Poor Handmaids' foundress called model of living out love of God, neighbor

"Viva Katharina! Viva Katharina!" came the cry from the choir loft, concluding the celebration of a Mass of thanksgiving Nov. 4 for the canonization of St. Katharina Kasper, foundress of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.

Sr. Carole Langhauser, a member of the religious congregation, led the shouts of joy, accompanying them with two hand bells.

For the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, the canonization of their foundress, also known as Mother Mary Catherine Kasper, is a confirmation of what they knew and believed. Their gratitude stemmed from the universal church recognizing God's goodness as manifested in her and sharing Kasper with the world.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend was the celebrant of the Mass in the Ancilla Domini Chapel at the sisters' motherhouse in Donaldson. Concelebrants were Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette and a Spiritan priest from Nigeria, Father Matthias Alonyenu, who is chaplain of the motherhouse.

The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary of serving God's people this summer.

Pope Francis canonized Kasper Oct. 14, along St. Oscar Romero and St. Paul VI and five others. Paul had beatified her in 1978.

"I don't know if there has ever been a canonization of a pope along with someone he had beatified," Rhoades said during his homily.

The bishop noted that at her beatification, Paul said that the German-born nun's "filial love for God was total and found its authentic expression in unlimited love of neighbor." The pope said this was the lesson Kasper "left to the church and to the world: love for God put into action through charity towards our neighbor."

Paul also quoted her own words that "all our religious should become saints, but hidden saints," Rhoades added.

He explained how Paul spoke of her "as a model above all of fidelity and responsibility in the small and insignificant duties of each day. She once said: 'All is great that is done in God's love; nothing done for God is small.' This is good for all of us, bishop, priest, religious or layperson, to remember."

"Pope Paul VI also called Mother Mary Catherine a model of longing to fulfill God's will in the situations of life," Rhoades continued. "As you well know, Mother Mary Catherine's life was focused on being available to God, on doing God's will.

"In one of her letters, she prayed: 'Only you I want to serve and obey according to your liking. Only you I want to love according to your most holy will, only you I want to honor and praise as you like it.'"

The Gospel reading for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time aptly described Kasper's ministry -- a "love for God put into action through charity toward our neighbor."

"What a beautiful example she is of today's Gospel," Rhoades preached. "Answering the question of the scribe about which is the first of all of the commandments, Jesus recites the Shema Israel that we heard in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy."

The reading in part says: "The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength."

"And then our Lord adds to this a commandment from the Book of Leviticus: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,'" the bishop said.

The Shema Israel, or simply Shema, is the core, daily prayer that every faithful Jew prays, from Jesus' time to the present day.

"Jesus is the first one known to have explicitly combined these two commandments, showing us that they are inseparable," the bishop said, adding that Kasper knew that.

"As Pope Paul VI said at her beatification: Mother Mary Catherine's great love for God was expressed in her unlimited love of neighbor," Rhoades explained.

Before the close of Mass, Rhoades blessed Massgoers with her relic, a piece of her finger bone. Then he blessed with holy water special prayer cards and medallions.

The provincial of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, Sr. Judith Diltz, said she was grateful the world now recognizes the holiness of the congregation's foundress, "whom we lovingly call Mother Mary," she added.

"As we share our joy in following her footsteps, as we share with the church and the world what we know of her holiness, we find that this canonization is also an opportunity to look again, to look anew, at her life and to discover previously unseen gifts and virtues," Diltz said.

She asked those at the Mass present to share their experiences of "how you hear her speaking to you of God's presence and love, and the call for each of us to make God more present in our world."

"Share what virtues you find in her that speak to be imitated," she continued. "Such sharing will make this canonization truly a churchwide event. Our mutual sharing of insights of St. Katharina will plant seeds that will grow into new ways of appreciating our new saint and appreciating our great God, who is the source of all goodness."

At the Mass were two nieces of Kasper: Norma Vollmer Thiman and Jan Glasser Burke of Louisville, Kentucky. The new saint also was Thiman's great-grandmother's godmother.

Thiman spoke of her family coming to southern Indiana from Germany, and the family's "stubborn streak" that Kasper must have had to follow God's will and start a new order of women religious.

"We all have that potential in us, and it all comes down to the choices we make," Thiman said.

[Jennifer Miller writes for Today's Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.]

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