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The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice,
popularly called the Felician Sisters, was founded in Russian-occupied
on November 21, 1855. The Foundress of the Congregation, Sophia Truszkowska,
was a wealthy young woman who devoted herself to the service of Warsaw's
poor. She was soon joined by others who wished to express their religious
convictions through practical acts of charity and hence were not drawn
to the cloistered Communities of women that were common in Poland at
the time. However, the situation in the Russian sector was precarious.
The only way for a small group to survive was for it to be sanctioned
by a religious body. Thus, in 1857, the Capuchins took the Felicians
under their care. It was in this way that the Felicians became the
first religious Congregation of women in Poland to combine a life of
prayer with an active apostolate.
The Congregation barely survived its early years. The most severe blow
fell in 1864 when the Russian government forced the Sisters to disband. For
one year the Community existed as an underground organization until Emperor
Franz Joseph allowed the Felicians from Russian Poland to take refuge in the
Austrian sector. From the less oppressive base of Cracow, the Congregation was
able to expand rapidly and to answer many requests for the Sisters' services.
Thus, in 1874, when a letter was received from Father Joseph Dabrowski asking
for Sisters to assist him in ministering to the Polish immigrants in central
Wisconsin, the Felicians unanimously agreed to send five Sisters to America.
Although the Felicians began their American apostolate in Polonia, a tiny hamlet
in north central Wisconsin, news of their arrival spread quickly to the Polish
parishes around the country. The Felicians were the only strictly Polish religious
Community of women in the United States at the time and there was a great demand
for them in the Polishlanguage Catholic schools. The American branch of the Felicians
grew rapidly from five Sisters in 1874 to over two hundred in 1883, so the Sisters
were in a position to answer many of the requests for their aid. By 1883 they
had homes in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York,
and Maryland. The following year they opened their first school in the Diocese
of Chicago, 55. Cyril and Methodius in Lemont, Illinois.
The American Felicians were never short of work, nor short of vocations in the
years preceding World War I. By 1914, they were teaching 36,000 children in 98
schools across the northeastern and midwestern United States. Their influence
extended even further because the Polish textbooks they printed were used in
a great number of schools they did not staff. By 1914 they operated 14 schools,
an orphanage, and a settlement house in the Archdiocese of Chicago. As early
as 1916, a Felician Sister served on the archdiocesan school board.
After World War I, when immigration from Eastern Europe was brought almost to
a halt, the Felicians were still preoccupied with the opening of new schools
and the enlarging of existing ones to accommodate the natural increase in the
Polish-American population. During, the decade of the 1920s, the Felicians accepted
five additional elementary schools and opened a college in the Archdiocese of
Chicago. Besides this, the existing schools continued to experience marked growth.
The enrollment of St. Joseph School in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood, for
example, grew from ninety-one students in 1888 to 1,849 in 1929. Holy Innocents,
in the large Polish community that grew up around Division Street and Milwaukee
Avenue, had 319 children in 1911; by 1923 its enrollment had grown to 2,694.
It was during this prosperous decade that the Felicians decided to transfer their
provincial headquarters from Milwaukee to Chicago.
For administrative purposes, new Provinces had been formed as the American branch
of the Felician Sisters expanded. The American headquarters of the Congregation
had been transferred from Polonia, Wisconsin, to Detroit, Michigan,
in 1882. In 1900, the Buffalo, New York Province was formed and in 1910 a new
Province was founded in Milwaukee to administer the Felician apostolate west
of Lake Michigan. Because the Felicians were much more active in Chicago than
in Milwaukee, they decided as early as 1921 to transfer their provincial headquarters
to the larger city. A thirty-acre farm at the corner of Peterson and Crawford
(now Pulaski) on Chicago's far North Side was purchased in August of 1921 and
construction began on the provincial house. The building was dedicated by Cardinal
Mundelein on May 30, 1927, and on that day the Cardinal instituted daily exposition
of the Blessed Sacrament in the Felician chapel, a privilege the Sisters had
enjoyed in Milwaukee since 1913.
During the years of the Great Depression, the Chicago Fclicians opened two schools
in the archdiocese, St. Joseph High School (q.v.) and Sacred Heart High School
(the two merged in 1941). They also began to publish a new series of Polish textbooks
that would eventually be used in Polish-language instruction across the country.
After World War II, the Chicago Felicians participated in the American Church's
new prestige and prosperity. In addition to maintaining old commitments to the
city schools, they expanded their work to the suburbs, accepting four large schools
in the archdiocese between 1956 and 1963 in Oak Lawn, Niles, Oak Forest, and
Hoffman Estates. Other new commitments accepted at this time included St. Andrew
Home for the Aged in Niles (q.v.) and Our Lady of the Gardens in the Altge!d
Gardens housing project. In addition to these services, the Province also opened
a sixty-bed infirmary for retired Felician Sisters which was constructed adjacent
to the provincial house. Felician College (q.v.), which had begun in 1926 as
an extension of Loyola University College, acquired independent status in 1953.
Four Sisters taught in the Catholic Charities' St. Mel-Holy Ghost Day School
for the Deaf. One Sister served as the archdiocesan reading consultant and one
headed the committee that evaluated the archdiocese's schools in 1958.
Although forced by circumstances to reduce the number of Sisters staffing the
schools after 1963, the Chicago Felicians maintained their commitment to the
schools, parishes, and institutions of the archdiocese and have accepted only
minimum salaries for their work. Currently, of the 500 members of the Chicago
Province, 330 Felicians live and work in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Province
maintains 21 elementary schools, two high schools, a college, and a home for
the aged in the city and suburbs. The Felicians have also served the archdiocese
and the city of Chicago through participation in the Urban Development Project,
serving as instructors at Cook County Jail, engaging in family counseling, teaching
children with learning disabilities and perceptual difficulties, a, participating
in parish CCD programs, and conducting programs for remedial
reading and mathematics instruction. A Felician Sister also in served as the
associate director of vocations for the archdiocese for approximately three
years. In addition to their commitments to the archdiocese, the Chicago Felicians
maintain nineteen elementary schools, two hospitals, a home for the aged,
a day care center, and diocesan high schools in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alabama,
and downstate Illinois.
Nationally, there are 2,800 Felicians in seven American
Provinces, making them the eighth largest religious Community of women in
the United States and placing them fourth in the number of dioceses served. An
additional 400 Felician Sisters live in Rome, Poland, Canada, and Brazil. Franciscan
Sisters of Chicago
From "A History of
the Offices, Agencies, and the Institutions of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1981
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.