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The Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, formerly known as the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Kunegunda, was officially founded on December 8, 1894, in Chicago, Illinois, with the approbation of Archbishop Feehan. The first Sisterhood founded in the city of Chicago, the Congregation, whose membership currently numbers 249, is a pontifical institute having obtained its final approval in 1939.

The Congregation was established by Josephine Dudzik, a young immigrant Pole, who came to Chicago with her parents in 1881, and settled in the vicinity of the celebrated St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Chicago's densely populated Near Northwest Side. A woman of gentle sympathy, staunch piety, and boundless trust in Divine Providence, Josephine felt compassion for the poor, aged, crippled, and abandoned whom she encountered in the St. Stanislaus Kostka district. She was inspired to befriend and shelter many of them in the small flat which she shared with her widowed mother at 11 Chapin Street.

In 1893, during the labor unrest and severe economic depression which added to Chicago's miseries, Josephine Dudzik embarked on a more concrete plan of action to relieve the conditions of her distressed neighbors. Aided by her loyal friend and associate, Roselie Wisinski, she urged her companions of the Third Order of St. Francis, a religious fraternity at St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, to join her in a common life of prayer, labor, and service to the aged, abandoned, and crippled of the area. Although Josephine and her companions had no plans to establish a religions congregation, Father Vincent Barzynski, C.R., the renowned pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and Josephine's spiritual director, urged the young women to adopt the structure of a formal religious community to insure the permanence of their initial zealous dedication. The women adopted the names given them as tertiaries of the Third Order of St. Francis, and Josephine Dudzik was called Sister M. Theresa. On May 21, 1899, Sister M. Theresa and her three companions, Sister M. Anna Wisinski, Sister M. Angeline Topolinski, and Sister M. Agnes Dzik, received the religious habit and began their formal novitiate. On Pentecost Sunday, June 3, 1900, the Sisters made their first profession of vows according to the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi. Upon the death of Father Barzynski in 1899, Rev. Andrew Spetz, CR.. assumed spiritual direction of the infant Community and guided it for the next fifteen years.

For the first two years of the Community's existence, the Sisters and several aged immigrants continued to reside at the home of Sister M. Theresa on Chapin Street. When it became obvious that the growing numbers of Sisters and the aged could not be properly accommodated, they moved to larger quarters at 1368 Ingraham (now called Evergreen) Street. In 1897, aware of the dire need for even larger accommodations, Sister Ni. Theresa initiated construction of St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled (now called simply St. Joseph Home for the Aged [q.v.]) at Hamlin and Schubert Avenues. At its completion in 1898, St. Joseph Home also served as the motherhouse of the Congregation. When, in 1899, the Sisters undertook the care of orphans, St. Vincent was built next to St. Joseph Home on 1-lamlin Avenue to house them. The Sisters exercised responsibility for over 500 dependent and neglected children of the Chicago area until 1911, when the orphans were transferred to the newly-erected St. Hedwig's Orphanage in Niles, Illinois, and placed under the supervision of the Felician Sisters. St. Vincent Orphanage was then converted into living quarters for the Sisters and the aged. By 1903, the continued lack of adequate space and facilities at St. Joseph Home necessitated the purchase of five small cottages on Ridgeway Avenue to accommodate the aged and the crippled who sought shelter.

In 1928, the continued need for proper housing for the aged and the Sisters who ministered to them led eventually to the construction of a new, spacious St. Joseph Home on Ridgeway and Schubert avenues. In 1976, a massive renovation of St. Joseph Home took place. Today, St. Joseph Home of Chicago, as it is now called, accommodates 174 aged and incapacitated residents. Throughout the years, mindful of the aim of heir foundress, the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago have expanded their ministry to the aged. Outside the Archdiocese of Chicago the Sisters maintain several homes for the aged. Within the archdiocese the Sisters also operate Mother Theresa Home which opened in 1964 in Lemont.

The Franciscan Sisters of Chicago entered the field of education when pastors appealed to the young Congregation to supply teachers for the children of immigrant Poles. The Sisters accepted their first school, SS. Peter and Paul, in 1901. Located in Spring Valley, Illinois, in the Diocese of Peoria, it was relinquished in 1918. Three other schools in the dioceses of Peoria and Springfield were subsequently accepted and relinquished. The apostolate of teaching began in 1901, spread beyond Illinois to the states of Texas, North Dakota, Missouri, and Alabama. Eventually, the Sisters left the schools in those areas and today, outside of the Archdiocese of Chicago, they staff schools in Gary, Indiana; Cleveland, Campbell, and Youngstown, Ohio; and Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Within the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Sisters accepted and continue to staff the following parish schools: St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr (opened 1902); St. Florian (1908); Five Holy Martyrs (1912); St. Pancratius (1924); and St. Louise de Marillac, La Grange Park (1956). In 1949, Madonna High School was opened in the Congregation's old motherhouse on Hamlin Avenue with an enrollment of four students. Within a two-year period, the enrollment grew to 400 students and the Congregation purchased the Ephpheta School for the Deaf on Belmont Avenue and Pulaski Road from the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, to accommodate the many students who sought enrollment. The phenomenal growth of the student body necessitated the construction of the present Madonna High School on Belmont and Karlos Avenues in 1958. The school today has an enrollment of 902 young women.

