When the Missionaries of the Divine Word came to North America, they were following German immigrants first to the shores of the United States and then into the Midwest. They came to evangelize, but also to raise money and vocations from among German-American Catholics. Now the SVDs, who number about 6,000 priests and brothers worldwide, are an international community, sending missionaries to posts in Asia, Oceania and Africa, but also bringing men from all over the world who study and serve in the Archdiocese of Chicago. That history is displayed in an online interactive exhibit created by the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province Archives that was unveiled on Oct. 15, the 125th anniversary of the arrival in New Jersey of Divine Word Brother Wendelin Meyer, uncle of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Cardinal Albert Meyer. “They heard about the German immigrants in Chicago, so they came here,” said Father Quang Duc Dinh, SVD Chicago provincial. They came and took a German orphanage and made it into St. Joseph Technical School — called Techny for short — where boys could learn a trade. They also started printing their magazine and selling it to German Catholics in the United States to raise money. In addition to raising funds, the community also wanted to raise priests and brothers. “We are a missionary community, so we wanted to train the future missionaries,” Father Quang said. “We opened the mission house and seminary, St. Mary’s Mission House, in about 1920.” Those facilities were on the community’s Techny property, which was also the first home of St. Norbert Parish, Northbrook, which was originally staffed by SVDs. The crown jewel of the campus was the Holy Spirit Chapel, which was started in 1918 and completed in 1948. The first Mass there was celebrated in 1923. The province now includes much of the Northeast and Midwest United States, eastern Canada and several Caribbean islands. The men who belong to the province represent 20 different nationalities. In addition to Techny, the province has a college seminary in Iowa and a house of formation in Hyde Park for seminarians attending Catholic Theological Union. Father Quang offered himself as an example. “I was one of the boat people,” he said. Born in Vietnam, he left as a refugee and lived in a camp in Thailand for six months. He eventually was allowed to come to the United States because he had a sister already living here. “I came to Los Angeles in 1980 and I got lost at the airport, it was so big,” he said. He met a Vietnamese priest in Los Angeles, and told him he felt called to be a priest as well. The priest helped him contact the SVDs. “I wanted to join a seminary, but I had no connection at all,” Father Quang said. “SVD was the very first one to contact me, from Iowa. When I joined them, I was 19 years old, and it was January. It was the coldest I had ever been.” The charism of the Society of the Divine Word is to reach out to people on the margins, whether in developing countries or in industrialized nations. In the United States and in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the society has worked in the Black community and among immigrants, in poverty-stricken communities in Appalachia, and ministered to Japanese-Americans forcibly interned during World War II. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, members of the community have staffed several traditionally Black parishes. Now they also work at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Wheeling, ministering to a community that includes both Spanish- and Polish-speaking immigrants. It wasn’t long after the arrival of the Divine Word Missionaries in the United States that Divine Word missionaries opened the first U.S. seminary to accept Black men, St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which opened in 1919. By 1915 or so, the SVDs were staffing St. Monica Parish, which was founded by Father Augustus Tolton, and then St. Elizabeth Parish after St. Monica merged with it, said Divine Word Father Mark Weber, a former pastor of St. Anselm, which also has been staffed by SVDs. Father Mark was first at St. Anselm from 2000 to 2005. “I got quite involved with church coalitions and neighborhood groups, the CAPs community policing program,” he said. “We had a food pantry, a weekly hot meal, an after-school program. … What I always loved about being at Anselm’s was this sense of mission. Historically, it was through Catholic schools, that was how we did outreach to the neighborhood around us.” Father Mark returned to St. Anselm after serving a term as provincial, but was often away because of his responsibilities in the international leadership in the community. He now is rector of the house of formation in Hyde Park. The SVDs have been good for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Father Mark said, not only because they have staffed parishes, but also because they help provide a wider view of the church. “It’s raising awareness of the global church, partly through mission appeals on behalf of our own guys on mission around the world,” he said, “And our presence at CTU (Catholic Theological Union), along with some of the other communities, helped establish a strong global mission orientation there.” The SVDs have also learned from their ministry in Chicago, Father Mark said. “The urban nature of Chicago made an impact on how we as SVDs viewed mission,” he said. “You kind of have the romantic vision of the missionary out in the bush in New Guinea or Indonesia. You don’t think of mission here at home. Being invited to work in the African-American apostolate gave the SVDs a different idea of what mission was.” The first thing Divine Word missionaries learn is to accompany the people wherever they are sent, Father Quang said. “When we receive our first assignment, we go to the new country and we are like a new baby,” he said. “We have to learn the language, the culture, learn the food they eat. You have to learn to walk with the people, learn to talk with the people.” Father Quang said it’s likely no one ever thought about what Brother Wendelin’s mission would become. “Somehow it’s God’s plan,” he said. “You plant a little seed like the mustard seed, and it grows so big. The seed is still unfolding. God’s plan is still unfolding.” To view the interactive exhibit, visit scalar.usc.edu/works/svd125.