Msgr. Peter Janser, S.V.D.
Peter Janser was born at Mittelbexbach, Palatinate, Saar District, on November 9th, 1878, the eldest of nine children. He later entered the Mission House at Steyl, Holland. Twelve years later, having finished his one year novitiate and the requisite studies, he was ordained a priest in the Society of the Divine Word on February 9th, 1902, at St. Gabriel's, near Vienna.
With this date began a missionary career characterized by a variety of places, kinds of work, and offices. During part of that first year after his ordination, the young Father Janser taught Latin classes in the preparatory Mission House at St. Wendel's. In October of the same year he was appointed Secretary and Assistant Procurator of the General Procure of the Society at the Mother House in Steyl. 1904 found him also the Assistant Prefect of the students at the Mother House. But within a year Father Janser was sent to the new foundation of the Society in America, at that time St. Joseph's Technical School at Shermerville, now Techny.
With this appointment a new and eventually most important phase of his missionary career was to begin. He arrived in the United States in September of 1905. After spending several months in the study of English, he was appointed Assistant Prefect of the Industrial School, and one year later Assistant to the Superior of the institution.
Father Janser brought with him a considerable part of the enthusiasm for the Foreign Mission work that had taken hold of the soul of the Catholic population of Germany. Steeped in his own enthusiasm, Father Janser soon realized how little the Church in the United States had been affected by this new and over-flowing zeal so prominent in Europe. Though there was practically nothing to substantiate his hopes and plans to make the United States mission-minded, he sensed, almost with the sense of a diviner, the possibilities of this sleeping giant if only it could be roused and put to work for the salvation of people in other countries.
Because of this conviction Father Janser determined to give America eventually its first Mission Seminary. In numerous articles in the press, in lectures and speeches in parishes and meetings, in personal interviews with ecclesiastics and influential lay people, he tried to loosen the soil into which he eventually could drop the seed of the mission idea. In 1911 Maryknoll opened its first American Mission House. In 1912 Father Janser opened the second Mission House of the Society of the Divine Word, this time in Girard, near Erie, Pennsylvania. He was at that time also made Rector of the new foundation. Four years later, after it had taken root and was able to support itself, Father Janser was recalled from Girard and for several years was Procurator for both house and province. In 1919 he received his appointment as Provincial of the American Province.
Starting new foundations became his metier. In 1924 he was ordered to Shanghai to organize a general procure for the far-flung mission districts of the Society in China. After six years of fruitful work in Shanghai, he was, then ordered to proceed to England, there to organize the beginning which the Society intended to make for eventual expansion into the British Empire. In 1932 he was appointed superior of the newly organized mission work in India. On 11 July 1935 he was appointed Prefect Apostolic of Indore, an office which he held through the following ten troublesome years. Finally in November, 1945, weakened health compelled him to return to Europe. He petitioned the authorities to relieve him of his office and work, but it was only in 1947 that superiors eventually granted his petition to be allowed to resign.
Since then his health, at least for longer periods of time, was never again satisfactory. For years he specialized in giving retreats, especially to religious communities. In 1952 he had celebrated his golden jubilee; and to crown his joy, this year on April 26th he was able to take part in the golden jubilee celebration of the first Mission House which he had founded. On this day, as he looked back over the fruit of his work — more than 400 missionary priests ordained, four Bishops who were former students of his foundations, and instead of the one, at first doubtful, undertaking, eleven S.V.D. Mission Houses or seminaries in the United States — he must have realized that he had fulfilled a great mission in his faithful life's work. Msgr. Peter Janser died rather suddenly at St. Therese's Hospital, Waukegan, Illinois, on Monday, May 4th, 1959, after suffering for some time from a lingering illness.