The Past...The Present...The Future
A Guide to the Heritage Hall of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago
Welcome to a place of faith, peace, hope, and tranquility!
On the first floor of Our Lady of Victory Convent is a room dedicated to the extensive history and legacy of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. This room is called Heritage Hall and it documents the start of the Congregation, the life of its foundress, Venerable Mary Theresa Dudzik, and pays tribute to all those who served as Franciscan Sisters of Chicago in the many ministries the Sisters sponsored for over 125 years.
With a sense of their own history, the Sisters saved documents, books, articles, letters, and photographs over the years that relate to their foundation from 1894 to the present. These historical treasures recount the rich tradition of the Congregation and the Sisters' determination to secure their place in the Church's history of compassion in ministry.
This historical collection will give the visitor an appreciative insight into the Congregation's history and inspire admiration for a group of women, who committed themselves to building the reign of God in our times. Heritage Hall is currently in the process of being upgraded and remodeled. The first few sections are finished and work continues to be done on the later sections.
Upon entering Heritage Hall, visitors will see a colorful new front panel with a welcoming message around the Sisters’ logo which was cast as a beautiful three-dimensional object. The message reads: “Welcome to Heritage Hall – the history of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. As you walk through this hall, you see abundant evidence of God’s loving providence in the life of our foundress, Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, and in the foundation and growth of our Congregation. Each Sister has brought her own unique pattern of gifts and abilities to this Congregation. God has received this diversity and woven it together to create a charismatic ministry larger than ourselves. United in our selfless service to others throughout our memorable past, within our present reality, and into our future, we continue to incarnate the words of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik: We continued working to attain the goal for which we had banded together.”
This beautiful three-dimensional copy of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago's logo is featured at the entrance. The logo was designed by Sr. M. Sponsa Bajorek.
The first section: Land of Birth
The first section explores the early life of Josephine Dudzik, who later became Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, the foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. Her story begins with her birth in Plocicz, Poland, in 1860. Here one can view photos of Josephine with her family, her childhood home, her baptismal certificate and font, and her parish church. One can also see photos of Josephine’s vocational school where she learned sewing, needlework, and tailoring. These skills would become an essential form of income for her and the Congregation she would later start. A large map of Poland and surrounding countries is displayed illustrating the political turmoil that led to her family’s immigration to America in the late nineteenth century. Other items on display include Polish prayer and spirituality books that Josephine would have used for prayer.
Photos of section one in Heritage Hall that highlight the birth and childhood of Theresa Dudzik. Polish prayer books are on display as well as photos of points of interest in the village Theresa grew up in, including her childhood home.
The second section: The Foundation of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago
The second section covers the period when Josephine and her family moved to America and settled in Chicago near St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish. This exhibit illustrates 19th century Chicago and the conditions that many immigrants faced when they came to America. America was in a recession and many people lived in poverty. Josephine was greatly affected by the poverty she witnessed and her heart went out to the poor suffering around her. She began to care for them, even using her own home as shelter. During this time, Chicago suffered from the calamity of the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed most of the city. A container of ashes from the famous fire is on display. These ashes were discovered when the Sisters sponsored a senior living community in Chicago and a layer of ashes was found on the construction site where the community was being built.
Josephine’s story continues as one learns how she started the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Kunegunda (the Congregation’s original name) under the guidance of her spiritual mentor, the Reverend Vincent Barzynski, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. Here one can view photos of him as well as Josephine’s first house and an image of St. Kunegunda (Kinga). A container of salt from St. Kunegunda's legendary salt mine in Poland is also on display. This area contains various items that were important at the start of the Congregation such as the early Constitution of the Sisters, a directory of early Sisters who joined, and other important prayer books and mementos from this period.
Photos of section two in Heritage Hall highlight the foundations of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. Historical photos line the display as well as other items of interest such as a vial of ashes from the the Great Chicago Fire and a container of salt from St. Kunegunda's legendary salt mines in Poland.
Section three: A New Congregation in the Church
This section presents the beginning stages of the establishment of the Congregation in 1894. On December 8, 1894, Josephine and three other women officially started the Congregation. A large photo of these four “pioneer Sisters” is prominently featured. There are also many historical items on display here. Photos of various historical figures who were important early on to the Congregation, include Very Reverend Patrick Feehan, Archbishop of Chicago, and Father Andrew Spetz, who became the Sisters' spiritual guide when Father Barzynski passed away in 1899. A copy of the letter approving the establishment of the Congregation is also on display. Several historical artifacts are featured such as the original threshold from the first Motherhouse, a clock and a statue of Jesus as a child that stood in the Motherhouse, coins and small pocket watches from the era, and a statue of Our Lady of Victory that sat in the office of the General Minister. A large photo of the first General Minister, Mother M. Anna Wysinski, is also prominently exhibited. One can follow the story of the early years of the Sisters as they laid the foundation for building their Congregation. Across from this wall is a wonderful display that shows the various vestments the Sisters made to raise money as well as a vintage sewing machine. The Sisters raised money by sewing and doing domestic work.
These photos highlight section three in Heritage Hall where various displays contain historical artifacts from the early years of the Congregation including a wheelchair from St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled, a clock and statue of Jesus as a child that was in the first Motherhouse, and a display that features vestments and a vintage sewing machine that the Sisters used in the early days of the Congregation.
