Religious sister finds a saint that ignited her vocation

By Sister Connie Bach, PHJC

I had the wonderful experience of a lifetime on Oct. 14, 2018, when I attended the canonization celebration of our Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ foundress, St. Katharina Kasper, at St. Peter’s in Rome. It set me on fire!

I am still speechless when I am asked what it feels like “to be the daughter of a saint!” I know down deep inside that following St. Katharina calls me to a deeper commitment in my personal life to the conscious pursuit of servant leadership at all levels in my life, as she did, among the poor and underserved and in care of the Earth.

In my human, imperfect nature, I can only turn to St. Katharina as a model exemplar. She herself was a poor German peasant girl who knew nothing about religious life but sought only to do the will of God in her life. She was unlearned and sickly, but she had a passion for service, a dedication to prayer, a devotion to Our Lady and a desire gained from a vision to gather women around her who sought to do the same.

As Joan Chittister wrote in “A Passion for Life” (Orbis): “Not all those who point the way to God for us may themselves be perfect. There are figures gleaming in their holy causes who are awkward in their personal lives. They are sometimes in confusion, as we are. They are virtuous beyond telling in one dimension and weak to the point of sin in others.

“At the same time, they hold a fire in their hearts bright enough to light a way for many. They are impelled by the will of God for humankind and they will brook no less. They stand on gilded stilts above the rest of their generation and become a sign for all generations. They are proof of possibility from ages past and a symbol of hope for ages yet to come. They stand in mute conviction of the age in which they lived and challenge us to do the same. Most of all, they are important to us now.”

As a daughter of St. Katharina, I desire to grow more intimately in love with God and to move beyond myself in reaching out to others in love and compassion, sharing the fire within while helping to build the kingdom here among us.

Where did I obtain such zeal? I believe my parents planted these seeds early on. They always taught by word and example to never let a good deed go undone. As well, I learned many lessons from my Poor Handmaid teachers at St. Mary School in East Chicago.

In fact, I have many mentors who have touched my life in ways not always seen. I learned to be the hands, feet, voice and eyes that see and serve those most in need with deep compassion.

My then pastor, Father Bob Gehring, nurtured these same seeds. He taught me that we will never be perfect, but we are always loved and touched by God’s grace in mysterious and amazing ways if we are attentive enough to feel the spark, open enough to allow it to enkindle our hearts and, as Pope Francis exhorts us all, ready enough “to set the world ablaze.”

St. Katharina Kasper ignited the same fire in her sisters when they began the PHJC congregation in 1851 and again in 1868, when she sent the first eight sisters to the United States to serve German immigrants and orphans. More than seven thousand women have walked in her shoes, and I am deeply grateful for her electrifying spark in my life.

Sister Connie Bach is a member of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, and serves her religious order as director of vocations and director of the PHJC volunteer program.