To Further Christian Living
Founded, Date/Place: August 5th 1851, Dernbach, Germany
Founder/Foundress: Blessed Katharina Kasper
Canonical Status: Pontifical Right, 1872
Motto: To serve according to God’s Holy will
Charism: Propagation of virtue through prayer, instruction and example
Mission Statement: Our journey together in faith, daily prayer, sacramental life and community, empowers us to serve in various cultures and to collaborate with Associates and all those who share our vision. Rooted in Faith and confidence in God, we participate in the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ and welcome the challenges of the future
Purpose: To further Christian living
The Congregation Of The Poor Handmaids Of Jesus Christ (PHJC)Was founded on the feast of the Assumption, August 15th 1851. It was founded by a simple woman, Katherine Kasper, now Blessed Mother Mary Katherine Kasper, in Dernbach, a small village in the Westerwald area of Germany.
At the time of the foundation, this was a rural area and Katherine Kasper felt called to respond to the needs of the poor and suffering around her. She herself came from a poor and humble background. Born on May 26, 1820, to peasant farmers, her parents had the difficult task of raising eight children. After the death of her father, she earned money as a hired farmhand to support herself and her mother, as the other siblings had already left home and found jobs or were married. She lived together with her mother in a small rented room.
The suffering around her, however, moved her to start visiting homes and helping out to care for the sick and to take care of the children.
Following her example, other young women soon joined her and thus, the Congregation began as a pious society. Dernbach did not even have a parish at that time, people went to Wirges, about 3 km away, where a parish priest lived.
In 1847, after the death of her mother, and mostly from borrowed money, Katherine built a little house and moved into it with her companions, taking in with them also a poor widow with her handicapped child. After many applications and visits, Bishop Peter Joseph Blum of Limburg Diocese received the vows of the first five sisters on August 15th, 1851, in Wirges. The Congregation received papal rights in 1870 when the Constitutions were finally approved.
Blessed Mother Mary Katherine was and remained the General Superior until the time of her death on February 2, 1898. By that time, there were 2000 sisters that followed her charism and spirituality. 30 years later, there were 4.556 living members. And besides in Europe, there were sisters also in the United States of America.
Expressed in our name, the charism of the Congregation is to be simple instruments, poor Handmaids in the hands of Our Lord to bring His love to those in need.
From the time of the foundation, the sisters have cared for the sick in their homes and later also in hospitals. They have cared for and provided homes for children, especially the vulnerable and handicapped children. They have taken care of the aged, taught children and youth in schools and colleges. Sisters instructed and taught the faith in catechism classes as well as in courses preparing for the sacraments. They have supported the church in whatever way the Lord presented at any given time.
The sisters now work in four continents, in nine countries – in Europe, America, Asia and Africa. The oldest province is the Foundation Province, Germany. The Generalate as well as the GermanProvincialate is in the original Motherhouse in Dernbach. The sisters have worked in the Netherlands since 1859, in the United States since 1868, in England since 1876, in India since 1970, in Mexico since 1988, in Brazil since 1993 and in Kenya from 2000. Over the years, there have been missions in Belgium and in Luxemburg as well as in Bohemia, now Tchechia, but these had to be given up for different reasons.
On April 4, 2006, the German Province founded the Nigerian mission starting from the Archdiocese of Owerri where they had been invited to work with street children and abandoned children. The sisters started out from a small rented house in Aladinma Housing Estate in Owerri, Imo State. Here, they began to work with abandoned and handicapped children whom they found on the streets or in remand homes. Thus, the first misison started. Today, there is a home for these children in Mgbele, Oguta II LGA of Imo State. Besides this Child Care Project, recognized (but not yet subsidized) by the Ministry of Women Affairs in Owerri, the Congregation built and opened a clinic in December 2010 there in Mgbele to take care of and cater for the sick and poor around that rural area. Before the clinic was opened, the sisters ran a mobile clinic in the villages, including health education with the care for the sick. They also began to help the youth with professional training, supporting homeless young men to find and learn a trade. The youth have a house in Owerri which the sisters supervise.
On March 25, 2008, we opened our Formation House in Garam, a small village in Minna Diocese, Tafa LGA, in Northern Nigeria. In 2008, invited by Bishop Gabriel of Oshogbo Diocese, we also opened a house in Ifetedo, Oshogbo Diocese.
In all three places, we have schools (nursery and primary) and our mobile clinics in all places move to the remote and rural areas to provide health education, support, drugs and advice to the poor and the sick who may otherwise not have access to medical care. We also refer serious cases to hospitals, often taking the patients there ourselves so that they will be attended to.
We teach catechism, preparing young people to receive the sacraments, and support and advise Church societies like the Legion of Mary and St. Felicitas Widows’ Society.
The Nigerian Mission was officially pronounced a Pro-Region on August 15, 2010, by the General Superior, Sr. Jolise May. This means that the mission is on the way to becoming an independent region. Sr. Christeta Hess who started the mission, became the first Pro- Regional Superior. Sr. Petricia Pitzl, a German PHJC who is the novice directress, and Sr. Scholastica Okorie PHJC, one of the first Nigerian members, support her as her Pro-Regional Council.
