House of Providence Chapel
The House of Providence, which was presided over by the Franciscan Sisters, was established in Chicago on September 15, 1882. The Franciscan Sisters originated in Germany, and established their provincial house in St. Louis in 1872. These sisters purchased property from St. Joseph parish in Chicago on what was then Market and Elm streets, where they had a new building erected next to a two story frame structure. The mission of the sisters was to provide housing for servant girls who were unemployed, as well as for those young women employed in shops but had nowhere to live. In 1886, there were approximately 40-50 women who lived in the Sister’s shelter. It was referred to as the House of Providence Home for Working Girls.
An article in the Chicago Tribune in 1943 describes the 60 women living there, many of whom were involved in household work, while others worked in war factories that were nearby. A few others worked in a candy factory. The house was also home to women in between jobs, including one woman who had been returning for 40 years. The charge for a double room was $7 per week, and $9 for a single room. Even during the depression, when many of the women could not find work, they were not evicted, and they would help out the sisters with chores. In 1943, however, the sisters were short of help, since except for two cooks, all of their residents were working full time.
In 1925, John Mallin decorated the chapel at the House of Providence, which was in an annex next to the building. A photo of the chapel was included in one of his brochures and is displayed on this website. In 1947 he may also have done some redecorating at the chapel. According to Jeanne Guilfoyle, archivist for the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, the House of Providence Franciscan Sisters also recommended him to the Franciscan Sisters in Racine, Wisconsin, where he decorated the chapel inside of St Mary’s Hospital in 1932.
In 1926, Mallin also decorated St. Joseph Church, which was located right next to the House of Providence on Orleans St. Although St. Joseph’s church was run by the Benedictines, according to Jeanne Guilfoyle, “Our Sisters attended daily mass at St. Joseph’s and the priests from there celebrated all the special occasions at the House of Providence. The sisters had a very close relationship with the Benedictines there. As a matter of fact, the building they first purchased was the old Benedictine rectory.”
Excerpts from a brief history of the chapel written by Sister Berenice Beck in 1947 are quoted below. This unpublished history was also provided by Jeanne Guilfoyle.
“We know there was a little chapel in the old priory, for Sister Theodora assures us that Mass was celebrated there for the first time on October 4, 1882. When the first building was erected, the chapel was placed on the south side of the corridor, first floor, its location can still be determined by the three windows, slightly narrower than the others, which lighted it. A large chapel with high, arched ceiling was included in the plans for the addition, completed early in 1892, and furnishings were provided at an outlay of $1,478.76. Two years later it was frescoed. But since Chicago quickly coats its buildings, inside and out, with layers of grime, it was redecorated in 1901, 1916, and again in 1925 when the statues too were repainted; in 1932 it was cleaned. The stained-glass windows and tile floor, as far as we know, were there from the beginning, but in 1910 storm windows were added.
In 1947 the chapel underwent a complete transformation. The three-varnished wooden altars, of medium oak shade, were removed, though the main altar returned, painted white and gold, with the top lopped off and a new gold tabernacle. The large mission crucifix, presented by the girls in 1923, was placed back of the altar. (The sanctuary lamp which they gave the same year was replaced later by a stand, still in use.) The sisters were assured by their decorator that the stations of terra cotta, imported from Munich, were worth at least $2,000 and were probably unobtainable even at that price today. So, their old-fashioned wooden framework was removed and the scenes repainted in cream and buff tints, a great improvement, or at least modernization. The pews also lost some of their ornamentation, much to their advantage, and were nicely varnished.
A lovely, slender, “modern” statue of our Lady who, with mantle folded gracefully about her, looks down upon her children, replaces her former altar. Her counterpart, St. Joseph, is holding, in addition to his lily, an unusually attractive Child. All statues which previously found place in the chapel were removed except the sorrowful Mother in the rear. Two ceiling lights, two groups of side light, and flood lights for the sanctuary brighten the scene when daylight fades, while a pipe organ, which replaced the small melodeon, fills it with harmony upon proper occasions. For the first time in its existence, the chapel also received a confessional, placed to the right in the rear. The paintings were touched up, brightening and deepening their tones, and the entire chapel was beautifully frescoed. Thus enhanced, it stands today, the most attractive feature of the entire institution, as it should be. Postcards depicting it in colors, and issued since its improvement, scarcely do it justice.”
“Quite a few of our ladies of advanced age, having lived here many years are now retired from work. These good ladies spend much of their time in the Chapel before our Eucharistic Lord, praying for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the Home, for their own intentions and for the whole world. Many of the girls leave at an early hour every morning, and after a long and wearisome day of work are happy to return to the Home to enjoy the peace and tranquility that reigns within its hallowed walls. Furthermore, the guests have the inestimable privilege of assisting at Holy Mass every morning, and of participating in the recitation of the Rosary which is said every evening throughout the year.
Business women, working girls and students of many nationalities seek a welcome home and refuge at House of Providence. Among the residents are numbered Germans, Chinese Spanish, Irish, Polish, Mexican, Puerto Ricans, Indian, Filipino, Colored, etc. There are about one hundred women living here at any given time.”
In 1962 the House of Providence building was sold to Daniel O’Brien, who opened a nursing home named Margaret Manor. The chapel is no longer in existence as the building annex where the chapel was located was torn down. St. Joseph church is still in existence next to the building. Additional photos of the chapel were provided by Jeanne Guilfoyle. St. Mary’s chapel in Racine and St. Joseph church in Chicago are also featured on this website.
A.T. Andreas, History of Chicago Volume 3. AT Andreas Company Publisher, 1886.
Sister Bernice Beck. Unpublished history of the House of Providence. Quotes provided by Jeanne Guilfoyle, Wheaton Franciscan Sisters archivist.
Chicago Tribune article. “Of All Things! Home for Maids Short of Help”. Chicago Tribune May 30 1943. Part 3 Page 3.
Wheaton Franciscan Heritage. http://www.wheatonfranciscan.org/heritage/