Jubilarians Reflect on Life and Years of Service

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Our ten Jubilarians share their story and reflect on being a Poor Handmaid.

Sister Florence Kuhn - 75 Years

Looking back on my life as a Poor Handmaid Sister, I’m thankful for Sister Virginia Scantling, who taught me in sixth-grade in Quincy, Illinois. She was a wonderful, giving person who inspired me to become a Poor Handmaid. My mom died when I was 16 years old and an aspirant. Sister Virginia arranged for two Sisters to meet me in Chicago and ride the train home with me when it happened, since I’d never traveled alone before. My dad didn’t want me to go to Donaldson to become a Sister, but he came around to the idea. When he drove me here, I remember thinking how far away from home I was. It was hard, but I lived through the homesickness of being a young aspirant.

I always knew I wanted to teach because God gave me the gift. First grade is wonderful because young children are so enthusiastic. As a veteran teacher, I helped other primary school Sisters gain a solid foundation by sharing my gifts.

Today, the number of Sisters don’t really count as much as the quality of our ministries and our community life. I really appreciate community. What would we be if we were all alone? My hope for the future is that as individuals, we will always have a desire to be spiritual and prayerful. I’m glad God has given me the gift to be a PHJC.

During my 75th Jubilee year as a Poor Handmaid, I will enjoy reminiscing with family and friends and, also receive a ticket to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. I am grateful to God for my life, and I thank him for 75 years as a Poor Handmaid. I count all the graces and blessings I’ve received.

Sister Agnes Muehlenfeld - 70 Years

Joy is one of the first things that comes to mind when I reflect on my life as a Poor Handmaid Sister. I worked at the Motherhouse for 50 years and it was a lot of joy and fun. I also worked at St. Monica for 13 years and in Milwaukee for a year. It was a joy to try new things in my cooking and to make the Sisters happy. I enjoyed all the friends I made and the little children I would give cookies to. I love little children!

My ministry is here at Catherine Kasper Home, but I miss the Motherhouse very much. I try my best to do what I can here, to pray and watch the birds. I’m grateful for Sister Antoinette’s friendship and support and I enjoy helping her with the quilts in the sewing room.

In the future, I hope and pray for more Sisters. I pray to Saint Katharina that she will inspire us how to pray and make sacrifices. I hope that we are all friendly and outgoing to all, the staff, residents, fellow Sisters, and visitors. I wish I could’ve gone on the canonization pilgrimage, but I’m so happy so many others were able to go.

My greatest enjoyment for this Jubilee year is that God gave me so many special graces and blessings that I could make it to 70 years. I never expected that!

Sister Kathleen Quinn - 70 Years

Life as a Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ has been a life filled with delight, challenges, adventures, and deep spiritual renewal. I have had many opportunities to touch other person’s lives as they have touched mine in ways I never thought were possible. When I reflect back over seventy years I am fully aware of God’s wonderful presence in my life. The gift of community with many supportive and loving Sisters has been great. The gift of my ministry in nursing and the broader aspects of health care in Chicago, Fort Wayne, East St. Louis, Gary, and East Chicago was challenging. Leadership in community, in health care and in volunteering has called me to a deeper understanding of the importance of daily prayer. One never stops learning about the value and challenge of community, the need for prayer, reconciliation, and God’s great love, which is so sustaining and enriching.

I loved the various ministries of health care, leadership, in not taking myself too seriously, spiritual accompanying, and friendship. In my retirement, I feel that I have touched others deeply in heart to heart conversations, working together on Boards of Directors, committees, in volunteering, and with the parishioners at the local parish. My hopes and prayers for my future are simple—to live each moment of each day with love in my heart and a song on my lips and to be forever open to receive God’s great love and to share it with others. I love our community and I see us going forward in the spirit of Saint Katherina Kasper with courageous hearts and listening intensely to the Holy Spirit and each other.

My greatest enjoyment during my jubilee year is to continue to serve in small ways with a big heart. To receive graciously the love of God and others so that I am always a gift when I am myself, a person who loves to celebrate with community and friends.

Sister Pauline Bridegroom - 60 Years

Looking back on my life, I have a deep sense of gratitude. I see the hand of God gently – sometimes not so gently – guiding, protecting, and inspiring me. This is seen in hindsight because, usually, as I am going about my life, I had neither the words nor the wisdom to recognize the hand of God.

Early in life, my parents passed on to me their deep and simple faith. God chose the perfect time in my life to drop me into this community of Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. I came to this community when I was 19 years old without the background of a formal Catholic education. Knowing nothing about the community (I did not even know the community’s name), and knowing none of the Sisters, I came in faith with a deep conviction that this place was where I was called to be. Because I had no contact with the Sisters, God put a strong desire in my heart to come to this place.

