The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ

PHJC Sesquicentennial Quilt 1868 - 2018

This quilt was commissioned in honor of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Poor Handmaid presence in America.

Missioned by Catherine Kasper, the foundress of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, the first eight German Poor Handmaid Sisters sailed to the United States on the Pereyre in 1868.

The hardy linden tree, with Catherine Kasper at its sturdy roots, represents the life of the American PHJC community.

The tree has grown many branches bearing the fruit of over 300 ministries of Poor Handmaid service and presence, touching countless lives during the past 150 years.

Also nestled in the branches are the Associate and Fiat Spiritus Communities who share the PHJC charism as the two other expressions in the Spiritual Family of Catherine. The small tree, grown from the seed of the United States, is the Mexico foundation established in 1988 by the American province.

State flowers bordering the quilt name the 16 states in which PHJCs have ministered. The Holy Spirit hovers over this unfolding Poor Handmaid story with the continuing inspiration and guidance for today that Catherine Kasper depended on and called “the voice within.”

For those whose lives are recognized as holy and exemplary we reserve the designation, “servant of God.”  These friends of God focus us on the heart of Christianity - knowing and loving God, and out of that resource and relationship, living as servants in the power of the Spirit.  Catherine Kasper herself would not shun the title of servant for she was passionate about being handmaid of the Lord. 

Let us walk with her and learn servanthood from her these next nine days leading to the 40th anniversary of her beatification on April 16th.  What better way to honor this woman whose example, influence and charism has imprinted our lives.  

Day One – April 7

A servant is fully present to others.

Catherine of Dernbach was present to the spirit of God every time she set her foot upon the road to try once again to capture the bishop’s ear, every time she walked the countless miles to visit other Handmaids and their ministries. She responded with the attentiveness of being present to another, the kind of attention that is necessary for relationship, respect and reverence.  

Let us join Catherine in our desire to be more attentive in our presence to the Spirit and in our presence to one another with respect and reverence. 

“We proclaim by our lives and our works the presence of God in the world. . .”

Mission Statement of the American Province

Day Two – April 8

A servant is attuned to God’s will.

Catherine accompanied the will of God as a non-negotiable way of life which called her to experience growth, change, risk and transformation. This commitment of trust in the will of God took her from peasant girl to foundress to Beata but always first and foremost a servant of the God she loved with her whole being.  

Like Catherine, let us nurture our desire to be more attentive in accompanying God’s will and one another with our whole heart and soul. 

“Resisting our fears we dare to accept the challenges of the future.”

Mission Statement of the American Province

Day Three – April 9

A servant is compassionate in ministry.

Catherine was an ordinary German peasant woman in her attention to her household tasks, her duties as daughter, her home-nursing service to her neighbors and later in her leadership service to her flourishing congregation.  Her servanthood was revealed in the special manner in which she cared for and waited upon others, always bringing a handmaid’s presence of sensitivity, compassion and care into the room with her.  

Let us together pray for our continuing desire to be more attentive to loving care, sensitivity and compassion in our service. 

“We respect and value each person we serve in our diverse ministries. . . “

Mission Statement of the American Province

Day 4 – April 10

A servant builds community.

Never one to hold her vision to herself Catherine early on invited those attracted to her charism to join her to form community for prayer, companionship and support of ministry.  Throughout the 47 years she guided the congregation she never ceased to prioritize the value of the common life at the heart of the mission of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.  

We join Catherine in cherishing community and in our desire to contribute our abilities and gifts to the shaping of daily community living. 

“We Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ accept the invitation to live a vowed life in community.” 

Mission Statement of the American Province

Day 5 – April 11

A servant cultivates a culture of trust.  

Catherine watched over her congregation in love both when her Sisters were restrained from apostolic activity by the Kulturkampf and when the community was growing so quickly that she feared she was not instilling the necessary spirituality to keep pace with the numbers. In both situations she trusted in the lead of providence and let go of any unnecessary anxiety.  This servant of God knew the non-attachment of attentive love. 

Let us follow Catherine in our desire to be attentive to what we need to “let go and let come” in order that new life might flourish. 

“We use our talents and resources in response to the emerging needs of church and society.”

Mission Statement of the American Province

Day 6 – April 12

A servant shows bold humility.

Though unassuming and deferential to the clergy and bishop, Catherine was not subservient in expressing her opinion on matters that mattered.  With respect she 

stood her ground when it came to naming the congregation or protecting her Sisters from mistreatment by pastors or defending herself in civil court.  She held the combination of due respect and unpretentious response in balance. 

In Catherine’s spirit we ask that our lives might reflect a respectful spirit accompanied by a ready boldness for furthering the reign of God. 

“We are inspired by our foundress to listen prayerfully, live simply and serve joyfully.” 

Mission Statement of the American Province 

Day 7 – April 13

A servant empowers others

Catherine was not only collegial with her council members but also empowered the provincials of the newer provinces to trust their own discernment and decisions.  In the 30 years existence of the American province prior to Catherine’s death the leadership groups received much encouragement and enablement from the foundress.  Back home she delegated many tasks and decisions to her own councilors and to the superiors of the convents. 

Let us follow Catherine in our encouragement of the development of gifts among the Spiritual Family of Catherine and our partners in the work of the Spirit. 

“We share ministry and nurture leadership in our efforts to bring peace to the world.” 

Mission Statement of the American Province

Day 8 – April 14

A servant includes the marginalized.

Whether befriending the shunned schoolmate with a skin disorder, including the destitute at her dinner table or caring for the disabled Catherine had a heart intent on embracing the rejected and despised. No one fell outside her circle of service and care. 

Let us join Catherine in rejecting the boundaries that leave others on the outside looking in, awaiting the justice and inclusion that is rightfully theirs. 

“We stand with the poor and the powerless in their search for justice.”

Mission Statement of the American Province 

Day 9 – April 15

A servant midwives the future.

Catherine originally envisioned nursing and childcare as the Poor Handmaid response to the needs of her day.  But once Catherine was interiorly convinced through prayerful discernment of the signs of the times that teaching was another call for her congregation she gave her full consent and support in readying her Sisters for this ministry. She encouraged and celebrated those who completed their teaching credentials. 

Like Catherine let us bring new life to the congregation, the church and the world by courageously inviting other voices and challenges into our lives. 

“We go forward in hope and joy supported by the bond of community.”

Mission Statement of the American Province

Catherine Kasper was born on May 26, 1820 in Dernbach, Germany, the eighth child of a peasant farmer and his wife. The domestic conditions in which she grew up gave her empathy for the plight of the poor, especially rural poor. Through these experiences, she felt inspired by God to help them. This awakened in her the decision to devote herself entirely to the service of the people around her.