Story and photo by LIZ QUIRIN
The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ have served in diverse ministries throughout the Diocese of Belleville since the first sisters arrived in the diocese in 1891 at Sacred Heart Home in Aviston.
Since that time they have taught diocesan children in Catholic schools, delivered babies and ministered to the sick at hospitals, cared for the aged and served the poor.
This summer Poor Handmaids will board a bus from their motherhouse in Donaldson, Ind., and return to the diocese for four days to revisit the places they served and reconnect with the people of the diocese.
“This is a wonderful, exciting opportunity to reconnect with friends and family here,” Sister Michele Dvorac, vicaress, said. “We are blessed by the women here that their families have been open” to their daughters’ vocations.
While the schedule has not been completely set, here is a general outline of when and where they will be. It will be fine tuned in coming months, but it begins June 26 when the bus arrives in Mater Dei Catholic High School’s parking lot.
The bus will bring Poor Handmaids back to the diocese, back to their roots, and in some cases, back to their families since many are originally from the diocese.
They will visit at St. Mary in Carlyle, gather for morning prayer at St. Boniface in Germantown, spend a day in service with high school students.
They will also talk about vocations with elementary school students.
They will describe a call to vocations, not only vocations to religious life but also to married and single lives.
A vocation, is a call, they said, and they want to talk about answering God’s call as each person discovers it.
“We want to remind people there’s more than one way to answer that call,” Sister Kathy Haas said.
The bus will also stop for morning prayer one of the days at St. Mary in Trenton and the sisters will have breakfast with parishioners before going to St. Anthony in Beckemeyer.
Because so many people are linked with the Poor Handmaids, they also want to reconnect with women who were former members of the order.
They hope to reunite with alumni from Ancilla Domini High School who now live in the diocese.
Because Sister Edith Schneider, who now ministers with sisters in Mexico, will be celebrating her 50th anniversary this summer, everyone will gather at her home parish for a liturgy at St. Anthony.
Sunday, June 29th, Bishop Stanley Schlarman will preside at a 3 p.m. liturgy before a festival begins at Mater Dei with music by the Poor Handmaids, a storyteller and other opportunities to learn about the order and ministries.
Today, one Poor Handmaid ministers in the diocese at the Kitchen Table, a ministry in Cairo that feeds the poor.
Sister Mary Carolyn Welhoelter represents the love and the care of the order every day as she continues a ministry she and Sister Jeanette Schutte began in 1997 to expand their ministry already established at Daystar.
Now, a diocesan ministry, Daystar operates next door to the Kitchen Table.
While they are not directly in health care ministry in the diocese now, the Poor Handmaids sponsor HealthVisions Midwest (www.hvusa.org).
One of the offices is in East St. Louis.
According to the web site: “HealthVisions Midwest, sponsored by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, is a faith-based community health organization that works with local communities served by the Poor Handmaids and its mutual partners.”
Coming home to southern Illinois will give the sisters and the people a chance to reconnect, to celebrate their heritage together and to look to a future of continuing connectedness.
Planning and carrying out this project “gives us new life, new energy,” Sister Michele said.
More information about the program and activities will be shared as it becomes available.