Daughters of Charity: always with the poor

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lisa Sullivan’s sister-in-law was a Daughter of Charity, a reality that granted Sullivan, a Catholic convert, firsthand exposure to the Catholic order.

Over the years, Sullivan would visit Sister Theresa Sullivan at spots all over the Chicago area and meet fellow Daughters of Charity. She was quickly drawn to the order’s service-minded mission.

“I found the Daughters to be so intelligent, humble and caring that it inspired me,” said Sullivan, who began working with the Daughters more than five years ago as an adult literacy volunteer. “There’s an incredible way the Daughters have of making do and creating better lives for those they touch.”

In 2011, the Daughters of Charity recognize and celebrate 150 years of service to Chicago. Founded in 17th-century France to serve the poor in whatever capacity necessary, the Daughters of Charity have filled roles in education, healthcare and social services in nearly 100 countries around the globe.

“We’re continuously working on our mission and core values — respect, integrity, excellence and creativity. We want to remember why we’re here and why we serve,” Daughter of Charity Sister Patricia Dunne said.

Filling local needs

And through 150 years in the Chicago area, the Daughters of Charity’s contributions cannot be overlooked.

The Daughters of Charity first arrived in Chicago in 1861 from Maryland to fill teaching positions at Holy Name School. The Daughters would soon after add St. Columbkille School on the near West Side to their charge and, for a brief time, run St. Vincent’s House of Providence, which provided shelter to homeless.

Education has long been a focal point of the Daughters’ work in Chicago. From 1871-1975, the Daughters operated the all-girls high school at Old St. Patrick’s, 700 W. Adams St. The order also established and operated St. Louise de Marillac High School in north suburban Northfield from 1967 until its 1994 merger with Loyola Academy.

Yet, the Daughter’s most recognizable contribution to modern Chicago may be St. Joseph Hospital at 2900 N. Lake Shore Drive.

Throughout the late 19th century and into the 20th century, the Daughters administered compassionate care to thousands who walked through the hospital’s doors. On July 1, 2001, however, the Daughters ceded their controlling hand at St. Joseph’s to Resurrection Health Care.

A consistent mission

About 10 local Daughters continue fulfilling the order’s centuries- old mission to assist individuals from all walks of life.

In relinquishing control of St. Joseph’s Hospital, the Daughters realigned their efforts and put saved funds into community outreach. Thus began one of the Daughters’ cornerstone programs of the present day — St. Joseph’s Services.

Today, St. Joseph’s Services provides education that empowers lives at a pair of Chicago locations: Casa de Providencia at 2516 W. Cortez St. and the San Miguel School at 819 N. Leamington Ave. Given collaborative relationships with parishes and nonprofits, both campuses offer adult education courses as well as classes in computer literacy and job preparation among others.

“You feel like you’re having a one-on-one impact and that’s part of the power of the Daughters of Charity’s work,” said Sullivan, who became the St. Joseph’s Services executive director in 2009.

At the St. Vincent de Paul Center, 2145 N. Halsted St., the Daughters oversee an extensive child-care program, homeless outreach and senior services. The Marillac Social Center, meanwhile, serves a number of communities on Chicago’s West Side with a child-care program and teen support programs as well as family and senior services.

“We’ve stuck to our mission: where there is need, we go,” Dunne said. “We’re constantly trying to strengthen and empower, so that people can be all that they can be.”

On Oct. 14, the Daughters celebrated 150 years of Chicago ministries with a Mass and reception at Catholic Charities Headquarters, 721 N. LaSalle St. The location was a fitting one for the commemoration, as the historic building owes its beginning to the Daughters who built it in 1888 to house the St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum, which it remained until 1972.

“I hope the Daughters of Charity’s legacy in Chicago is one that taught people to be strong individuals who give back to their communities,” Dunne said. “If people can be centered on those who need the most, that will be a most wonderful gift.”