Welcome to Word Gathering Online!

Here you’ll find additional content not found anywhere else and an inside look into Poor Handmaid ministries. You can also find the digital version of the Summer 2023 Word Gathering. We hope you enjoy this issue.

Meet Justine Johnson, the new Executive Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Justine’s work is essential to continuing the mission and charism of Saint Katharina Kasper, who was inspired to serve the poor and most in need.

Click the button to view a recent segment about the food ministry through the work of Sister Connie and the many Poor Handmaid Volunteers.

Click through below to view more exclusive Word Gathering content!


Blessing and Dedication of a New Pipe Organ, Opus 83, at Ancilla Domini Chapel

By Curtis Hankins | NWI.LIFE

On Saturday evening, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ commemorated the completion of the Taylor and Boody Opus 83 pipe organ at Ancilla Domini Chapel with a blessing service and dedication recital performed by renowned organist Dr. Benjamin A. Stone.

A project four years in the making, Opus 83 is a handcrafted one-of-a-kind piece made specifically for the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ and the Ancilla Domini Chapel. The design matches the chapel interior, with floret carvings matching the balcony upon which the organ sits, cherub heads that recall those in the gallery, and top decorations that complement the building’s high altar.

“Architecturally, it works with the room and was inspired directly by the decorations of the building, and the tower here. It was all incorporated into the design, as were the linden leaves,” said Aaron Reichert, vice president, and tonal director at Taylor and Boody Organ Builders. “It’s wonderful to be able to build something that’s not just a musical instrument, but building a bridge between people, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and the culture here. It’s unique to this space, in service of something bigger than itself.”

The commitment to making the organ a part of the Chapel went beyond the visual design – parts of the organ itself were made from a linden tree that had to be removed from the Sisters’ property. These trees play a key role within the Sisters’ history as Saint Katharina Kasper, founder of the congregation, frequently traveled to pray in the Heilborn Chapel in Germany, where a linden tree had grown through the roof. The chapel, and tree, can still be visited today.

“It’s a very important symbol to the community,” said Andrew Jennings, director of liturgy and music for the Poor Handmaids. “Many of the carvings are made from an American linden tree, or basswood, from our property. Even on those carvings, you can see heart shaped leaves carved into them. It’s a reminder that even the creation here on the ground is singing with us.”

The Poor Handmaids decided to commission Opus 83 as their old organ’s sound quality started rapidly changing and declining. It was essential, Jennings said, that the successor had a sound that supported congregational singing, with an ability to accompany vocal ensembles of all sizes including solos. With Opus 83, Taylor and Boody delivered just that.

“It almost breathes with you as it plays,” Jennings said. “That’s the significance of a pipe organ in a space like this. You think back to the creation story of the breath of God, the organ in some way represents that symbolically. It encourages us to enter into that co-creative process as we sing along with it, remembering the creativity of God all around us.”

The Sisters were thrilled to welcome visitors to the blessing and recital and invited people from all denominations to take part in the ceremony. Sister Margaret Anne Henss, who has been with the congregation for 55 years, was particularly moved.

“I’m brought to tears because I was on the leadership team when Andrew first brought this idea to us, that we needed a new organ,” she said. “We see this chapel as a center for worship and prayer for the civic community around here, we have many people who come to pray with us.”

She stressed the role music plays in worship, and the transformational impact Opus 83 will bring.

“Music is inspiring, and with the old organ we couldn’t get the sounds that we wanted,” she said. “We felt it was necessary to make this investment so that we can praise and worship. I’m excited it’s finally finished; it’s been a long time coming. We’re so blessed that God’s given us this opportunity and gave Andrew the insight to say that we need something new to give good worship to our God.”


Sister Mary Jane Ranek, Pilgrim Soul

By Bill Burke | Maria Center Resident

It seems Mary Jane Ranek was born with an active adaptability gene, as she seems to thrive in a variety of situations. In 1959 at age 14 she left home and family in Illinois to join a community of other girls entering Ancilla Domini High School in Indiana. She took to her new environment. The culture of friendship, spiritual guidance, and service brought order and direction to the teenager’s life. After graduating in 1963, she took another communal step as a Poor Handmaid postulant. The seeds of her vocation were sown back in the eighth grade in Edwardsville, Illinois, when her Poor Handmaid teacher asked Mary Jane to think about life as a Sister. At Ancilla Domini, she thought about it. Life as a Poor Handmaid might work. In 1966 she had the “great honor” of professing her vows as a Poor Handmaid.

As a young Poor Handmaid, her talents led her to service through music. She studied music at Alverno College in Milwaukee, receiving a BA, and went on to receive two MAs, one in Music Education from DePaul University in Chicago, and one in Music and Liturgy from St. Joseph College in Rensselaer. While she was advancing her own education, she began teaching children, first music and art to fifth graders in Hammond, Indiana, later at various other parish schools for about fifteen years. In 1985, the Poor Handmaids recognized Sister Mary Jane’s musical talent, and she was called to the Motherhouse to direct music and liturgy.

During this period, Vatican II was transforming the life of religious congregations across the globe. Sister Mary Jane joined other Sisters in the examination of community life, from dress codes to self-governance. Poor Handmaids paid special attention to core values, a study that called for flexibility and adaptability in the commitment “to serve wherever the need arises.”

Eight years later in 1993, Sister Mary Jane answered the call to serve in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico, which has become her home for the past thirty years. In Queretaro, Sister Mary Jane has found a place where needs are abundant and programs to address them require creativity and flexibility. She joined Sister Marilyn in establishing a Novitiate house for young Mexican women. She also taught at the Conservatory of Music for five years. She helped start a school for children. She directed a sewing program for indigenous Otomi women at El Puente de Esperea (Bridge of Hope) in Queretaro for ten years, as well as coordinated a similar program in the village of San Ildefonso Tultepec. Some of these projects have been undertaken with companions; some have been done alone. For several years she has lived alone in the village of San Ildefonso.

After handing over the sewing program to one of the Otomi women and closing a learning center for children, she began her current mission. In this new chapter of her service, she keeps the challenge of liturgist and theologian Father Robert Hovda close to her soul—”Don’t just celebrate Eucharist, be the Eucharist, broken and shared.” Three days a week she visits the sick and elderly in nearby villages – praying, talking, and bringing Eucharist. On a typical Tuesday, for example, she and a companion visit an 84-year-old mother and her disabled son suffering from Huntington’s disease. The care team assists the family by getting the son changed and washed in the morning. They feed him, talk, pray, clean the house, do laundry, and cook as needed. Then it’s out the door to the next family.

In this way she shares life with people who accept trials and hardship as normal for the human condition. Poverty and its attendant afflictions are everywhere. Although the challenges appear formidable, Sister Mary Jane’s daily routine is rich with unspoken transcendence. Her life as a Poor Handmaid has instilled in her the rituals of daily prayer and sacrament. In her private prayer, she likes to light incense and candles to nourish her contemplative spirit. She also has the life and inspiration of Saint Katharina Kasper, who taught that God is present everywhere. The same God who accompanied Saint Katharina on the streets of Dernbach to lend help wherever needed accompanies Sister Mary Jane in the streets of San Ildefonso Tultepec.