Fr. Arnold Janssen was a German diocesan priest, born at Goch, on November 5, 1837. As a young student at the University of Bonn, he distinguished himself by winning a competition through an essay on a botanical subject. His brilliance qualified him for professorship at the age of 22. The University of Berlin offered him a teaching position in the natural sciences. He rejected the prestigious offer. The glory and salary of a university position did not succeed in baiting him into the secure and serene existence of European intellectuals. He chose to be a priest, risking the restlessness of a life spent for the redemption of the many. At 24, the scientist became a priest, somehow reconciling the secular and the sacred.
At this time, Germany was torn by political strife, a period of dictatorial leadership historians call the Kulturkampf. It was a time of cold rationalization, of autocratic compulsion, of deification of the state. In May 1873, the Prussian state passed laws affecting the whole religious structure. It became a criminal offense for any priest to exercise his priestly functions without authorization from civil power. Seminarians were declared subject to military service. Subsequently, fines and taxes were collected. Prison sentences were meted out. Bishops and priests were thrown into prison.
He devoted his time to the publication of the magazine, Messenger of the Sacred Heart, and called on all the priests exiled by the German regime to work for the missions. In his magazine, he put out the challenge: "Is there no one who feels the call to devote himself to the cause of the missions? Would it not be possible for German priests to band together and form a German Mission Seminary in some safe region outside the homeland?"
But how could one entertain the idea of mission during a Kulturkampf? It was all so seemingly ill-timed that a bishop newly released from prison answered: "We live in a time when everything is threatening to collapse and you want to build up something new?" Another bishop exclaimed: "Janssen is either a fool or a saint." And events showed that the humble and modest Arnold Janssen was not a fool.
He opened his first mission seminary in 1875 in an old dilapidated inn across the border in Steyl, Holland. This was done under the most modest circumstances. Fr. Arnold made strict demands on those he admitted: first of all a spirit of prayer and humility, then hard work and a simple style of life in evangelical poverty; missionaries would have to be prepared for great sacrifices. Yet numbers steadily increased. In 1889, after a prolonged period of preparation, he founded a congregation of mission sisters in the service of love - the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit (S.Sp.S.). In 1896 he formed a branch of the cloistered sisters for contemplative work - the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration - since 1917 an independent congregation.
The founder never left Europe, but his priests and brothers soon set out to make the world their parish: in 1879 he sent the first two to China; in 1892 the first were sent to Togo; in 1896 to New Guinea; in 1905 to the colored in North America; in 1906 to Japan; in 1908 to the Indians in Paraguay. From 1889 onwards he sent men to several countries in South America: Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile. Shortly before his death, he made arrangements to send priests and brothers to the Philippines.
When he died on January 15, 1909, his initial community of four had expanded to a big Family of three congregations working all over the world, building God's Kingdom.