD generalate may appoint members from any country to any other country with priority given to those places which are most in need. This also explains why many SVD communities are international in character.
The SVD has two sister congregations, also founded by Saint Arnold Janssen. They are the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS), otherwise known as the “Blue Sisters” and a contemplative branch called the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (SSpSAP) or better known as the “Pink Sisters”; the nicknames allude to the colour of the respective religious habits.