The three co-foundresses of the Arnoldus Family

By Father Stanley Plutz SVD

The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, also known as the Pink Sisters, recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of their arrival in North America. To commemorate this event, Father Stanley Plutz recalls the founders of the religious order for women and their special connection with the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and the Society of the Divine Word.

Although Father Arnold Janssen, founder of the Society of the Divine Word, realized the need for women to deal with the women and girls in the missions, he initially had no plan of founding a congregation of missionary sisters. He even wrote about this fact in his magazine, “The Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart.

However, God the Holy Spirit and some holy women led him to co-found two religious missionary congregations of sisters. And God gave him three good and holy women to collaborate with him to found and guide these religious missionary congregations: Helena Stollenwerk, Hendrina Stenmanns and Adolfine Tönnies.

The Women

All three women were born and raised in the same part of Germany as was Father Janssen. They had a strong faith in God, a love of the Catholic Church, plus similar religious customs and values.

They also firmly trusted Father Janssen. They shared the conviction that he was a man of God, and that God the Holy Spirit would inspire and direct him to found a congregation of missionary sisters as he had founded a society of missionary priests and brothers.

But Helena had to serve as a maid for ten years and Hendrina for eight years at the Divine Word seminary in Steyl, Holland, before they became postulants of a religious missionary congregation. Can you feel the anguish of waiting ten or even eight years before becoming postulants?

And then their achievement turned out to be different from that for which they had hoped. They wanted to become missionaries, go to a missionary land and bring the poor people in those lands to faith in Jesus; instead they became co-foundresses of missionary congregations. Adolfine entered later and had her own distinctive role.


There were temptations along the way for Helena. For example, the Sisters of Divine Providence who were managing the kitchen where she was a maid invited Helena to join them. But the greatest temptation for her was impatience for she wanted to go to China as a missionary. However, she remained faithful to Father Janssen and her hope of his founding a missionary congregation of sisters.

As a young woman, Helena’s mother married a widower with eight children, three of whom were girls close to Helena’s age. The new husband owned a farm and an inn. As a young girl, Helena pastured cows.

In school, she became a member of the Holy Childhood, made her monthly contribution and twice was recognized for her efforts. She eagerly read the Holy Childhood publication about the China mission.

As she grew older, she helped in the inn and calmed the anger of the young men when tempers flared up after they had been drinking and arguing. Receiving a vocation from God to the China mission, she sought a missionary congregation in Germany with posts in China, but she found none.

To keep herself ready for her missionary vocation and with the permission of her spiritual director and confessor, she took a vow of celibacy. Hearing of Father Janssen, his mission seminary and his sending missionaries to China, she hoped that he would eventually help her get to China as a missionary. But when she applied and he interviewed her, all he could offer was a position as a maid, working with the Divine Providence Sisters in the kitchen of the mission seminary.

He needed time, prayer, and advice to discern the will of God concerning his founding a congregation of missionary sisters. Against the opposition of her parents and spiritual director, she enthusiastically accepted the offer as a first step to realizing her dream of becoming a missionary and going to China.


Hendrina entered Steyl differently. Her father, a tailor, had a young apprentice named Lambert Welbers, who felt called to be a missionary. She financially helped him to enter the mission seminary at Steyl, Holland. When settled in the mission seminary, he invited her to visit.

There, she met the maids. After a second visit and talking with the maids, she wanted to become one of them. As she had promised her dying mother, she raised her brothers and sisters. She had excelled in her catechism classes, served the sick and poor of the town, and became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis.

On the recommendation of the parish priest who wrote that she was a daily Mass participant, Father Janssen accepted her as a maid.


Adolfine was a teacher for ten years in a one-room country school in the part of Germany called the Diaspora; she also served as sacristan and organist of the parish chapel. When making her annual retreat, she discerned that God was calling her to be a religious sister. Since her mother opposed the idea, she appealed to her uncle, Father Wagener, who persuaded his sister to let Adolfine enter the congregation of the newly founded Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters. She entered on May 1, 1891.

To read more about the beginnings of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters and the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, please visit our website at:

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