The Origins of the Verbum Dei

The VDMF was founded by Rev. Jaime Bonet, who was born on May 21, 1926 in Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands of Spain.

When Jaime was 14-years old, in a simple and personal prayer, he discovered the existence of a personal God and the call to announce God’s love to all people, especially those who most needed God’s love.  It was from this experience of Jaime’s first dialogue with God in prayer that we glimpse the seed that would found the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity 23 years later.

A Preacher from His YouthJaime Bonet Bonet

In the years before his ordination, the young Jaime dedicated himself to the preaching of the Word of God to all groups of people: from the gypsies of the peripheral neighborhoods of Palma, Mallorca to his own seminarian companions in the Mayor de Nuestra Señora de la Sapiencia where he studied Theology.  After his ordination, Jaime began an apostolic movement in Mallorca through giving spiritual exercises and holding retreat encounters throughout the island.

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The “Schools of Evangelization”

Jaime consequently began to hold “Schools of Evangelization” where the laity, both adults and young adults, were given formation on how to proclaim the Word of God.  It was from these “schools” that many lay groups began to offer to preach the Gospel, accompanying the proclamation with a living testimony of the Gospel and a spirit of prayer.

In 1963, a group of young women who belonged to these “Schools of Evangelization,” asked Jaime if it would be possible to consecrate their lives completely with the lifestyle of a preacher as Jaime had been bringing up with his preaching: the total dedication to proclaiming the Gospel by means of prayer and the ministry of the Word.

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The First Members of the Verbum Dei

"The initiative for the founding moment of the VDMF came from Bishop Enciso Viana, since initially Jaime never wanted to found this new community. It is an important experience for Jaime that he never desired, nor envisioned a community, but that the way he lived and preached caused in others a desire of consecration and dedication to the ‘Word of God-Verbum Dei’ that surpassed his interest and by far his expectations." (Prinz, Endangering Hunger for God, 2005)

First Vows of VDMF sisters

Thus, months after the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, on January 17, 1963 the first group of consecrated women of the Verbum Dei was approved as a lay association with the name Misioneras diocesanas de la Palabra de Dios, under Bishop Enciso Viana. The motto of their dedication was already “orationi et ministerio verbi instantes erimus.” (Acts 6:4 – “We shall dedicate ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word”).  "Bishop Enciso Viana died on September 21, 1964—during the time of the Vatican II council – and Bishop Rafael Alvarez Lara became his successor on March 10, 1965." (Prinz, 2005)

However, the fruit of Jaime’s continuous work of preaching reached further still; more groups of young adults and even some Diocesan priests drew close to this particular way of life and the spirit of mission that Jaime lived.

Hence, in 1969 two priests obtained permission from the Bishop to be part of the Verbum Dei.

First Consecrated Missionary Couple

Simultaneously, a married couple also wanted to have a lifestyle similar to these first missionary women and men, but in a way appropriate to their state of life as a married couple.  Jaime’s apostolic spirit and openness led him to accept the couple’s petition to be formed and dedicated to evangelization according to the spirit of the Charism.  They became the first married couple of the Consecrated Married Couples branch of the VDMF.

 

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The Approval of the Three Branches

"In 1969, under Bishop Alvarez Lara, the Verbum Dei was approved with its three branches: consecrated women, priests (at this moment they were diocesan priests who received the permission from the Bishop to be part of the new group) and married couples as the ‘Apostolic Institute Verbum Dei’, in the form of a Pious Union." (Prinz, 2005)

From this married couple and the groups of young adult missionary women and men, many other young adults and married couples entered the community with the desire to fulfill their baptismal vocation according to this particular style of life and dedication to prayer and ministry of the Word.

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The First Formation Courses (Novitiate) and Foundations of the Verbum Dei

In 1965, the first female Verbum Dei Formation Course (novitiate) was situated in the Sanctuary of Santa Lucia in the village of Mancor del Valle, Mallorca.  The novitiate was under the direction of Rev. Jaime Bonet and had the support of the best theologians of the Diocese.  In 1966, a group of Verbum Dei missionary sisters went to Rome to study in the Regina Mundi Pontifical Institute, which had been an institution recently established for the theological formation of religious women.  At that same time, another group of VDMF sisters left to found a Verbum Dei community in Piura, Peru.

VDMF student sisters in Rome

One year later, in 1967, another group of VDMF sisters moved to the vicinity of Madrid where the Comillas Pontifical University (Madrid), for the first time in Spain, had opened its doors to women for theological studies.  Likewise, the first Verbum Dei Consecrated Missionary Married Couple, together with a group from both the male and female Branches of the VDMF were established in Bilbao, forming “Schools of Evangelization” whilst pursuing their theological studies.

In 1977, as a fruit of the one month spiritual exercises, a new missionary strategic plan of expansion brought the Verbum Dei into all the continents of the world.

Through the related dynamic of prayer, proclamation, missionary preparation and expansion, the 1980s and 1990s saw new foundations of the VDMF and the creation of the St. Paul the Apostle Verbum Dei Institute of Theology.  The St. Paul Institute of Theology is affiliated with the Urbaniana Pontifical University in Rome, which specializes in missiology.

The annual one-month spiritual exercises of the members of the Verbum Dei also became a privileged means of growing and deepening on the Charism.  From these spiritual exercises, the community continued configuring its characteristics and specific means of living out the Charism, which seeks to be a visible witness of life and consecration.  The spiritual exercises are thus a permanent revitalizing of the missionary desire in the members of the VDMF.

Simultaneously, Centers of Evangelization were being set up in different places of the new Verbum Dei foundations with the objective of being a hub of evangelical life and evangelization.

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A New Form of Consecrated Life in the Church

With the growing and expansion of the Verbum Dei, Jaime desired that the VDMF become canonically recognized more appropriately with respect to its then existing status as a Pious Union.

It was also in this decade of the 1990s that the Holy See studied and reflected on the existence and states of a large number of new associations and apostolic movements that had emerged during the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar times.  The Synod of Bishops for Consecrated Life convened to study these new communities and the manner in which they were to juridically configure these new forms of consecrated life.  Jaime had also been especially invited as a guest to be present at the Synod.

Hence, as an intermediate stage until the VDMF’s definitive approval, on the 25th of January, 1993 (the feast of St. Paul’s Conversion, co-patron saint of the VDMF; the other patron saint of the VDMF is our Blessed Mother, Mary), the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal D. Angelo Suquía, approved the branches of both the consecrated women and the consecrated men of Verbum Dei as two separate religious institutes; five months later, on May 29, 1993, the married couples’ branch of the community was approved as a ‘Public Association of the Faithful’. And on May 30, 1993, the community was approved with the status of Federation of the Verbum Dei Ecclesial Fraternity.

"However, Jaime’s continuous vision pointed to an integral unity of all three branches of the community, and consequently the Holy See approved all the three branches with the structure of one sole institute on April 15, 2000, thereby safeguarding its unity.  Hence, Verbum Dei was pontifically approved with its three branches as one Fraternity of Consecrated Life. The innovative category of New Forms of Consecrated Life at the Institute for Consecrated Life at the Holy Sees was applied to the VDMF." (Prinz, 2005).

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