This year Ancilla College celebrates 80 years of educational service. Unique in Indiana as the state’s only private, liberal arts, two-year college, Ancilla now serves students from around the world while still staying true to its roots in Donaldson, Indiana.
Ancilla College was originally created to serve the educational needs of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. The path from a religious order of sisters in Germany to Indiana began in the 1860s.
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, the Catholic diocese of Fort Wayne, reached out to the Poor Handmaids for help in ministering to the many German immigrants who had settled in Northern Indiana. Eight German Sisters were selected from among the two hundred that volunteered for the mission in America. The eight Poor Handmaids arrived in the US on August 24, 1868.
Catherine Kasper continued to send Poor Handmaids to America in the years that followed. The Sisters lived Catherine’s vision, traveling into new territories building “little houses” in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri and Pennsylvania before the start of the 20th century. Over the next several years, an ever-increasing number of women entered the congregation and the order grew as they founded schools, orphanages, and hospitals in Indiana and across the Midwest.
The Sisters who served in these institutions needed training and certification so, in 1925, Ancilla Domini College was established as an extension of DePaul University of Chicago. Ancilla Domini, a Latin phrase meaning “servant of the Lord,” was chosen to reflect the mission of the college to create graduates who would serve the mission of the PHJC and provide service and education in the wider world. Dozens of Sisters earned degrees from DePaul over the next several decades and many of them returned to teach at Ancilla.
But federal guidelines for higher education changed in 1936 to prohibit universities from offering degree programs across state lines. The College was reorganized and in 1937 Ancilla became an independent college accredited by the Indiana State Board of Education.
Ancilla, offering two-year associates degrees is often called a junior college. The term ‘junior college’ historically referred to all non-bachelor’s degree granting post-secondary schools, but over the last few decades many public junior colleges have replaced “junior” with “community” in their names. Private junior colleges in the United States reached their peak numbers in the 1940s and today Ancilla is one of a small number of these unique schools.
Over the next 35 years the college provided degree programs for the PHJC Sisters who went on to build and expand hospitals, clinics, schools, and orphanages across the Midwest. In the 1950s the college was asked to open classes and degree offerings to the general public, first in nearby Plymouth but also in several surrounding communities.
In 1966 Ancilla College incorporated as a separate entity and a board of trustees consisting of Sisters and leaders from the surrounding communities was now charged with addressing education needs of the local community. As part of opening its doors to the public the college broadened its liberal arts curriculum. The college sought national accreditation for its programs from the U.S. Higher Learning Commission and received fully accredited status in 1973.
The college grew through the 1980s, adding programs and students. A new wing was added to the college in January 2003 that includes computer and science labs, new classrooms, and offices to address science and technology needs as well as serve more students.
Since 1998 Ancilla College has fielded athletic teams for men and women as a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association and, since 2000, the Michigan Community College Athletic Association.
Nearly 600 students attend Ancilla in one of over two dozen degree programs. Ancilla is just one part of a 1,200-acre campus including a retreat and conference center, an environmental center, an artistic community, a beef and grain farm, and a nursing home. Today the college is home to over 200 students living on campus in residence halls built in 2015 and 2016.