PHJC Reflects on 50 Years of Ministry


Messenger staff

As a young student at St. Mary’s School in Trenton, Sister Margaret Anne Henss, PHJC, knew she wanted to live a religious life while also teaching. “In my second grade mind teachers and sisters were one and the same,” she said.

While she later realized that ministry as a Poor Handmaid goes far beyond teaching, Sister Margaret Anne did follow her calling.

Once she graduated from St. Mary’s, she enrolled at Ancilla Domini in Donaldson, Ind. to begin her religious training. While she knew the decision was the right one and her family was encouraging, Sister Margaret Anne, the oldest of 13, said it was difficult leaving behind her siblings.

“My grandmother thought I should stay and take care of the family and the children,” she said. “But, my dad said ‘that’s our responsibility’ and encouraged me to go.”

At 14, she began her studies after her father, Arnold, and her mother, Wilma, ensured her she would still have a relationship with the family.

Born May 21, 1946, in Trenton, Sister Margaret Anne professed her first vows Aug. 6, 1967 and her final vows on July 28, 1973.

Her ministry as a Poor Handmaid and a high school math teacher included nine years at St. Augustine High School in Chicago and six years at Ancilla Domini High School in Donaldson, Ind.

In 1980, she returned to the Belleville diocese, teaching at Mater Dei High School from 1980 to 1994.

“I enjoyed coming home,” she said. “It gave me more opportunities to visit with my family and get to know my younger siblings.”

In fact, Sister Margaret Anne taught two of her seven sisters while at Mater Dei. In addition to teaching math, she served as the department chair and moderator of the Mother and Friends Club.   

“The mothers were always so interested in helping at Mater Dei,” she said. “They were integral in helping start the dinner auction.”

During her tenure at Mater Dei, Sister Margaret Anne was a prominent sight in the stands at sporting events because she said it was important to “support the kids.”

In her classes, she made it a point to share information about the Poor Handmaids. “One thing I enjoyed was sharing things about the sisters and the kids were interested,” she said.

She also made it a point to take a break from math lessons on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. “The students would ask ‘what is the day you don’t teach?” she said. “I told them this was my feast day.”

Her ministries eventually took her back to the PHJC Ministry Center in Donaldson, Ind. where she worked in the business office and served as treasurer before she was named director of mission and communications for Health Visions Midwest, a position she held for the past 10 years.

Health Visions Midwest provides transportation to community members while assisting with finding healthcare. “When many hospitals closed, we wanted to establish a ministry to help those areas,” she said. “We worked with the whole wellness aspect – the idea of taking care of oneself. As a result, we guided them to the wholeness of the person with spirituality.”

Her most current ministry involves serving as the councilor on the Poor Handmaids Leadership Team for the American Province.

While reflecting on her 50 years as a Poor Handmaid, Sister Margaret Anne said the mission to minister to the poor and powerless has inspired her from day one.

“I have learned about spirituality and deepened my prayer life,” she said. “I value being with the other sisters and learning about my God.”