FROM THE BEGINNING,
AN INCLUSIVE VISION
For more than 125 years, the Salvatorians have worked to preserve the Church and make Jesus Christ known to all people. Through peacetime and social upheaval, through challenges and change, we remain true to the vision of our founder, Father Francis Jordan.
Father Jordan was born June 16, 1848, in Gurtweil, Baden, Germany, not far from the Swiss border. His parents, devout Catholics, christened him John Baptist Jordan. Jordan’s father worked as a laborer at a local inn until he lost the use of his leg in an accident; he then became the town crier. Jordan’s mother did most of the work at home and also worked for other families to help support her husband and three sons.
Despite the family’s poverty, Jordan was able to attend elementary school in Gurtweil from 1855 to 1862. In 1864, he became an apprentice painter, gilder and decorator. He moved up to journeyman in 1867 and traveled extensively in the following months, gaining a sense of the people and the age. At the same time, he began to hear God’s call to the priesthood.
For Jordan, following this call was not easy. His father had died in 1863, and the family relied on Jordan for support. He had not completed secondary studies and was already 21—rather old, at the time, to pursue ordination.
Over the next several years he juggled work and study, dealing with financial hardship by tutoring other students and getting help from benefactors. In 1877, Jordan completed his studies in theology at the University of Baden in Freiburg. After a final year of preparation at the seminary of St. Peter, outside Freiburg, he was ordained a priest on July 21, 1878.
Even as he studied, Jordan felt a second call: to found a new movement that would gather Catholic potential and defend and spread the faith. But he could not begin his work in Germany. An anti-Catholic movement, the Kulturkampf, sought to force the Church into subservience to the government. Seminaries were closed, and clergy who would not swear to obey the state were imprisoned or expelled. Jordan himself was ordained behind locked doors and had to celebrate his first Mass in Switzerland.
So, in 1878, Jordan’s bishop sent him to Rome to further his language studies. As part of his studies, Jordan traveled with other priests to the Middle East. The Holy Land intensified his inspiration and determination to found a new order. When he returned to Rome in 1880, he was ready to act.
Jordan received Pope Leo XIII’s blessing to begin his new “Apostolic Teaching Society.” Two diocesan priests, Father Bernard Luethen and Father Frederick von Leonhardi, joined him. And on December 8, 1881, the three celebrated a simple foundation ceremony.
Father Jordan’s original plan was to found an association for priests and for laity with varied levels of involvement. Criticism from Church authorities led him to adopt the more typical format of a religious order, known first as the Catholic Teaching Society and, starting in 1894, as the Society of the Divine Savior.
The women’s branch, eventually known as the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, was founded December 8, 1888, in Tivoli, Italy. The lay movement declined until its re-foundation in 1970, when the USA Province approved the development of an Associate Program (now known today as the Lay Salvatorians).
Father Jordan led the Society until 1915, experiencing both success and suffering along the way. The outbreak of World War I forced him to leave Rome for Switzerland, where he lived until his death on September 8, 1918. The process of beatification began in 1943.
Jordan’s vision of priests, religious and laity working together “so that all may know the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent,” remains the guiding force of the Salvatorian community, now present on every continent. As the movement grows, so does its good work, spreading the love of the Divine Savior to all people.
- Father Francis Jordan, by F. Scott Jones, SDS
- The Who, What, When, and Where of the Founding of the Society of the Divine Savior, by Br. Edward Havlovic, SDS