My ministry has been varied, challenging, and Spirit-filled. Whether serving children in the classroom, the orphanage, or the trailer park, I was blessed to have the companionship, the trust, and the love of so many of God’s delightful children. In hospital chaplaincy, health care administration, and caring for the elderly, I walked on holy ground sharing people’s lives through their trials and triumphs.

Today, I am grateful for the more contemplative stance we are taking in discussions and decisions in the community. I am encouraged by our emphasis on ecology, on justice issues, and on community life. My hope for my future is that I will maintain a prayerful, positive, and playful attitude through the aging time of my life. For this I am grateful.

Sister Damian McNamara - 60 Years

My life as a Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ has never been dull. I can’t imagine my life other than as a woman religious. Every day I am grateful the Lord called me to be a Sister. I thank my parents for the spiritual DNA I inherited from them and the Poor Handmaid community for accepting and nourishing my vocation. I am also deeply grateful to my siblings, friends and community members for helping me develop and grow into the person I am today.

As I look back over the variety of ministries I have been part of, I realize how much I enjoyed each and every one of them. Some of the ministry experiences I had ranged from teaching swimming, gym class, and basketball to high school girls, to directing a transportation department, to working with inner-city kids at summer camps in Colorado, to ministering to refugees in Thailand in the 1980s. Later, I taught our visiting Vietnamese Sisters how to drive. Unlike our American Sisters who had some familiarity with driving, these ladies had no driving experience whatsoever. It was a wild ride for all of us! Some of these experiences were challenging but the good Lord provided the grace I needed at the time—and I grew and matured in spirit because of these challenges.

Whenever I think of the future of the Poor Handmaids my first thought is that of Saint Katharina Kasper, “This is God’s community. If he wants it to prosper it will.”

I believe our province will flourish if God wills it and if we are not afraid to let our Poor Handmaid Sisters from other cultures come here to continue God’s work. My hope for the future is that our congregation will be able to accept this concept. Whoever would have thought the Poor Handmaid community would be growing in so many different places. Even Saint Katharina could not have imagined Kenyan or Nigerian or Brazilian Poor Handmaids.

Sister Frances Jean Gallinatti - 50 Years

I certainly had no idea where St. Anne Hospital was when I was sent there during my second year as a novice. But St. Anne heralded my great Loyola undergraduate, my later work experience as a lab and ECG technician with the Poor Handmaids who served at St. Anne, and the merriment of the Stritch Medical school faculty years, of friends, and diverse rotations.

I cried when I was missioned to East St. Louis as I wanted to work at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Chicago after my internal medicine residency…but thank God, God knew better. These were among the best years of my life.

Ever heard of the word Mexico in the same sentence with the words Poor Handmaids? Me neither until January 1988. Well, that was soon to change as I flipped from the great African- American and ecumenical friends of East St. Louis to being a happy Handmaid amidst the Mexican comadres, the challenges of the Coatzacoalcos City Hospital, and the incredible medical and cultural learnings of traveling the rivers area of the dioceses of Coatzacoalcos.

Selfishly all I ask is enough health and more than enough wisdom for the years ahead. For the Proregion: the best is yet to come. We in Mexico pray for an increase in numbers of women passionate about the Good News of Jesus.

Enjoyment this year will be just spending simple days in Donaldson with my class of 1966 and the rest of the friends that have flowed from that site since I was a 14-year-old aspirant.

Sister Joetta Huelsmann - 50 Years

As I reflect on my life as a Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ so many memories arise for me. During my three years of formation, I remember the wise mentorship of Sisters Jeanette Schutte and Catherine Herman and ice skating and fishing on the lake. I recall the days in Milwaukee finishing my
studies at Alverno College, but also being mentored there at our house by Sister Mercedes and Father Charles Yost.

People have been a big part of my journey. My family; my parents, sisters, brother, nieces, and nephews who all have supported me in my life choice.

Teaching elementary school gave me contact with children who were eager to learn. Studying for my masters at St. Mary’s College in Minnesota allowed me to enjoy the nature around me as well the ability to learn more about myself and my gifts. Pastoral ministry with adults and children in a variety of ways led to the invitation to be a Spiritual Director. Having the opportunity to be with people as they shared their stories of how God impacted their lives was a graced event. Being on the staff at our Spiritual Growth and Renewal Center in Minnesota gave me a chance to enhance community living with my Sisters. Serving in Leadership for the PHJC community also broadened my view of community life as opportunities came to visit Mexico, India, and Germany. Directing the John XXIII Center in Hartford City helped me enhance my creativity in leading others in retreats and gave me more opportunities to walk with others on their spiritual journey. Training others to become Spiritual Companions continues to be a blessing for me, as we send others out to accompany people in their walk with God.

