Fr Francis Jordan
Founder of the Society of the Divine Saviour and Sisters of the Divine Saviour.
John Baptist Jordan was born on 16th June 1848 into a poor family in the village of Gurtweil, in the southwest of Germany. He was the second child of Lawrence and Notburga Jordan, who took him to be baptised the day after his birth with the name of John Baptist. His early life was uneventful, but even as a child he had to work hard and do his share to support the family, because his father had been invalided due to an accident.
At his first communion a strange incident occurred. It seemed to him that a dove fluttered over his head, but since no-one else saw it he kept the vision to himself. But from that time he committed himself to God and felt that he had a vocation to the priesthood. He was a talented and lively boy and well liked in the village. Because of the poverty of the family he could not continue at school. Instead he learned the trade of painter and decorator and travelled widely for several years practising his new profession. In this way he saw the great spiritual and material needs of the people.
Jordan was eventually able to begin his journey to the priesthood by taking lessons in Latin from a friendly priest. He then went to the Gymnasium in Constance for two years to complete his basic education. It was not easy for him to sit in the class with much younger boys, but by dint of hard work he graduated with good marks, particularly in languages. From there he went to the Diocesan Seminary of St Peter in Friburg (Germany), where he was ordained in 1878 at the age of thirty. Already in the Seminary he showed great interest in the Missions and in the apostolate of the press, and began to have ideas about starting a work that would unite Catholic forces in the spread and defence of the faith.
Due to the Kulturkampf—the opposition of the Prussian State to the Catholic Church—he was unable to exercise his ministry in his home Diocese and his Bishop sent him to Rome to study oriental languages. He went to live at the Campo Santo Teutonico right next to St Peter’s Basilica, where he soon became known as The Chinaman because of his interest in oriental languages. This extraordinary gift for languages—he had a working knowledge of more than forty languages—meant that in 1880 he was given the opportunity by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to travel on their behalf to the Middle East.
On this tour of Egypt and Palestine Jordan took the opportunity to discuss his plans with many eminent Churchmen; their interest in his ideas gave him great encouragement. While climbing Mount Lebanon he had a profound spiritual experience. The words of John 17:3 ran through his mind “Eternal life is this, to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” He came down from the mountain resolved to put his plans into practice.
On his return from the Middle East he began to search for collaborators. By this time he had moved to the house of S. Brigitta in Piazza Farnese where he established a printing press and started printing the monthly magazine Der Missionär.
On the 8th December 1881 in the Chapel of St Brigida in Rome, Father Jordan and two other priests took private vows as members of the Apostolic Teaching Society. It is this date which is kept as the foundation day of the Salvatorians.
Father Jordan would have achieved little if he had depended solely on his own abilities. Those who followed him did so because they realised that he was a man of God. They knew him to have deep faith and trust in God. Over and over again his plans had to be modified in the face of circumstances and the demands of the Church—Jordan bowed to these changes as expressions of the will of God.
He kept a Spiritual Diary in which he poured out his deepest thoughts and prayers. This Spiritual Diary is a remarkable document, and it remains a source of inspiration to his spiritual sons and daughters. Father Jordan was very much devoted to the See of Peter and went each day to St Peter’s Basilica to pray at the tomb of the Apostle. It was often said, ‘If you want to see a Saint, go to St Peter’s and you will see Father Jordan at prayer.’
Over the years Jordan’s health was gradually undermined. Some of the reasons for this were: the stresses and strains of turning his ideas into a concrete reality; the daily worries involved in running a house of over a hundred priests, brothers and scholastics; the work of establishing the Society in many different countries in a short space of time, and the attacks he suffered in a press campaign against him in 1906. So, in 1915 when Italy entered the First World War and the Generalate moved to Switzerland, Jordan stood down as Superior General and Father Pancratius Pfeiffer took his place. Father Jordan’s heath took a further turn for the worse and he died in the care of the Daughters of Charity in Tafers, Switzerland on 8th September 1918. His remains are interred in a special chapel in the general headquarters of the Society of the Divine Saviour in Rome.
We see in Father Francis Jordan a man of great faith and depth of character. Early in his life he committed himself to the Lord, and to the realisation of the special task he knew he had been given. His vision, determination and faith attracted many people to follow him and join him in trying to win the world for the Saviour. His ideas have not lost their relevance with the passing of time. If anything, his idea of working closely with groups of apostolically minded laity is more relevant than ever.