Section four: St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled
The story of the Congregation continues with the establishment of St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled in Chicago in 1897, one of the first and oldest nursing homes in Chicago. Here one learns the story of how the Sisters raised money and established this Community. They built their first Motherhouse starting with a single building and then later expanded, adding the two connecting sides on the right and left. These buildings not only housed the elderly who lived with the Sisters, but also served as the novitiate for new incoming Sisters, and as St. Vincent Orphanage to house the influx of orphans. Many documents and photos testify to the daily life at St. Joseph Home and the wonderful work the Sisters did for people during this time.
Section four: St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled
Section five: The Daycare Ministry
This area serves as a tribute to all the Sisters who served in the daycare ministry. Photos show life through the years at the two daycares the Sisters operated. The Sisters managed St. Elizabeth Nursery in Chicago from 1904 to 1915 and again from 1920 to 1959. They also operated Guardian Angel Daycare Center in Chicago from 1918 to 1991. Guardian Angel not only served as a child care ministry, but also as a free medical clinic for many people who lived in the area. It was also used as a community center to educate immigrants in English classes, and for childcare classes for new mothers.
Section six: The Education Ministry
One of the main ministries of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago was elementary education. The Sisters worked in many schools across the country including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Texas. This ministry is featured prominently with a large map illustrating all the states and schools where the Sisters taught and administered. One innovative feature in this exhibit is an interactive touch screen where one can touch a computerized map and see many slideshows of schools, convents, and photos of the Sisters who taught at these schools throughout the years.
Section six: The Education Ministry
Some of the featured photos illustrate the dedication the Sisters had in the ministry of education.
The interactive screen shows photos of Sisters working in education.
Section five: The Daycare Ministry
Section Seven: Mission and Ministry
In Response to God’s Call
In announcing the Good News, the Sisters have always been responsive to society’s call for help. The Sisters consider the needs of the times and accept various forms of ministry in accord with the spirit and aim of the Congregation. The photos that line the wall of this section represent every ministry the Sisters have embraced: the education of youth on the elementary and secondary levels, the care of the sick in hospitals and nursing homes; the care of senior citizens; pastoral, parish, catechetical and prison work; and mission work in Mexico.
A large standing book in this area contains the photos that could not be accommodated on the walls. Included in the book are lists of the Congregation’s catechetical vacation school missions, and the higher institutions of learning that the Sisters have attended through the years in preparation for their various ministries. A sectional case in the corner area contains selected memorabilia associated with the Sisters’ ministry.
Section Eight: Public Witness
This exhibit focuses on the change in the religious habit worn by the Sisters from their foundation until the present time. One of the features of this section is a copy of the original garb, created by Sister Mary Theresa and Sister Mary Anna, and worn by the founding Sisters. Each item of the religious habit is identified and defined. In the corner of this exhibit, carefully selected photos are arranged to create a detailed dateline from 1894 to the present day. The many photos presented here illustrate each stage of the religious life from the postulancy to the profession of perpetual vows, and the subsequent changes in the religious garb.
In this section, a case displays various items from the ministry of education.
Section Nine: Growth and Progress Our Lady of Victory Convent
One of the most important aims of this exhibit is the overview it offers of the campus of Our Lady of Victory Convent Motherhouse in Lemont, “the Village of Faith.” As the Congregation continued to grow, the Sisters purchased the Walker mansion and land in 1926. Eventually, the mansion became the site of the Congregation’s Novitiate for the next thirty-seven years. In 1936, a new Our Lady of Victory Convent was built to house the infirm and retired Sisters. In 1964, the convent was converted into Mother Theresa Home; in 1991, it was razed to make way for a new and larger Mother Theresa Home.
When, in 1991, the ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago was extended to include a retirement community, the Franciscan Village was built consisting of coach homes, apartments, a day care center for adults, and assisted living quarters. This particular exhibit offers photos of the Motherhouse and cemetery of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, the St. Francis House of Prayer, the chaplain’s residence, and several grottoes dedicated to St. Francis.
Many of the emerging works of the Congregation and the sites where they are located are here exhibited. In this area are also found projects connected with the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago such as: The Theresa Dudzik Service Award, the Mission Effectiveness Program, the Office of Development, and the Associate Program. A mission in Guerrero, Mexico, welcomed a Franciscan Sister of Chicago in ministry in 1991.
Photos line the wall to show the changes in the Sisters religious habits.
Section Ten: Triumph of Spirit, Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik
The Venerable Servant of God
After a life marked by faith, hope, love and submission to the Holy Spirit, Mother Mary Theresa is a candidate for beatification and eventual canonization in the Church. This exhibit gives an insightful view of Mother Mary Theresa’s beatification and canonization process which began in 1972. Photographs and newspaper articles concerning this process are presented. Books and magazine articles which deal exclusively with Mother Mary Theresa and the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago are also featured.
Among the valued articles highlighted in this collection are those associated with her death in 1917. In a particular showcase, on view are fragments of the wooden casket of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, the crucifix from the lid of the casket, and the crucifix worn by Mother Mary Theresa during life and which is embedded in a piece of her woolen habit. One of the Congregation’s most valuable possessions, the “Chronicle of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik” in which she outlines the founding of the Congregation and its early days, is found here. The official histories of the Congregation are also displayed.
One of the Congregation’s most valuable possessions, the “Chronicle of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik” in which she outlines the founding of the Congregation and its early days, is found here. The official histories of the Congregation are also displayed.
Section Eleven: Leadership and Franciscan Ministries
Section eleven features various Franciscan Ministries, that manages senior living communities that offer independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, rehabilitation, respite care, affordable housing and home healthcare. Photos of every community the Sisters sponsored (current and past) are displayed as well as a map that highlights their locations. Past leadership of Franciscan Ministries is also displayed with photos of each CEO.