Saint Katharina Kasper - Foundress of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ

Thursday, 27 September 2018

About Katharina

Katharina 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.

Like-minded people joined her, and between 1845 and 1848 she founded the “religious association” that nursed the sick and cared for children. They also met regularly for prayer. The desire to live together as a community resulted in the construction of the first little house.

Bishop Peter Josef Blum accompanied the young community. On August 15, 1851, Katharina and four companions received the religious habit in the parish church of Wirges and professed their first vows. This was the birth of the Congregation of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Katharina, who was to lead the community, was given the name “Mary.”

Katharina Kasper was concerned with helping the whole person. Therefore, she was not satisfied with meeting only their worldly needs. She recognized the spiritual and social needs of the people of her time and tried to respond to these needs.

Katharina Kasper died on February 2, 1898.

Her feast day is February 1.

She was beatified on April 16, 1978 by Pope Paul VI and canonized on October 14, 2018 by Pope Francis.


The Congregation 

Since 1851, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ Congregation quickly grew and expanded its ministries and activities to other countries and regions. On June 1, 1870, the Vatican “endorsed and confirmed” the congregation, and Katharina became Superior General of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. On May 21, 1890, the congregation received the final approval of its Constitutions by Pope Leo XIII.

Upon Katharina’s death, 1,725 Sisters belonged to the congregation. They ministered in Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, England and the Czech Republic, formerly known as Bohemia.

Currently, there are 550 professed Sisters worldwide in Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, England, India, Mexico, Brazil, Kenya and Nigeria. There are currently novices and postulants in India, Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, and Mexico.

The work that the Sisters do includes pastoral care, healthcare, education, and care of the elderly, children, disabled, and refugees. Ultimately, wherever the need is greatest, the Poor Handmaids serve, with emphasis on women, adolescents and children.

Even though the number of Sisters in the congregation has diminished in recent decades, the spirit that inspired Katharina Kasper continues to inspire and guide the Sisters. Today, Sisters follow in the footsteps of Saint Katharina by taking care of current needs of the time, as well as care of the Earth.

The young women joining the congregation today continue to do what a young girl started in the little village of Dernbach, Germany a long time ago.


The Canonization Process 

When did the beatification take place? The beatification of Katharina took place in Rome. Pope Paul VI gave her the title of “Blessed” on April 16, 1978.

Who made an application for canonization? We, the community, have long wished that Katharina would be included in the list of saints. When the Bishop of Limburg, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartzvan Elst met with the Sisters, he supported the cause of the community and paved the way for the process of canonization by approaching former Pope Benedict XVI in a private audience in February 2012.

The diocese continued this process in the ensuing years, and current Bishop Georg Bätzing has supported the canonization of Blessed Katharina Kasper.

Who decides on the canonization? The process has to go through a total of three committees at the Vatican. In the first step, a miracle must be recognized by medical professionals, who then pass the cause on to the theological professionals. If these two bodies give a positive vote, it is then forwarded to the cardinals and archbishops. If they also recognize the miracle, it is then forwarded to the Pope for his approval. 

Accordingly, on March 6, 2018, Pope Francis recognized the healing miracle caused by the intercession of Blessed Katharina, thus paving the way for her sainthood.

When is the canonization? The canonization took place in Rome on October 14, 2018, forty years after she was beatified.

The name Pope Francis bestowed on her at the canonization is Saint Katharina Kasper, foundress of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.

Katharina was her name given at birth.