Family Feast Day
One spirit, one body, one mind, for one day
For most of us, family means the people we “belong” to – connected by birth and the place we call home. Family may also mean the friends who nurture and help us along the way. A family, then, is that special group of people who unconditionally accept, love and care for one another – like the diverse family at Divine Word College.
On September 8, 2009, the DWC religious community celebrated Family Feast Day, marking both the 134th anniversary of the founding of the Society of the Divine Word and the feast day of the birth of Mary, the Mother of God. The day’s special events included Mass, games, Vespers and an evening feast.
In his homily that morning, DWC Rector Fr. Jim Bergin, SVD, recounted the road St. Arnold Janssen traveled to sainthood. A youth with a deep religious faith and commitment to prayer, Arnold went on to become a priest and teacher with an unquenchable missionary vision that led to his role as founder of the Society of the Divine Word and its sister religious orders, the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters. In those early days, Fr. Arnold invited members of the community who were celebrating their name days to join him individually for coffee. As the Society grew, one day was set aside each year to celebrate everyone’s name day. That tradition continues today in SVD communities throughout the world.
But what makes this year’s Family Feast Day at Divine Word College so unique?
“Each one of us has a starting point that is family,” says DWC freshman Sr. Hong Nguyen, ICM. “After listening to Fr. Jim, I knew that this day was held not only for the SVD family but for all of us students from other Catholic religious orders. The day’s events were full of meaning for me. The Family Feast Day ended but my love for this community is growing.”
Other students echo similar feelings.
“Since I’m still a freshman at Divine Word College, it is hard for me to get to know everyone,” says Tung Tran. “Family Feast acted as a welcoming party to the family of Divine Word. It made me feel a part of this school and a part of a society. It gave me the opportunity to get to know my fellow seminarian Brothers, Sisters and SVDs.”
And freshman Vinh Nguyen says, “The Family Feast celebration attracted me a lot because I realized its significance for the Divine Word Society as a whole and for me in particular as an SVD candidate.”
Worship, Games and Fun
The morning Mass was filled with the spirit of song and thanksgiving, a presentation of special gifts and a vow renewal ceremony – a first for some of the students. “I really enjoyed the liturgical Mass because I got to witness a fellow SVD member renew his religious vows,” says Toan Nguyen, another DWC freshman. “It was the first time I got to witness vows,” adds Tung Tran. For DWC sophomore Charles Moat, Jr., the morning liturgy was significant. “It was good to reflect on the mission of the SVD founder St. Arnold Janssen and what he wanted for the community.”
It’s no surprise that games rated high on the list of the day’s popular events. Dodgeball and water balloon fights ranked as favorites among the students. Trieu Cao, DWC freshman, says, “The funny, interesting games were the best part of the day for me. By playing games in groups, we see it is not so difficult to get along with other people, especially new students and Sisters.”
Sr. Kristina Lajar, SSpS, agrees. “We all joined in the soccer field to have fun. It was a good opportunity to get to know each other, to build a good sense of belonging between us.” Sr. Hong explains, “Games were another chance for us to become close to others. We mixed up the groups with SVDs, Sisters and students. I had time to talk and play with people who I had never talked to before.” And Vinh Nguyen adds, “I liked the strong spirit from all the students participating in the games with all their souls.”
Before dinner, the tired but happy group gathered at Vespers for prayer, thanksgiving and student ministry assignments.
“After the games and prayers we had a family feast,” says Toan Nguyen. “What was so special about this occasion was that the SVDs were the table servers.” For Sr. Hong, the dinner reminded her of when she lived at home with her family and her parents served the children meals. “The SVDs served willingly and happily,” she says. “I knew they were humble when they did that – I knew how much they love and care for us. I know now I belong to this family.”
Switching traditional roles acts as a gentle reminder that hierarchy is man-made and that we are all equal in God’s eyes. “The SVD members served all of us,” says Sr. Kristina, “showing us that it is significant to serve each other in our daily life. Wherever we are, we are called to serve one another as brothers and sisters.”
As Divine Word College students make new memories, some of the older SVDs pause to reflect on Family Feasts of years past.
“I spent the years from 1943 until 1953 at Techny, Illinois, the motherhouse of the SVD in North America,” recalls Fr. Joe McDermott, SVD. “During those years, one of the most important feast days was Family Feast, then celebrated on September 29.” This date (the feast of St. Michael), represented the actual dedication day of the new SVD missionary house in Steyl, Holland. “On Family Feast,” Fr. Joe continues, “we were permitted to intermingle with old and young, cleric and lay Brother, novice and deacon, newly ordained and those waiting for their first mission appointment.” Games, friendly competition, good food and entertainment ensured that everyone was tired by nightfall. “But we were very thankful to belong to such a dynamic group,” Fr. Joe adds. “Though we were made up of many different departments, we were in fact one community working and striving for the same goal.”
Fr. Bob Mertes, SVD, remembers past Family Feast days with pleasure. “The words Family Feast evoke wonderful memories for me of shared camaraderie and fun-filled activities,” he says. “They were truly celebrations of family and a feast as well. In the 1950s and 60s, Techny hosted some 400 people and then, as now, we were an ethnically diverse community.” After Mass and breakfast, the festivities and games began, including sports competitions, tug-of-war, three-legged races and even tackling a greased pig! “All this activity generated healthy appetites for Bro. Sylvester’s homemade sausages wrapped in Bro. Archangelus’ wonderful bread,” he reminisces. “The SSpS Sisters provided homemade potato salad and ice cream, washed down by Bro. Arnold’s home brew of pop for most of us and draft beer for the elder community members.” Evening prayer and a movie concluded the day for the weary but contented group. “Those celebrations are a treasured memory for me and countless other SVDs,” Fr. Bob adds. “I thank God for the gift of belonging to this wonderful international family begun by our founder, St. Arnold Janssen.”
Family Feast celebrations at the SVD seminary high school in East Troy were “exhausting but fun,” recalls Fr. Ken Anich, SVD. “Since we had a beautiful lake and beach, the field day of games and contests also included canoe races and swimming events.” Fr. Ken’s most interesting memories of past Family Feast celebrations were made in the Philippines. “The regular academic life of Christ the King College stopped for that week,” he explains. Students divided into family groups well in advance, giving themselves names and designing their “family” T-shirts. “Each group wrote music and songs and developed a skit or play. They also devised math and sports contests. Students and staff alike shared their talents,” says Fr. Ken.
Family Feast Day at Divine Word College celebrates our wonderfully diverse family, giving us special memories to look back on with gratitude and helping us to move forward with hope.
As Toan Nguyen puts it: “We were one spirit, one mind and one body for that day. I feel very special and proud that I’m a part of this wonderful society.” And Sr. Kristina adds, “Family Feast shows everyone that it is possible to live in a community as a family, even though each one of us is different.”
We can all heed the call to action of Fr. Jim Bergin, SVD, when he says, “We gather to give thanks for the gift of community, to celebrate each other as we renew our commitment to be a family, not only today but each day of the year.”