MGR. HENRICUS LEVEN, SVD
FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE IMITATION OF JESUS (CONGREGATIO IMITATIONIS JESU, CIJ)
Henricus Leven was born on June 13, 1883 in Lank, Germany, as the eldest of five siblings. His father, Wilhelmus Leven was a primary school teacher in Lank. His mother’s name was Katharina Classen. Heinrich – the nickname of Henricus Leven – was a smart boy and endowed with religious talents. He wanted to become a missionary to help those who suffered from various problems of life as he once read in the magazine Der Kleine Herz Jesu Bote (Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart) that was sponsored by Fr. Arnold Janssen, Pr (St. Arnold Janssen). On October 3, 1899 Heinrich enrolled as a seminarian and was admitted into the Mission House of Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) in Steyl, Holland. He followed all the activities in the seminary cheerfully but because of his poor health he was sent back to his parents’ house to take a rest. During this leave Heinrich helped his father teaching at school. From his father he learned to do things accurately, disciplinarily, and responsibly, in the spirit of dedication and faithfulness. After recovering from his illness, he joined again the SVD and was allowed to take his first vows: chastity, poverty and obedience on November 1,1907. Frater Leven learned how to live the spirituality of SVD: Trinitarian Spirituality and Mary the Mother of God, with a specific characterization of the congregation: Missionary and Communitarian. In living the Trinitarian Spirituality, Frater Leven felt motivated to choose Jesus the messenger of the Father who was willing to dedicate Himself as a servant and sacrificed all His life until His death on the Cross as his model. After completing his studies in philosophy and theology in Vienna, Austria, on September 7, 1910 he took his perpetual vows. On September 21 he was ordained as a subdeacon; September 25 as a deacon and on September 29, 1910 he was ordained to priesthood together with his 56 confreres of the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD).
In the spirit of Jesus the true servant, Fr. Leven dedicated his life as a missionary in Togo, Africa, 1911-1917, and in Lesser Sunda Islands of East Indies, 1920-1951. The marginalized and the sufferers from various problems especially the children and women became his priority in his mission programs. He made visits on regular basis to find out their difficulties and their struggle, and generously and kindly told them, “My house is your house, your house is my house. We are of one family and should mercifully help each other”. He was wise, intelligent, accurate, and determined to accomplish all the tasks entrusted to him as the Secretary of Apostolic Prefect, parish priest, rector, procurator, inspector of Catholic mission schools, and supervisor for the courses in carpentry and masonry, trade, bookkeeping and clerkship in order to help the grassroots to work more professionally to attain improved living standards.
On Sunday, November 12, 1933, in Uden, Holland, Fr. Henricus Leven was ordained to be the Bishop of Lesser Sunda Islands with his motto: O Crux Ave Spes Unica, Hail, o Cross, the only hope. His hope was put only in the Cross of Christ, the source of strength to serve the little ones and to find solutions in precarious situation. He invited his flocks to seek for their strength only in the Cross of Christ.
Mgr. Henricus Leven tended his flocks from 1933 until 1951, in a very difficult time due to the World War I, World War II that led to the malaise or global economic crisis, Japanese occupation, Indonesian independence revolution and the fact that certain groups waged propaganda that the Catholic religion would be crushed by the Japanese regime. In this situation he kept holding on the strength of the Cross of Christ to realize his vision, Making Flores an island with a truly Catholic spirit which was implemented in the following missions:
- In pastoral field: convening a synod (Synod I) to uniform the methods of pastoral works and to institute a guideline for the whole Vicariate.
- In education: paying attention to formal and informal education such as the courses of carpentry, masonry, family life, skills for girls, and boarding schools for children, youths and course participants.
- In health: paying attention to Lela hospital, requesting permission from the government to open polyclinics, health centers for mother and child, assigning priests and nuns in their pastoral works to bring along medicines. Motivating and helping priests to provide drinking water for the people
- In economy: bringing in two agricultural engineers from Divine Word Missionaries, establishing the Association of Pancasila Farmers and requesting the government to construct roads into remote areas.
- For the independence of local Church: preparing church cadres through the establishment of the Congregation of the Imitation of Jesus (CIJ), and improving the condition of Mataloko Junior Seminary, and Ledalero Senior Seminary.
