Planning Ahead for a Huge Event

Michael R. Hoffman SDS

Province Archivist – Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians)

Somewhere along the line most archivists will be asked to help plan a big event. It might be an anniversary of an institution, a centennial celebration of a founding date, or something along that line. For our Salvatorian community, 2018 will be a year in which we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of 1918 – a very significant year for us. Coupled with the fact that it will be the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which no doubt will be marked throughout the world, several events in our community life were directly connected to the war and its aftermath. We decided to begin now to plan ahead for 2018 to showcase these events.

First, a little background: Our Salvatorian Family is made up of three branches – the Society of the Divine Savior (priests and Brothers), the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, and the International Community of the Divine Savior (Lay Salvatorians). In many places around the world, we work collaboratively in our missions and ministries. We also have several joint committees that publish materials in many languages for use in our ministries around the Salvatorian world. During this past year, our Joint International History and Charism Committee sent out a list of significant anniversaries which will be coming up in the next decade. These anniversaries will be noted internationally, and we are encouraged to celebrate them locally as well. Our national Joint History and Charism Committee studied the list and decided to look ahead for similar dates and anniversaries of significant Salvatorian events in our own country that we USA Salvatorians might also wish to observe. And when they came up with their list, the year 1918 suddenly jumped out at them – because it contained a LOT of significant events. We knew we were going to have to talk about doing something big to commemorate them all.

So between the Archives of the Society, the Archives of the Sisters, the members of our Joint History and Charism Committee, our province administrations, and the Art Studio operated by one of our Salvatorian Sisters, we’ve come up with several ideas. Our first thought was that this is not going to be just a single celebration of remembering all the 1918 events, but a year-long celebration in which we can devote some time to learning about each of the events and note them accordingly. We wanted to begin with the title or theme and chose:

2018 – 100th Anniversary of 1918

A Year of Armistice and Anguish

The first thing that stands out in 1918 is World War I. It was the final year of the four-year struggle, and emotions around the world were running high. Too many soldiers from too many countries had been lost during the war, and everyone was tired of it all. They knew it had to end soon. Anti-German sentiment was beginning to fester. People in this country who were of German ancestry were suddenly subjected to insults and harassment simply because they were German. The majority of Salvatorians in this country at the time had either come from Germany or were German-speaking first generation descendants of immigrants. Our largest Salvatorian community was located in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin, which had been settled in the early 1850’s by a German priest who came over to this country with a large contingent of his parishioners. In 1896, Salvatorian priests, Brothers and Sisters went to the village of St. Nazianz to minister to the families in the village, many of whom still spoke German in their homes. The village newspaper and many of our Salvatorian publications were still written in German. But by 1918, other residents in the county weren’t so pleased by such open pride in German heritage. St. Nazianz FireIn March of that year, vandals drove into the village in the middle of the night and set several fires before they drove away. Nearly two-thirds of the buildings on the main street were heavily damaged or destroyed before the fires were finally put out. The vandals were never apprehended. Sadly, this event also put an end to even healthy pride in the people’s ancestry and history. From that point on, people stopped speaking German, everything was printed only in English, and the town’s businesses took on very “acceptable” English names. Though the Salvatorian houses in town suffered no physical damage, the community members shared the anguish of the people in the village, and they had no choice but to follow along with the solution of communicating only in English from that point on.

Our photos of The St. Nazianz Fire will surely be one of the “anguishes” of 1918 which we commemorate.

Fontaine Photo CollectionSeveral years after World War I, a German Salvatorian priest – Fr. Ralph Fontaine SDS – who had been a military chaplain to German soldiers during the war, came to this country to minister. He joined the USA Province and later would even be elected provincial for a term. When he came to the States, he brought with him a sizeable collection of photographs he had taken during the war. These photos eventually came to the Archives. Several years ago, I scanned all the photos and shared the digital files with our German Province. They were overjoyed to receive them and asked for our permission to share them with their local museums and historical societies because so much of their country’s history from that era had been destroyed by order of the Nazi regime during World War II. The only photos that still existed had either been hidden from discovery or were out of the country, such as Fr. Ralph’s photos were.

We will display The Fontaine Photo Collection from World War I during our year-long commemoration of 1918.

Venerable Father Francis JordanThen on September 8, 1918, our beloved Salvatorian founder – Venerable Father Francis Jordan – died in Tafers, Switzerland, at the age of 70. This German-born priest had seen his share of suffering during life. The Kulturkampf – the oppression of the Catholic Church by the German government between 1871 and 1878 – had forced the young Jordan out of his homeland so that he could pursue seminary studies and ordination. He founded the Salvatorians in Rome in 1881, but he was forced to flee Rome and move to Switzerland in 1915 when anti-German sentiment rose up in Italy during World War I. Now, isolated from both his homeland and the Motherhouse of the community he founded, his death was brought about by a combination of both physical ailments and a true broken heart.

Our photos of Venerable Francis Jordan, a plaster casting formed from his death-mask, and other memorabilia will be displayed in our commemoration of 1918, along with published accounts of his death and reactions from around the Salvatorian world.

Then, just two months after our Founder’s death, on November 11, 1918, Armistice was declared. The terrible war was finally over. During the years of war, over 16 million people had been killed and over 20 million people had been wounded. In our Archives, there are several accounts of the war’s ending – both in our publications and in letters written by Salvatorians. Such accounts make these memories come alive in the present day, and the end of the war suddenly seems very personal. These accounts make for very interesting reading and they have never been made public, so we think they’ll make an excellent addition to our commemoration of 1918.

And finally – the elation of the war’s end would soon be replaced by yet another anguish suffered throughout the world – The Spanish Flu Epidemic. Spread across the globe by soldiers Lesch Vogelsangreturning home and other travelers after the war, the flu infected over 500 million people around the world. Though the exact global death-toll was difficult to calculate, it is estimated that between 20 and 50 million people died from this flu, and approximately 675,000 people died in the United States alone. The hardest-hit segment of the population to suffer from the flu was young adults. In our Salvatorian community, two seminarians and one newly-professed Sister died in their mid-20’s. These young religious were among the first American-born Salvatorians. How difficult it must have been for the community to lose some of their first native-born daughters and sons!

Several published accounts, along with letters written by Salvatorians and others who shared their feelings of loss and anguish as they watched so many young adults die from this pandemic, will be part of our commemoration of 1918.

So even though 2018 is five years away, giving some thought to our presentations and displays begins now. We can take our time sifting through all the photos, publications, letters and other writings. And then we can put together an attractive and interesting display that will take us through “1918 – The Year of Armistice and Anguish.”