Two Historic Divine Word Missionary Brothers: One a Martyr

Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD, originally from Waterloo, Iowa, entered the high school seminary run by the Divine Word Missionaries in East Troy, Wisconsin, in 1966. After high school, and graduation from Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa in 1974, Bro. Dennis worked two years in Japan. He entered the novitiate and professed first vows in 1977. He worked at the Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, for six years before professing perpetual vows as a Divine Word Missionary. Bro. Dennis served for five years as Treasurer for St. Augustine Seminary in Mississippi and eleven years at Divine Word College in Iowa as Business Manager and National Vocation Director. He is currently Director of the Mission Office at the SVD Motherhouse in Techny, Illinois.
By Bro. Dennis Newton, SVD
Blessed Brother Gregory Frackowiak, SVD, Martyr

On June 13, 1999, Pope John Paul II beatified 108 Polish martyrs of World War II. Among the beatified were four Divine Word Missionaries, including Brother Gregory Frackowiak, SVD.

Blessed Gregory was born in 1911 in Lowecice, Poland. He entered Divine Word Missionaries in 1938 and was assigned to work in the press, where he specialized in bookbinding. Bro. Gregory was described as a hardworking, affable man. When he took his perpetual vows in 1938, his novice master described him as a “faultless Brother.”

World War II changed everything in Bro. Gregory’s life. The Nazi Gestapo took over the Divine Word mission house in Gorna Grupa and interned all the priests and Brothers of the area. In February 1940, all of the priests were transferred to a concentration camp and Bro. Gregory fled to his family home. 

The Nazis learned that Bro. Gregory knew bookbinding and they forced him to work in a printing press. When the Gestapo discovered that Gregory was helping to produce anti-Nazi materials, he and some other individuals were arrested. Bro. Gregory counseled those with him to put the blame on him so that they might be spared. That tactic evidently worked, for he was the only one transferred to Fort VII, the Nazi camp in Poznan, Poland.

The Nazis treated Bro. Gregory more viciously than other prisoners after they found a religious medal he had sewn inside his cap. When he refused to implicate others who were involved with printing the pamphlets, the Nazis beat Bro. Gregory mercilessly. He was transferred to the concentration camp in Dresden, Germany, and sentenced to death. Bro. Gregory was beheaded on May 5, 1943.

Brother Wendelin Meyer, SVD:  Founder of the American SVD Mission

Joseph Meyer, who became “Brother Wendelin” in religious life, was an elementary school teacher when he entered the Divine Word Missionaries. Because of his pleasant manner and easy way with people, he was assigned to travel about German-speaking Europe to sell publications produced at the society’s headquarters at Steyl in the Netherlands.

Because he had numerous aunts and uncles in the United States, Bro. Wendelin volunteered to be sent there to sell publications among the German immigrants. Father Arnold Janssen, the founder of Divine Word Missionaries, took nearly two years to decide in favor of sending Wendelin.

A ten-day voyage by boat brought Bro. Wendelin to Hoboken, New Jersey, and within a year, another Brother was sent to work with Wendelin. By 1899, more personnel had arrived in the United States and Divine Word Missionaries purchased a farm which became “Techny” in Shermerville, Illinois, now known as Northbrook, about thirty miles north of downtown Chicago. 

In 1909, the community began St. Mary’s Mission Seminary at Techny, the first seminary in the United States established primarily for the purpose of training priests and Brothers for the foreign missions.