- Splitting up the Vicariate region into Timor, Ende, Larantuka, Ruteng, and Apostolic Prefecture of Denpasar, Bali.
Before Japanese occupation he took some special policies as follows:
- Ordaining to priesthood two seminarians of Indonesian origin before completing their studies, to take care of the vacancies left by interned missionaries. Mgr. Leven himself did his field pastoral and faithfully visited his flocks in parishes.
- The priests were assigned to train teachers of Catholic faith to give Sacraments of Baptismal and Matrimony, to preside over Sunday services and to assist the sick for final repentance
- For the benefits of the Church Mgr. Leven practiced a good diplomacy and preserved a good relationship with the Dutch and Japanese regimes. As an honor for his loyalty, the Dutch government granted him two stars of honor: Officier in de Orde van Oranye Nassau and Ridder in de Order van Nederlandsche Leeuw.
To realize his ideal to help the little ones and the sufferers, Mgr. Leven established a religious congregation of Indonesian women on March 25, 1935 in Jopu, Ende, Flores under the name Congregatio Imitationis Jesu (CIJ) – Congregation of the Imitation of Jesus. According to Mgr. Leven, the local girls can do their charity works in the culture of their own people. Based on the NAME OF THE IMITATION OF JESUS, Mgr. Leven directed the congregation to live the vision: Follow the examples of Jesus and His Most Holy Mother which is implemented in the mission: Together with Jesus proclaim the Good News to the poor and the suffering. In a more practical manner this is expressed in Charity Works inspired by the motto of the congregation: Caritas Christi Urget Nos, the Love of Christ Urges Us till the present day where special attention is given to women and children as a specific characterization of the congregation.
The proclaiming of Good News, that is actuating the charity works for the poor and the suffering is carried out through the following programs :
- Ultimate obligation: the mission of presence, going into rural and remote areas
- In pastoral field: establishing retreat houses, participating in the activities of Women Partnership Network (Gender), School of Missionary Children, Catholic Youths, Pastoral Service Centers in the Diocese, and Seminaries. Assisting the Church congregations, prayer groups, prisoners, mothers and children with problems.
- In formal education: playgroups, mentally retarded children, kindergartens, primary schools, junior high schools, senior high schools, vocational schools, Institute of Pastoral Studies, and Open University. In non-formal education: boarding schools.
- In health care: Public Hospital, Leprosarium, Polyclinic, Health Centers for Mother and Child, Dental Polyclinic, Eye Polyclinic, Physiotherapy, Traditional Medication
- In social affairs: Orphanage for Children, Orphanage for Youths, Old Folks Home, Rehabilitation Centers, babysitting centers, Skill Courses, Credit Unions for the Poor, Our Own Cooperatives, and collaboration with CCF and CRS.
The Congregation of the Imitation of Jesus has 435 living members and 70 deceased ones. The living members consist of 15 aspirants, 15 postulants, 14 novices, 97 juniors and 297 professed members. They work in three countries, namely Indonesia, East Timor and Italy, in 20 dioceses and 62 communities. In Indonesia they work in 15 dioceses, with 54 communities. In East Timor they work in 2 dioceses with 5 communities. In Italy they work in 3 dioceses with 3 communities.
Mgr. Henricus Leven with all his strength always tried to assure that all church activities be rooted in faith in Deus Providebit, God’s providence and Fiat Voluntas Tua, total submission into His will. This should be and had been expressed in his assiduous prayer and contemplation on the cross, possessing a truly human heart, earnest visit to the people, being close to the little ones, dedicated defense of missionary works, and a great love for the Church, its mission, and its flocks. He was a real administrator and a perfect leader in the most difficult time: the right man on the right place, even on the right time. Cardinal Fumasoni Biondi as the Prefect of Propaganda Fide said, “Mgr. Henricus Leven is a Decus Ecclesiae, the Prided Son of the Church of Christ. Pope Pius XII in his conferring of honor, stated, “You have led one of the most fertilized Catholic mission regions in the world and have attained a respected growth. By making use of all your spiritual talents and strengths while ignoring your self convenience through sacrifice you have won over many souls for Christ. Because of this we hereby bestow upon you a medal of honor as Assistant to the Papal Throne.”