Having the opportunity to be present at the canonization for Saint Katharina Kasper as well as walking in Dernbach, Germany was an experience I never dreamed of having. Celebrating with our Sisters from nine countries was a joy!

Sister Judith Diltz - 50 Years

My life has been so richly blessed with experiences, challenges, opportunities, friendships – way more than I anticipated when I entered the convent as a teenager. Participating in both the beatification and the canonization celebrations in Rome are high points. The Vatican was great, but the best part was being with Poor Handmaids from around the world, joined in and celebrating Saint Katharina’s spirit together, recognizing we shared her spirit deep in our hearts.

But each place where I lived and ministered also has special ties as I recall the wonderful people I’ve ministered with and the shared efforts we made to touch lives and make them better: mind, spirit, body integrated. Helping others realize and grow their own giftedness – to have a part in the call for that is humbling and to have accomplished even a tad towards that shows God working with.

I learned the most profound lesson regarding ministry when I took a risk to do something totally foreign to me where I had little training or comfort level. I chose to use some sabbatical time to work with people with AIDS in the late 1980s and that changed me. I learned the value of simply being with people, honoring them with my care, attention, receptivity to what they shared, presence. All the education and degrees in the world and all busy-ness and “doing good stuff” for others, in my mind these don’t matter near as much as our real attentiveness, simply being soul to soul with others.

As aging happens and new generations bring new ways of ministering to changing needs, being present never gets out of date. Jesus’ ministry was mostly a ministry of being with. I can keep developing my ability to listen, be with, affirm others till I die. And that feels good. As a Province, our ministries adapt to new needs; leadership of them changes, some come to completion, laity make more of the decisions – and that’s the way it should be. But in all circumstances the gift of presence continues.

Sister Marlene Ann Lama - 50 Years

Looking back over my life, I must say that 50 years of religious life seems like the blink of an eye! I am overwhelmed with gratitude that God called me to a religious vocation and then gifted me with the grace to answer that call and be faithful to my fiat over these many years. Described as a quiet
and shy child while growing up, my life changed tremendously as I learned to trust God and follow the Lord’s lead in the dance of my life, especially in ministry and service. Today I am ever so grateful for the hundreds of students, teachers, and parents whose lives touched mine during the many years I ministered in elementary education. It was in the classroom where I offered not only my natural teaching skills but also a quiet, gentle presence. The joys of being an educator always far outweighed the challenges.

My unexpected election to Provincial Leadership turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I look upon my several years of community service in Provincial Leadership as a privilege and honor that allowed me to get to know my fellow Sisters and our dedicated co-workers on a deeper level. Elected leadership was also an international eye-opener. I was blessed with opportunities to experience God at work in the lives and ministries of our international Poor Handmaids in different Provinces and Pro-regions. What a gift it was to see first-hand the charism of Saint Katharina Kasper alive and flourishing all around the world! Today, I serve my fellow Sisters once again. As Local Leader of Catherine’s Cottage, I join the rest of the Sisters in the Cottage in being a house of hospitality to each other and all who come to our door.

The pilgrimage to Rome and Germany for the canonization of Saint Katharina Kasper will forever hold a place in my heart as an outstanding memory to be cherished and reverenced. Technically, it took place the year before my jubilee year, but I still sing my thanks and praises to God for foundress was declared a saint for the whole church to venerate.

Sister Pamela Tholkes - 50 Years

As I reflect on my life, my loving family and Sisters in community are my most precious memories. It is with gratitude and thankfulness that I was born into and raised in a happy and religious family. The teachings from Vatican II is another awesome memory that has enriched my views on the Catholic Church and its teachings. My final vow day is still a vivid memory that I relive each day as I renew my vows. The opportunities and freedoms I have had in pursuing my nursing degree, ministering in Thailand, Retreat in the Holy Land, and most recently attending the canonization of our foundress, Katharina Kasper, in Rome and Germany are among great memories I will forever hold in my mind and heart.

Presently my ministry and in the nursing profession is challenging and exciting. I also realize that with the number of Sisters dwindling we must instill our charism in others to carry on our ministries. Now is the time to listen to the voice within ourselves to joyfully share our charism and let others take leadership in our ministries.

My hopes and prayer for the future for myself and the PHJC community are to follow the calling of the Spirit and listen to the voice within wherever it may lead us. I pray it will be a joyful and peaceful transition.

My greatest enjoyment this year will be to relax and celebrate with gratitude and love for all the blessings and joys God has given me with my family and 50 years as a Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ.