Angel Guardian Orphanage
The first children were admitted to Angel Guardian Orphanage in October, 1865.
The cornerstone for a new building at Angel Guardian, 6300 N. Ridge Avenue, was laid on Sunday, May 19, 1929.
Tuesday, May 16, 1865 is said to be the date upon which the first 10 acres of land was purchased for use by Angel Guardian Orphanage
On Monday, October 27, 1879, the original children's residence & convent burned down.
Source: Rogers Park Directory, 1919, page 4.
Angel Guardian Orphanage, from 1866 to 1900
by Teri Embrey
The charitable care initiative that would become Angel Guardian Orphanage illustrates how immigrant German religious women were able to succeed in America. The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (PHJC), an order of German sisters newly arrived in the United States, mentored and inspired other German immigrants through their work at the German Catholic Orphanage of the Holy Guardian Angels, which would later be known more simply as Angel Guardian Orphanage. This asylum existed in West Ridge for over 100 years. The orphanage’s founding and its first 35 years of existence set the stage for its later development into a major mission for the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ and a source of pride for Chicago’s German Catholic community.
In America, after the Civil War (1861–1865), there was a large and growing need for orphanages. The devastation of the war, recurring epidemics, and increased immigration contributed to the demand for such institutions across the nation. The number of such institutions providing care to dependent children tripled between 1865 and 1890. In New York City alone, the Civil War years saw a 300 percent increase in children needing charitable care. This was also particularly true of the Midwest, which had begun to receive train-loads of orphans from the East Coast in the hope that farms in the Midwest could provide them with good homes and future careers. Chicago’s Roman Catholic community also struggled with the need to care for orphaned children. In 1871, Chicago had seven Catholic hospitals and two orphanages. St. Joseph Orphan Asylum , the other Catholic orphanage, had been founded in 1849 after a cholera epidemic to provide care to the diocese’s children of Irish ethnicity. Angel Guardian Orphanage At that time, the German population was increasing throughout the city. German Catholics on the West Side numbered about 50 families in 1853, and they organized into a parish. Their frame church, named for St. Francis of Assisius, was built at the corner of Mather and Clinton Streets. On the North Side, the German families numbered about 60. St. Joseph’s , which had been their church, was unable to meet the demand for services. As a result, St. Michael’s parish was established to provide the additional services. St. Michael’s cornerstone was laid on Thursday, August 3, 1853 by Bishop James Oliver Van de Velde, a Belgian-born cleric who would die two years later from yellow fever. The Redemptorist Fathers, who had arrived in Chicago in 1860, took charge of the German congregation of St. Michael’s. By 1870, the number of first-generation German immigrants had increased to approximately 17 percent of the population of the city.
The Angel Guardian Orphanage, located on a 40-acre campus near Devon and Ridge in West Ridge, was opened as a response by the German Catholic community to the increasing population of German Catholic orphans needing care. The mission was created at the behest of five German Roman Catholic parishes in 1865, which included St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s, under the leadership of Father Holzer, a Redemptorist. Bishop James Duggan , an Irish Catholic and fourth Bishop of the Chicago diocese, approved the foundation of the orphanage and participated heavily in other post Civil War relief efforts.
Orphans learned a trade. Here it's baking At the time, the priests worked with a group of Catholic laymen and priests from St. Peter’s Church, St. Joseph’s, St. Francis of Assisium Church, and St. Boniface Church to create a German Catholic orphanage. These men, after receiving approbation from the Church, purchased the first ten acres on Monday, May 15, 1865. The initial land provided for the orphanage was located just south of Devon Avenue between Damen and Seeley Avenues. It had been purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey Trumble. This initial location was highly desirable due to its proximity to a strong German community whose ancestors had emigrated from Germany and Luxembourg. The Devon Avenue property, which had been an Indian school during the 17th century, included a large farm house and a barn. The digging of a new well and exterior renovations occurred as some of the first items of business for improvement of the property in order to support the orphanage.
Because of the strong support of the local German Catholic community, during the first year of operations initial contributions to the orphanage were strong. Chicago’s Bishop James Duggan blessed the orphanage. He then assigned the management of the newly created “German Roman Catholic Orphanage of the Holy Guardian Angels at Rose Hill near Chicago ” to the St. Boniface Cemetery Association. The leaders of the St. Boniface Cemetery Association involved with the establishment of the new cause were Rev. Ferdinand Kalvelage, President; Rev. Peter Zimmer, C.S.S.R ., Secretary; F.S. Vogt, Treasurer; Rev. Peter Fischer; Fr. Meinhard, O.S.B .; Anton Schager; and Michael Birchler. The cemetery association used land purchases and donations to provide for the orphanage. Monetary donations flowed to the new mission from the German Catholics of the diocese as they were notified of the mission’s creation and progress. St. Peter’s Parish gave $1,189.21. St. Michael’s Parish, headed by the Redemptorists, gave $1,737.35. Other contributions from Catholics in the city were received from St. Joseph’s Parish ($103.27), St. Francis’ Parish ($292.60), St. Boniface Parish ($56.74), St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic Aid Society ($107.00), St. Alphonsus’ Liebesbund ($107.00), and St. John’s Society ($18.00). Outlying German communities from Blue Island, Illinois to Freeport, Illinois also made contributions to the orphanage’s establishment.
These religious leaders knew that the orphanage would need ongoing support from the German parishes. At the orphanage’s Board of Directors meeting on Monday, April 5, 1886, a resolution was passed to ask permission from the Bishop to take a special collection for the orphanage in the German parishes on Pentecost Sunday (June 20). “Permission was granted, and the sum of $1,603.89 was collected.” This annual collection continued in the German parishes until approximately 1918, when Archbishop George Mundelein extended it to all Chicago area parishes for all the agencies of the Associated Catholic Charities.
The first children arrived at the orphanage, which was known simply at the time as the German Orphan Asylum, on Thursday, November 1, 1866. Henry, Mary, and Pauline Weishaupt received care from Mr. & Mrs. Traufler, who were the initial caretakers at the orphanage. By year’s end, the number of children at the orphanage had increased to 16. The capacity of the then-current housing was 21 children.
Graduation In its first few years, the orphanage grew quickly. Additional living space was needed for the charges entering the asylum’s care. Land was added to the farm. The orphanage’s Board of Directors engaged John (Johann) Dillenburg , an architect, to design a new building. The selected design consisted of a two-story 40x75 ft. structure made of concrete. With donated building materials, local tradesman provided their services gratis on Saturdays. Peter Ebertshauser, as the General Contractor, oversaw the construction and provided his services gratis as well. By October 1867, the building was partially completed and building funds exhausted. The Spring of 1868 brought new funds and work on the building resumed.
The need for funds for the building and other annual expenses was met in 1869 by a fair to benefit the orphanage. Father Peter Fischer of St. Peter’s Church organized this first fair. The success of the first fair resulted in other fairs and major contributions. “Rev. Ferdinand Kalvelage, pastor of St. Francis Assisium, held a fair which brought $3,237.00. St. Boniface Cemetery turned over to the orphanage account $2,399.80, the first cemetery contribution on record to the orphanage.”
The growing immigrant community needed religious men and women who spoke their native tongues and were sympathetic to their struggles in establishing a life for themselves and their families in America. Other communities, like Buffalo, NY, had encountered similar struggles over keeping their native tongues. Thus, to provide culturally sensitive care to the dependent children of Chicago’s German Catholic community, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ were recruited from Germany to run the mission. Founded on Friday, August 15, 1851 by Catharine Kaspar, who took the name Mother Mary, and four companions in Wirges, Germany, the order was based in strong beliefs in compassion and caring for others. The order’s constitution was modeled on the Sisters of Charity. As a result, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ declared their intentions to serve as teachers and nurses with the more traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience upon joining the order. However, the sisters also exhibited Germanic traits of frugality, self-sufficiency, and independence.
Mother Mary sent eight sisters to America at the request of Bishop John Henry Luers of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was in Hessen Cassel, Indiana that the sisters established their Motherhouse in the United States and St. Joseph School, in August, 1868. From their location in Indiana, their ministries spread throughout the Midwest. As a result, a number of Midwestern German communities asked the sisters to establish teaching and nursing initiatives. Reverend Peter Fischer learned of the German sisters in Indiana in the Fall of 1868. As he was administering the German parishes of the Diocese of Chicago, he quickly worked to convince Sister Rose, the Provincial, of the immense calling for the sisters in Chicago. Sister Rose relayed the request to Mother Mary and informed her that there were sisters available for the task as the small school at Hessen Cassel didn’t require the services of five sisters. Mother Mary granted the request and Sister M. Hyacinth was installed as the first Superior at Angel Guardian. Assisting Sister M. Hyacinth in caring for the 18 children in the uncompleted building were Sister M. Bella and Sister Corona.
Several other Chicago area orphanages had women as its directresses. Many capable sisters and lay women had been active in civic work related to children since 1849 when the Chicago Orphan Asylum and St. Joseph Orphan Asylum were opened. The various soldiers and orphan charitable care initiatives during the Civil War solidified women’s public role in social work outside the private sphere of the home. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on social issues Rerum Novarum would later encourage laypeople to help the less fortunate. Catholic women used charitable endeavors to engender needed social reforms, like day nurseries for working mothers. Angel Guardian continued this tradition of charitable work and gave an opportunity for religious women to engage in socially affirming activities that benefited the greater community.
The sisters’ arrival coincided with an increase in orphans arriving at the asylum. Sisters M. Hyacinth, M. Bella, and Corona industriously set about preparing their new home and caring for the 30 children, who now resided there. The orphanage had been endowed since its founding, but the sisters quickly realized that revenues would not provide for the actual needs without careful stewardship. This became especially evident when the annual Pentecost collection from the German Catholic parishes failed to cover the growing expenses of the successful mission. With the abundant land, they planted potatoes and vegetables. Mr. & Mrs. Traufler stayed on and assisted by managing the farm’s operations. The extensive vegetable garden illustrates the sisters’ forethought and steadfast management of limited resources.
As Angel Guardian served a prominently German community to the north of the city’s limits (at the time), the German heritage the orphanage maintained was perceived as one of its strengths. In contrast to Angel Guardian, the Chicago Orphan Asylum differed by accepting children for short-term or long-term care, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. The Chicago Orphan Asylum’s annual report for 1872 proclaimed this open admissions policy. A Unitarian mission which opened in 1863 was the only other orphanage in the city with a similar open admissions policy.
Old St. Henry's Church maintenance of German Catholic heritage, which was seen as an essential trait of the sister’s service, can be seen in Angel Guardian’s relationship to St. Henry’s Church , the local German Catholic parish. This parish, which was founded in 1863 just two years before the orphanage’s founding, was dedicated to the patron saint of Luxembourg and served a predominantly German and Luxembourgian community. Ultimately, in the later 20th Century, St. Henry’s was renamed Angel Guardian as a tribute to the orphanage. The children and Sisters of Angel Guardian attended St. Henry’s Church on Sundays for mass. Because of the cordial relationship to St. Henry’s Church and diocesan politics, the Board of Directors of Angel Guardian volunteered the Sisters for the educational needs of the children of St. Henry’s Parish. Surprised, Sister Hyacinth provided instruction until the Spring of 1869 when a layman ws hired for the remainder of the term. Sister M. Eulogia was sent from the Motherhouse for the following school term to serve as the teacher for the growing student population. Education of the children and parish relations would remain key considerations for the Sisters as the orphanage grew in stature in the community.
The Sisters and the Board of Directors strove to make the orphanage a self-sustaining institution. Rev. Lawrence Holzer, C.S.S.R. as President of the Orphanage Board, made use of his past experiences as one of the organizers of the German Roman Catholic St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum of Philadelphia, Pa., to lead the purchase of an additional 36 acres, with the exception of a right-of-way for the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad Company, which extended the orphanage’s boundary eastward to Clark Street in 1870. This land provided grazing for the asylum’s dairy herd. In 1871, the Board also began proceedings to obtain a state charter for the institution. Official recognition from the state and the non-profit status it carried would later be a benefit to the orphanage and the Sisters who ran it.
The year of 1871 was a traumatic year for the City of Chicago due to the Great Fire. The fire, believed to have been started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow in the O’Leary barn at 137 De Koven Street, consumed a large portion of the city on the night of Sunday, October 8, 1871. The fire spread quickly was not halted until mid-afternoon on Wednesday, October 11, 1871. Approximately 70,000 to 100,000 residents across the city were left homeless. Three hundred residents of the city died. The structure of the city suffered the worst damage with buildings destroyed numbering approximately 17,420. Untouched by the conflagration, Angel Guardian opened her doors to the German community at large. Numerous individuals and groups took shelter at the orphanage during this period, including the Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers from St. Michael’s and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The other orphanages and aid societies across the city also took in refugees and provide assistance to those in need. For example, the Chicago Orphan Asylum served as a depot for the Chicago Relief and Aid Society’s distribution of clothing to fire escapees. On Saturday, June 14, 1873, Sister Mary Paschalis arrived via carriage. Due to her extreme height and girth, she was known affectionately as the “Big Sister” to both the orphans and the produce merchants on South Water Street. Sister Mary Paschalis was beloved by the children, especially the older boys who often accompanied her into the city to sell and barter excess produce from the orphanage’s farm yield. While the Sisters were able to provide relief to others during the Great Chicago Fire, they needed such assistance in 1879 when a fire struck the orphanage.
On Sunday, October 26, 1879, the farm house, which served as convent for the Sisters, and the main building, erected 1867, were destroyed by fire. Although the fire broke out during the night no lives were lost. In spite of the fact that the walls were concrete, it was a total loss. Only the nearby school building, of which the third story was not quite finished, and some furniture could be saved.
A fire alarm alerted the neighbors. The Sisters and a janitor were responsible for the safe evacuation of the building’s residents. As news of the tragedy spread throughout the German Catholic community, donations arrived. St. Michael and St. Francis of Assisium parishioners made the first contributions to a fund for a replacement building. A new structure, again designed by Architect Johann Dillenburg, would replace the fire damaged one. The new building consisted of three stories with a large basement. Insurance money provided $6,000.00 towards the new structure. However, that sum would not cover the new construction costs. “A picnic was to be held and the Sisters volunteered to take up a house-to-house collection. However, $24,000.00 had to be borrowed. Some of it was loaned without interest.”
On Sunday, April 4, 1880, ground was broken for construction. The cornerstone of the new bright red brick structure was laid on Pentecost Sunday, May 16, 1880, with fanfare to a crowd that consisted of priests and community supporters. This pragmatic act reinforced the continuing need for the annual Pentecostal collection to support the poor orphans at Angel Guardian. The new administrator of the Diocese, the Very Rev. Dr. John McMullen, D.D., presided over the inspirational celebration. The building with a high peaked roof included a chapel, living quarters for the children and Sisters, kitchen, and dining rooms.
By 1880, the number of children had grown. In that number, there were a group of older boys who needed to acquire trades or skills to ensure their future success as citizens and members of the community. The President of the Board, Father Peter Fischer, considered the creation of a house in the city where the boys could learn a trade. This new mission did not materialize. Instead, through the generosity of the community and the Sisters’ guidance the boys were able to learn a number of trades at the orphanage. In the beginning, these were the simpler trades of farming and carpentry. As the orphanage grew in stature in the community, the list of available trades expanded.
Aware of the resources at hand and the income streams those resources could provide, the Sisters made wise use of the land. Thus, the first enterprise to expand was the farm. The number of residents at Angel Guardian had grown. The surplus crops that Sister Mary Paschalis had been selling in the produce market had been dwindling. As the Sisters relied on the farm income to provide for the sisters’ and children’s meals, an expansion of the farming enterprise was a top priority. So, despite an empty treasury, a 60-acre farm at Western and Pratt Avenues was bought. Mr. & Mrs. Henry Wischemeyer, who had previously made generous donations to the orphanage, donated $1,000 toward the purchase price and an interest-free loan of an additional $6,000. Another benefactor gave $250.00. Sister Mary Paschalis, the older boys, and Mr. Rogers, who was the uncle of the then present night watchman Henry Meyer, conducted the farming operation. The enhanced enterprise provided the facility with milk, some of the meat, and all the vegetables. Again, the surplus was sold by Sister Mary Paschalis in the Chicago market. In good years, the produce income would bring several thousand dollars to the mission. When the income was insufficient to provide for the orphanage’s needs, Sister Mary Paschalis would take the older boys on long walks to solicit the goodwill of the neighboring community. Sister Mary Paschalis and the boys would return with additional resources to sustain them through the hard times. Land unsuitable for farming which extended to Clark Street was sold to real estate investors, who divided it into residential plots for the expanding city. Henry Wischmeyer purchased an additional 60 acres at 89th Street and Central Park Avenue in Evergreen Park for a cemetery, which became St. Mary Cemetery in 1887. The proceeds of this new venture provided income for the orphanage.
Typhoid, cholera, and other diseases swept through Chicago during the 1880s. These epidemics as well as increased immigration resulted in the growing need to care for orphans throughout the city. This need was met by the community and by the Catholic Church by the creation of additional hospitals and orphanages. For example, Sister Wallburga Gehring and the Daughters of Charity opened St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum at 1100 N. Orleans in 1881. The facility housed 140 babies. St. Vincent’s also organized a day-care for working parents. The need and success of the mission forced the Daughters of Charity to move to the asylum to larger quarters located at Orleans and Superior Streets. Despite this new orphanage, overcrowding of the Catholic orphanages would remain a problem for the Church. The Sisters at Angel Guardian courageously met this tremendous challenge to care for the poor children who arrived at their doors. From its founding to 1890, Angel Guardian cared for a total of 1,190 children. Typhoid fever struck Angel Guardian in 1887. Sister Radegundis, who had been named Superior at Angel Guardian in 1885, contracted the illness which had affected the children. Sister M. Secunda, the American Provinicial of the order, came to the orphanage and cared for the children until Sister Radegundis recovered. Dr. Martin H. Luken, a native of Cincinnati and of German descent, established his office in Niles Center (now Skokie). As a nephew of Dr. Aloysius J. Thiele, President of the orphanage’s Board of Directors, Dr. Luken was asked to care for the children at Angel Guardian. During the various epidemics, he frequently traveled by buggy to the orphanage to render his services.
The turn of the 20th Century tried the conviction of the Sisters. They lobbied the Board of Directors for solutions to the overcrowding issue that their mission was experiencing. Dr. Luken also testified to the need to expand the facilities as the overcrowding was affecting the health of the orphanage’s residents. “A third floor was added to the school building as a stop-gap measure.” Intake for Angel Guardian was closed. Father Peter Fischer convinced the Board to buy a farm in Shermerville, Illinois . This new parcel, which had previously belonged to Mr. Russel, was located 20 miles north and west of the existing facility. The plan was to move the older boys there and establish a training school based on the plan of the Don Bosco School in Turin, Italy, which provided skilled trades and religious instruction to older boys. The new mission stalled as the Board searched for male faculty to run the endeavor.
To alleviate the strain, a new school building was proposed. Henry J. Schlacks designed the new structure, which was constructed to the south of the main building on Devon Avenue. The plans for the three-story addition included a new kitchen and dining room facilities in the basement, dormitories on the first and second floors, and a spacious chapel on the third floor. The cornerstone was laid on Sunday, October 11, 1896. The dedication ceremonies occurred on Sunday, July 18, 1897, with Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan presiding.
While the overcrowding issue had been resolved by the building of the school addition, the Sisters still hoped to give the boys training in marketable skills. While the Shermerville institution would accept its first boys in 1901, the need to train the current young men at Angel Guardian had not disappeared. Father A. J. Thiele, who had became President of the orphanage’s Board of Directors, had a solution. He proposed the erection of greenhouses. “For St. Boniface Cemetery,” said he, “we had to buy several thousand dollars worth of plants and flowers last year. If we grow them at the orphanage, the institution would receive an additional income, and above all, the boys would have the opportunity to learn a useful trade.”
The greenhouses were built south of the playgrounds by a Mr. Winandy with a cost of approximately $3,000.00. Henry Hansen , a local florist, was hired as a floral instructor. Several of the boys were selected to work in the greenhouses and learn this trade. Nicholas Schmitz, one of the young men who had lived and grown up at the orphanage, served as Henry Hansen’s assistant. The floral operation was a marvelous success in its first year. To build on this enterprise, three additional greenhouses were built the following year.
Career building for young men and women was a shared concern amongst those men and women involved in social work at the turn of the 20th Century. Beyond Angel Guardian, other orphanages endeavored to teach trades and crafts to the young men and young women in their care. The Chicago Orphan Asylum developed relationships with the Burr Oak School and the Glenwood Manual Training School. These schools were state subsidized institutions. The Daughters of Charity, who ran St. Vincent’s, established a program for young women in training for childcare in 1905. Angel Guardian’s training programs differed from the Daughters of Charity’s program and the Chicago Orphan Asylum’s through the self-sufficiency and income generation that the initiatives provided the German asylum at Rose Hill.
The most significant changes for the Sisters came at the 19th Century’s close. In October 1899, the “greater part of the St. Mary’s Training School at Des Plaines, Illinois was destroyed by fire. Thirty boys were brought to Angel Guardian until St. Mary’s could take them again.” The orphanage began to take referrals from Juvenile Court in 1900. The Sisters were finally officially trusted with the actually bookkeeping and recordkeeping of the mission by the Board of Directors at the turn of the 20th Century.
The Sisters successfully ran Angel Guardian Orphanage, experiencing trials and hardships as they struggled to provide for the children in their care. They served as a prime example of womanhood for the young ladies in their care. According to the historian John Fialka, Sisters “were America’s first feminists, battling for the rights and opinions of women in a workplace where bishops sometimes regarded nuns as their subjects or worse, part of their ‘turf.’” The Superiors of Angel Guardian included Sister Hyacintha (1868-1885 except 1873), Sister Blanca (1873), Sister Radegundis (1886-1889), and Sister Bartholomea (1889-1984). Sister Mary Paschalis Hesper worked at the orphanage from Saturday, June 14, 1873 until Monday, September 15, 1919, when she died from the influenza epidemic. These women of intense spirit served as mentors to the children who resided at Angel Guardian Orphanage. Many would follow in their footsteps by joining the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Caroline Weishaupt died as a postulant. Johanna Hochherz would become the second Sr. Radegundis. Vivian Leonard would become the second Sister Paschalis. During the first hundred years of Angel Guardian’s existence (1865-1965), 63 young ladies from Angel Guardian would see their calling as members of the order of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Other children who had resided at the orphanage would join other religious orders to a lesser extent.
The Sisters also illustrated what it meant to be a German American. By the turn of the century, many of the Sisters had become bilingual. Their retreats reflected both German and English elements. In 1911, they officially began to use English to record their corporate affairs. This official use of English exemplified their Americanization and the Americanization of the communities they served.
The German Catholic community, in looking to provide culturally sensitive care to the orphans, recruited The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to run Angel Guardian Orphanage. The sisters brought with them from Germany strong beliefs in self-sufficiency, frugality, and independence. They courageously exemplified these traits during adversity and success alike. The local German community repeatedly rallied behind them and were steadfast supporters of the sisters and the orphanage. As a result, their charges absorbed these intrinsic German traits with the native German language that the sisters used to run the challenging mission that was Angel Guardian Orphanage.
This paper was first presented at the 2008 Conference on Illinois History in Springfield, Illinois. The author claims copyright in 2008.
About the author:-- Ms. Embrey is a doctoral student in Public History/American History at Loyola University in Chicago. She lives in Berwyn, Illinois with her husband and five kids.