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 Spring 2024 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!


Serving with an Attentive Ear and a Courageous Heart

By Sister Joellen Tumas | as told to Judy Williamson

Sister Joellen Tumas was born and raised in the Back of the Yards in Chicago’s southwest side in the 1940s-50s when Chicago was the “hog butcher capital of the world.” It was a community with twelve parishes that had been started by immigrants from many European countries and one Mexican parish.

My maternal grandparents had immigrated from Lithuania in 1910. Our core family consisted of my grandparents, parents and four children. I was the second child, born 13 months after my sister. Our family was very close and were very connected to our extended family of siblings, great-aunts and uncles and cousins. Important days for family members were celebrated together and we always had large numbers for major holidays.

Our Catholic faith was an important part of our lives. My grandma Anna was the greatest influence of my young life. She was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. She shared her days and simple spirituality with me. The Mass and Rosary were important to her. She encouraged me to attend the May Devotions and the Rosary Devotions in October. She died when I was ten and was dressed in a simple brown habit made by the Poor Clare Sisters for her wake. When the sisters from the parish came to the wake, they asked me if I wanted to be a sister someday. I replied, “I will be a sister.”

Growing up with a large extended family helped me develop a strong sense of the importance of family and sharing our lives with each other. Our neighbors expanded our family and there was much sharing and helping each other.

Throughout their lives, my parents and grandparents had a strong work ethic and believed that when you accepted a challenge you had to work at it until it was completed. I served as a teacher, childcare worker, Pastoral Minister, Pastoral Associate, Casa Romero Food Pantry director, advocate for annulments, Casa Catalinas Basic Needs Center Director, Kids Café creator, and much more.

My thirty years as the leader of Casa Romero and Casa Catalina have left me with many beautiful memories and friendships. Besides supplying food, clothing, and basic household needs, we continually worked to assure people that they were good, worthwhile citizens of this earth and more importantly beloved children of God. Over the years there were many immigrant families who came to the centers very soon after coming to the U.S.A.

The volunteers and staff at Casa Catalina became a family united to help others in need. We were white, brown, and black. Some came for a day or a week or month – some as long as 25 years. Somehow everyone became a part of the family sharing their unique talents and making Casa Catalina a safe haven for everyone.

Volunteers started arriving as Confirmation candidates and students needing service hours. Volunteers came doing court- ordered service. Volunteers came from Northern Trust and The Center at Donaldson. Afterward, many of these same volunteers stayed on to help. They were always welcome with the hope that their service enriched them.

Both clients and volunteers would say that they could feel the love and warmth as soon as they entered the building. Sister Joellen feels that is the greatest compliment to her extended ministries. I have always believed that there is a joy center in each of us no matter the circumstances in our lives – Helping others find it gives meaning to our lives. The one word that best describes my life is LOVE. I would like to be remembered as a Sister who has loved God deeply and allowed Him to work through me over the last 59 years in loving deeply, serving joyfully, and allowing me to let others know that they are loved by God – and me – with the intent of providing hope and faith when life is a challenge.

One of the most difficult challenges in life is to be attentive to God’s voice in our hearts and minds and courageously say yes to God’s promptings. Another is to keep a sense of hope and joy in our lives as the world as we know it seems to shatter because of the violence around us, the effects of climate change, floods, heavy snowstorms, hurricanes, political unrest, and changing family issues.

While servicing at St. Augustine, I developed a great devotion to our Lady of Guadalupe. Three of my students’ mothers prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe asking her to give me enough strength to continue to serve her and all her children – and over the years she has done that.

The Immigrants, those experiencing domestic violence, the undocumented, and families in need of food, clothing, and shelter have come to me for help, and with God’s grace I have been able to provide that and more.

I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit leading me together with the wonderful people who have graced my life from aspirant days until now. I recommend reading Penniless Millionaire by Saint Katharina Kasper, while recognizing that God provides always and in all ways to those who serve with an attentive ear and a courageous heart.


The Impact of the PHJC Volunteer Food Ministry

By Barbara Allison | Communications

On a radiant fall afternoon as a cadre of Poor Handmaid volunteers packed groceries for delivery to those in need at two Plymouth motels, volunteer Sister Marlene Ann Lama contemplated those that the food will nourish. “We learn to see God in the eyes of others. Jesus said, ‘When you feed the hungry, you feed me,’” she said. “It’s enhanced my spirituality.”

The Poor Handmaid Volunteer Program, a part of the Catholic Volunteer Network, began nine years ago, according to program director Sister Connie Bach, PHJC. It is open to all women and men who are discerning a life of service. The food ministry began three years ago following the return of a contingent of volunteers serving at the U.S.-Mexico border who desired to make a difference at home. “We aim to be a catalyst for just transformation in the communities where we find ourselves,” Sister Connie explained.

Currently, the food program serves about 145 people twice a week with groceries, sack lunches, hygiene bags, rental assistance, and the kindness of those who volunteer. “We couldn’t run this program without the many people who contribute their time and energy and generosity,” Sister Connie said. “Our Sisters, Associates, and Maria Center residents are always here making the sandwiches, packing the groceries, and we couldn’t sustain this effort without them. Even more so, the prayers for the people we serve are quite impactful. Saint Katharina’s intercession has helped many people in finding jobs, getting well when they’re sick, and in knowing that people care and that they matter,” she added. “They’re turning their lives around.”

In June 2023, Angela Harris, a Navy veteran who hails from Norfolk, Virginia, joined the Poor Handmaids’ community for a year of dedicated service. “She’s an incredible volunteer,” said Sister Connie of Angie. “She’s running the food program. She takes care of the grocery shopping, tracks expenses, and sets up so that when the volunteers arrive, they can jump right in,” Sister Connie added.

Out of the many volunteer opportunities on Catholic Volunteer Network, Angie chose the Poor Handmaids because of her alignment with their core values. “I would like to say that I was listening to the Spirit. Openness to the Spirit is one of the Poor Handmaid’s core values,” she said. “There’s a scripture passage that says, ‘what does God require and that’s justice, mercy, and to walk humbly,’” Angie noted.

She readily sees the impact of the core values in the ministry the PHJC Volunteer Program provides. “I think of the children, to be able to have a meal. They go to school, and they can concentrate. It has been proven that if a child goes to school on an empty stomach, their mind is not on school,” Angie stated.

Angie also delights in the success of former Economy Inn resident Mama Mo, who recently moved into her own place, and joined the PHJC Volunteers to deliver Thanksgiving meals at the motel where she formerly resided. “The food ministry was there for her and now she’s in her own place,” Angie said.

Marian University of Ancilla College student and men’s basketball team member Tyshawn Grundy initially volunteered with the food ministry as a class assignment. He now returns to pack groceries and load the vehicle for delivery. “I like the good deed that we’re doing so I decided to continue in this opportunity,” he said. “I’ve learned other people’s life stories and learned how we all got to be in this exact spot and this exact time from different places in the world,” Tyshawn profoundly noted.


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.