Ancilla College Meeting the Needs of the Area

Tuesday, 06 March 2018

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ arriving in America. It was 1868 when Catherine Kasper, foundress of the Poor Handmaids, in response to the invitation of Bishop Luers of Fort Wayne, missioned the first Poor Handmaids to America. 

These eight Poor Handmaids from Germany arrived in Hessen Cassel, Indiana, a small town outside of Fort Wayne, to begin their ministry with the German immigrants in the area. Here, the Poor Handmaids nursed the sick, cleaned the church, played the organ and taught in the school.

 For the next 150 years, the Sisters served thousands, if not millions, of people in numerous hospitals, schools, orphanages and social agencies. 

From the very day they arrived in America, education has been an important ministry of the Poor Handmaids. On the grounds of their Motherhouse in Donaldson, the Sisters started and taught at St. Mary Grade School, Ancilla Domini High School, and Ancilla College. 

Ancilla College was founded in 1924 as a preparatory school for women entering the PHJC congregation. From 1925-1937 it operated as an extension of DePaul University of Chicago for the education of young Sisters preparing for nursing, teaching, and social work. In 1937, Ancilla received accreditation of the Indiana State Board of Education as a two-year junior college. 

Listening to the needs of the local communities, in 1966 the college broadened its liberal arts curriculum and admitted students from the surrounding geographical area, awarding an associate degree for the first time the following year. 

Ancilla College has grown and changed since 1923 - meeting the needs of the people it serves. A new science and technology wing was added to help students compete in a demanding job market. A nursing program was started, which brought the college back to its roots of training individuals in healthcare. This year, 12 Ancilla nursing students have taken the NCLEX exam (National Council Licensure Examination) and all 12 have passed providing the local communities with skilled professional nursing care. Most recently, residents’ halls were built to house students from 16 states and 20 countries. Ancilla College offers approximately two dozen associate degree programs. 

Those first eight German immigrant Sisters faced and surmounted many challenges and struggles. Today, Ancilla College, like other small rural colleges, faces some challenges: lower enrollment, smaller endowment, declining revenue, and substantial financial aid for many students. Ninety percent of Ancilla students receive some sort of financial aid, and without this aid, many could not afford to further their education. During the past decade, Ancilla College has provided over ten million dollars in addition to federal and state financial aid in order to ensure an Ancilla education for the economically marginalized in the tri-county area and for students from throughout the country. 

When Poor Handmaids first settled in Hessen Cassel, they formed a partnership with the local community. That partnership building continues today. Ancilla College provides jobs for faculty and staff, and skills for area workers. With the support of its neighbors, scholarships have been awarded providing students a chance to further their education. It’s a place close by for non-traditional students to attend class, polish their skills, and return to the local workforce as better professionals. Ancilla College is grateful for the generosity of the Poor Handmaids and countless benefactor who support and strengthen the college’s mission. 

The Sisters’ connection with Ancilla College continues. Ancilla College is a ministry sponsored by the Poor Handmaids.  Many of the Sisters attended or taught in the college, and they continue to serve on the board, along with local community members.  The Poor Handmaids are committed to continuing an educational ministry that offers all students a pathway to educational growth.