The Newest PHJC Ministry

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Catherine Kasper Place

Fort Wayne, Indiana, was the town where it all began. The Poor Handmaids of Dernbach, Germany answered Bishop John Henry Luers’ call for help in 1868. Immigrants in the Fort Wayne Diocese needed assistance integrating into their new community. Eight Sisters were sent to serve. Their sacrifice and dedication started a ministry of helping immigrants adapt to life in the United States. The work continues today, nearly 150 years later.

Holly Chaille is the Director of Catherine Kasper Place. CKP is the newest ministry of the Poor Handmaids, serving immigrants, refugees and those seeking political asylum in Fort Wayne and the surrounding area.

Imagine the difficulties of leaving a refugee camp in another country, relocating to Fort Wayne and attempting to find housing, employment, health care, understanding local laws and cultural differences, all the while speaking a different language. The challenge can seem insurmountable. Catherine Kasper Place helps fill the gap. They assist families acclimating to their new environment.

Additional partnerships are housed in the Catherine Kasper Place building. There are translators connected via video conference to the hospital’s emergency room, providing quick and efficient information to doctors and patients. Enrollment assistance, legal help, health and disease education, ESL and ENL (English as a Second Language or New Language), vaccination clinics, skills training and job placement are but a few of the services provided.

Holly stressed the importance of having a person with whom clients can relate. Some employees were refugees themselves and know exactly what it is like to go through the relocation process.

Self-sufficiency is the main goal. Holly said people at CKP strive to “listen attentively, and respond courageously. I keep my tongue on the roof of my mouth, open my ears and hear what they are saying.” Extensive interviewing helps determine what skills the new resident may already possess. Some have advanced degrees and simply need to understand how their education transfers into American culture.

Equally important is to ask what they desire for a new life. Many come from an agricultural society, but one can’t assume they all want to be farmers. Some want to grow fresh vegetables in containers on their balcony, other’s may want to help in a community garden, and another may be paired with an American farmer partner, working large farms, developing friendships and learning from each other.

Cultural differences are a challenge. The concept of land ownership is taught. Why can’t you just pick the apples and pears? Well, they belong to someone else. There is a sign in the waiting room that reads “No spitting and Betel Nut chewing.” The nut produces a mild stimulant effect like a cup of coffee. Common practices in other countries may not be as accepted here.

Half of the battle is in knowing where to go for help. St. Joseph Community Foundation produces a bilingual directory of services in the area. This resource helps many to easily find the specific organization that can meet their needs.

With the help of Catherine Kasper Place and its partners at the resource center, immigrants are given the best chance at a successful transition to the Fort Wayne community.