Editor’s note: Below is the homily, Bishop Joseph Kopacz gave on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of St. Augustine Seminary on Saturday, June 24 at Sacred Heart parish in Greenville.
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By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
The Great Commission of the Lord Jesus to make disciples of all the nations, through teaching and baptizing, was embraced by St. Father Arnold Jansen the founder of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) established on Sept. 8, 1875.
We proclaimed the Great Commission in the Gospel this morning and throughout the past nearly 148 years the Society of the Divine Word has pitched their tent, (to apply the phrase from the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel about the Son of God) in approximately 70 countries, and now number 6,000 priests and brothers, the largest religious order in the Catholic Church.
The Great Commission of the Lord Jesus is the culmination of the four Gospels before he ascended into heaven. Today we heard from Matthew. We could easily have heard from Mark, Luke and John. “Go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures.” (Mark 16:15) “Go into the city of Jerusalem and wait to be clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) “As the Father has sent me so I send you. Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:20)
St. Father Jansen prophetically lived by the motto that “announcing the Gospel is the first and greatest act of charity.” He provided this vision for the Society of the Divine Word in the following excerpts from his writings.
“The ultimate purpose of our mission today is the same as it has been since the time of our founder, ‘to proclaim the Kingdom of God’s love’ as the common destiny of all humanity and the horizon toward which we travel.”
“It is from the internal loving dialogue of the triune God that this mission emerges, a dialogue of love and forgiveness with all humanity. We do not invent our own mission – it is Missio Dei – we are called by the Father, sent by the Word, and led by the Spirit.”
I would be remiss to pass over the impact of Father Janssen’s family life on his faith formation, vocation and ultimate vision for the Society of the Divine Word. Gerhard and Anna Katharina Janssen, his parents were people of great faith and lived the domestic church at the highest level.
Father Arnold Janssen’s father was blessed with eyes that saw, and ears that heard God’s Word while putting it into practice. He had a great love for the Trinity, and for the sacred scriptures, and steadfastly built a house set on rock for his son Arnold, the second of 10 children.
From the writings of members of the Society of the Divine Word, we are given four charisms or characteristics for their world-wide religious community. “Many religious orders and congregations have certain characteristics or traits that make them known. We are recognized by the four characteristic dimensions: the Bible; Mission Animation; Justice and Peace; and Integrity of Creation.”
In part, the commitment to justice and peace led the Society of the Divine Word to the Deep South and to Mississippi at the turn of the 20th century. One of their singular accomplishments was to launch Sacred Heart seminary in 1920, the first school for African American candidates for the priesthood in the United States.
This was an intrepid accomplishment in the Delta of Mississippi in the environs of Jim Crow. In fact, after a few years it became obvious that the seminary would have a better chance of surviving and thriving if the SVDs relocated it to Bay Saint Louis, where there were far more Catholics and resources. Understand that at the time the Diocese of Jackson encompassed all of Mississippi. In 1923 the change occurred, and the seminary was renamed to St. Augustine.
We are here today to acknowledge that although the 100th anniversary celebration of the seminary will be celebrated later this year, its beginnings were at Sacred Heart on these grounds. At the time the Society of the Divine Word had not yet reached the half century mark since its founding which only adds to this remarkable endeavor to go to all the nations.
Blessings to all who are part of the Society of the Divine Word, and much gratitude for your continuing presence in the Diocese of Jackson, now for well over 100 years. I conclude with a heartfelt yearning and a personal prayer from the personal spirituality of St. Father Arnold Janssens.
“May the darkness of sin and the night of unbelief vanish before the Light of the Word and the Spirit of Grace and may the heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all.”
O God, eternal truth, I believe in you.
O God, our strength and salvation, I trust in you.
O God, infinite goodness, I love you with my whole heart.