Our relationship with the Church in Nigeria is cordial. Young Nigerian women try to follow the charism of Blessed Mother Mary Katherine, beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1978. Touched by the suffering of many Nigerians, especially the children, we respond with a heart of love and a simple hand of friendship and help. Our lives are nourished in community, by prayer and the sacraments. Our goal is to live loving Christian lives by example, teaching, and prayer. Our model is the Blessed Virgin Mary. With her, we simply say: “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord”.
Blessed Mother Mary Katherine’s charism is centered on this: Our Lady’s response to the Angel Gabriel. “I am the Handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me”. This total abandonment to the will and the word of the Lord as proclaimed by the Angel, is the root of our own response to the needs of our world.
In naming the Congregation, Bishop Blum had suggested some other names but Katherine Kasper carefully chose the name: Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. This depicts the simplicity of her spirituality. She wanted to be a Handmaid of the Lord like Our Blessed Lady. But much more than that. She wanted to be a ‘Poor’ handmaid – a simple instrument in the hands of the Lord. She wanted to be an instrument – a vessel of God’s love for the world. This love shines forth in ministering to others as Christ did; He who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
During her beatification in 1978, Pope Paul VI. described Mary Katherine Kasper as a model of true Christian living. In her shrine in the Motherhouse in Germany, three images are shown. The images are of Christ healing the sick, blessing and protecting children, and the washing of feet (Jn 13: 1-15). The image of Jesus going about, doing good, healing the sick and those bound both physically and spiritually, is a true picture of our apostolate. The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, wherever they are, try to imitate the Good Shepherd, to liberateand bring healing to those around them.
The children and youth apostolates derive from Jesus’ blessing of the children. “Let the children come to me … for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Lk 18:16).
As mentioned above, when the sisters came to Nigeria, Archbishop Obinna of Owerri had invited them to work with street children and abandoned children – some of these children had been dumped in a remand home in Logara, Owerri. The sisters picked them from there, having fulfilled the legal requirements, and started taking care of them. Other afflicted, handicapped or abandoned children soon joined them. 16 children without any traceable families are in our child care project today.
Our catechism classes enable us to “let the children come to Him”. Mainly in Garam, Minna diocese which is still a mission area, considering the continuous persecution of Christians, we try to search out and bring to the Lord those “who are destined”. The sisters were invited to Minna diocese by Bishop Martin Uzoukwu. We have so far worked with and supported the church in the diocese.
The washing of feet (Jn 13:1-15) depicts perfectly the charism and spirituality of the Congregation. “If I then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you”. The life of a true Poor Handmaid is centered on service – entering more and more into the life of Christ and portraying this to the world.
One last thing needs to be added. The Congregation got into contact with Nigeria after a Nigerian priest had helped out as chaplain in the Mother house while doing his postgraduate studies in Germany. Six years after his return to Nigeria, he approached the Congregation asking whether young women could be accepted and trained as religious. When the first women came in 2001, it was clearly said that they would be trained to return to Nigeria. The first who came were Igbos, with one Yoruba also coming in 2004. But as soon as the first sisters came to Nigeria, they tried to also live unity and peace in this war-stricken society. Today the congregation has members from 11 tribes in Nigeria who try to live in peace and harmony, following Christ’s prayer that “all should be one”, one in service and in love.
Regional Superior: Sr. M. Kelechi Ifoegbu PHJC
Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ PHJC, Nigeria
Formation House: Garam, Tafa L.G.A, Niger State
P.O. Box 152, Bwari, Abuja FCT
Mobile: 08050772150, 07033517597
List Of Membership
- Sr Agatha Onwudi
- Sr Agnes Anidi
- Sr Agnes Udofia
- Sr Blessing Ignatius
- Sr Chiamaka Nwafor
- Sr Chidalu Ohalete
- Sr Chidimma Ikwugbado
- Sr Chika Dibia
- Sr Chinasa Egeh
- Sr Christiana Adefabi
- Sr Eliza Oguzie
- Sr Emelda Chia
- Sr Emmanuella Emmanuel
- Sr Esther Anichi
- Sr Faith Onah
- Sr Felicia Ibanga
- Sr Helen Okafor
- Sr Immaculata Bako
- Sr Irene Alonge
- Sr Ita Onuigbo
- Sr Kelechi Ifoegbu
- Sr Maryann Osaroejii
- Sr Martha Mary Nwangwu
- Sr Maryrose Offor
- Sr Monica Ene
- Sr Nwadimma Iwuagwu
- SrOsinachi Anyanwu
- Sr Perpetua Oguibe
- Sr Rita Udoekpo
- Sr Roseline Asema
- Sr Salem Bisong
- Sr Scholastica Okorie
- Sr Uchenna Ezeoke
- Sr Victoria Omokunmi
- Sr Viola Ihejirika
- Sr Chimebere Ekenwosu