A New Design for Heritage Hall
Phase one of the upgrade of Heritage Hall is now complete and on display.
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.
The “history of the history” of the Sisters
When the first motherhouse was built in Lemont in 1963, the Sisters converted the Walker Mansion that had served as the novitiate house on the convent grounds, into the Mother Theresa Museum. Here various historical artifacts, photographs, and heirlooms from the early days of the congregation were displayed. Sister M. Venantia Rec was named the director of the museum. As time went on, more space was needed and the museum was moved into the motherhouse where it officially became known as Heritage Hall.
Sr. M. Venantia Rec
Sr. Anne Marie Knawa
Sr. M. Jude Kruszewski
Sr. Jeanne Marie Toriskie
Heritage Hall was developed by Sister Anne Marie Knawa, the Sisters’ historian and author of 'As God Shall Ordain,’ the historical chronicle of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. She was assisted by Sister M. Jude Kruszewski. Together they worked on updating and improving the various exhibits and displays for the museum. The original Heritage Hall was dedicated on December 8, 1992, on the anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. In 2002, a new convent was built and Heritage Hall was relocated to the new convent. Sister Anne Marie was once again tasked with supervising not only the transfer of the historical items, but also the expansion of various sections. Thus, the new and improved Heritage Hall was opened on May 20, 2003, in the current Our Lady of Victory Convent. It has continued to serve as a place of reflection and
remembrance of all the Sisters from years past and the wonderful work they did.
In 2019, the Sisters hired Matrex, a Chicago-based display and exhibit company, to work on developing and building updates to the final section of Heritage Hall. This section focused on the development of Franciscan Ministries (formerly FSCSC), the corporation the Sisters created in 1988 to manage the many senior living communities and ministries the Sisters sponsor. This section documents the last 30 years of the Congregation with a complete new design and updated images and information.
In 2021, work began on upgrading the rest of Heritage Hall by giving the entire room and the various displays a new design and look. Sister Jeanne Marie Toriskie was placed in charge of coordinating the project. Matrex was once again tasked with redesigning the various information panels. This included a new color theme and incorporating a more modern design. Old photos from the Sisters’ archives were reevaluated and improved with many new additions. Captions and historical information were also rewritten and updated. The walls were repainted with bright new colors that match each section design, thus giving each display its own color theme.
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.”
Matrex created this beautiful three-dimensional copy of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago's logo which 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.
Josephine Dudzik's baptismal certificate is on display in this section of Heritage Hall.
The first section: Land of Birth.
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.
The second section: The Foundation of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago.
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.
(Left) This display features vestments and a vintage sewing machine that the Sisters used in the early days of the congregation. (Center) A wheelchair from St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled. (Right) A statue of Jesus as a child that was displayed in the first motherhouse.
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 Section
Next Steps and Continuing Upgrades
Matrex finished this first round of design and installation in the summer of 2022. More work is being planned for the coming sections that will celebrate the other ministries carried out by the Sisters: nursing, religious education, Boys Town, and secondary education as well as the Beatification efforts on behalf of Mother Mary Theresa. “Watching the continuous upgrade of Heritage Hall has been a delightful experience. It has now given the room a new refreshing and vibrant look. It is a beautiful tribute to our foundress Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik and to all the women who served the Congregation for the past 127 years. Many thanks to the team at Matrex and Sister Jeanne Marie Toriskie who worked so hard on this project,” said Sister M. Bernadette Bajuscik, General Minister of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago.
Mike Moyer, a project manager with Matrex, said, “Our Matrex Team loved working on this permanent installation at Heritage Hall. We were so happy that we were given the opportunity to take part in re-creating the history of the Franciscans Sisters. It really looks beautiful and we look forward to the next stage of the project.”