The Franciscan Sisters of Chicago entered into another field of labor in 1904, when the Congregation of the Resurrection petitioned the Sisters to take charge of St. Elizabeth Day Nursery on Ashland Avenue and Blackhawk Street in the vicinity of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. Connected with the nursery was a free dispensary for the poor, a catechetical center, and a home for unwed mothers, the St. Margaret Maternity Home. The St. Elizabeth Day Nursery was closed in 1960 and razed a few years later. In the Town of Lake area on Chicago's Southwest Side, the Sisters assumed charge of Guardian Angel Day Care Center and Home for Ladies on 46th Street and McDowell Avenue in 1917. The institution provided day care for children of working mothers, a residence for homeless working girls, and a free medical center. Today, Guardian Angel Day Care Center and Home for Ladies serves approximately sixtyfive children daily and provides a home for twenty women. At the present time, the Congregation is drafting plans for the establishment of the Holy Family Child Center, associated with St. Anthony Medical Center in Crown Point, Indiana.

For over sixty years, the first St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled on Hamlin Avenue served as the motherhouse for the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. When, in 1959, it was judged hazardous and beyond repair by the Chicago Fire Department, Mother M. Beatrice Rybacki, O.S.F., and her General Council, proposed building a new motherhouse that would adequately meet the Congregation's needs. The site selected for the new motherhouse was in Lemont, about twenty miles southwest of Chicago and ten miles northeast of Joliet. As early as 1926, the novitiate for the Congregation, except for a few years, had been situated in Lemont on Archer Avenue and McCarthy Road in the historic Walker mansion which the Sisters had acquired.

In 1935, additional land was purchased in Lemont at the southwest corner of Joliet and Walker Roads, and Our Lady of Victory Convent tie for the aged and infirm Sisters was built. In 1963, with the erection of the new and functional motherhouse, also called Our Lady of Victory Convent, at 1220 Main Street, the former convent for the aged and inEn firm Sisters was converted into the Mother Theresa Home for the Aged Id of Lcoiont and surrounding communities. The motherhouse is the loca-tion of the novitiate and the central government of the Congregation, which since 1978, has been administered by Sister Martha Joan Semit poiski, O.S.F., superior general; Sister M. Antonissima Jamruk, O.S.F., assistant general; Sister M. Hugoline Czaplinski, O.S.F., councilor; Sister hi. Gabriel Lazarski, O.S.F., councilor; Sister M. Ralph Stawasz, 3SF., treasurer general; and Sister M. Alvernia Groszek, O.S.F., secretary general.

Since 1970, the Sisters have been engaged in works new to the Congregation. An extension of the Sisters' teaching ministry includes developing, organizing, and administering the religious education program at St. Genevieve parish in Chicago, and Our Lady of Ransom parish in Niles. A Franciscan Sister of Chicago is engaged in parish ministry at St. Rose of Lima Church in Chicago. Sister M. Antonissima al Jamruk, O.S.F., the assistant genera! of the Congregation, serves as vicaress for Religious women of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Several a Sisters meet the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of patients and their families as members of the Department of Pastoral Care at the d Villa de Sante, the Congregation's total health care complex in Crown Point, Indiana. In 1980, the St. Francis House of Prayer, with three Sisters comprising the core group, was established in a separate house on n the grounds of the motherhouse in Lemont.

The eighty-six year history of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago reveals the names of the noteworthy women who have inspired the Congregation by their leadership. The first to serve the Congregation in the capacity of mother superior was its foundress, Sister M. Theresa Dudzik, 0.S.F. (1894-98; 1909-1910). She was succeeded by Sister M. Anna Wisinski, 0.S.F. (1898-1905), and Sister M. Vincent Czyzewski, O.S.F. (1905-09). The first General Chapter, held in 1910, established the Congregation's autonomy and created the new title of superior general. The following women have guided the Congregation in this office: Mother M. Anna Wisinski, 0.S.F. (1910-16); Mother M. Aloysia Holysz, 0.S.F. (19161922; 1928-1934); Mother M. Vincent Czyzewski, O.S.F. (1922-28; Mother M. Antonia Osinski, O.S.F. (1934-1940); Mother M. Mechtilde Zynda, O.S.F. (1940-46); Mother M. Jerome Dadej, O.S.F. (1946-1952; 1952-58); Mother M. Beatrice Rybacki, O.S.F. (1958-1964; 1964-1970); Sister M. Hugoline Czaplinski, O.S.F. (1970-79); and Sister Martha Joan 4 Sempolski, O.S.F. (1978- ).

Although Mother M. Anna Wisinski, O.S.F. holds the distinction of being the first elected superior general of the Congregation, the title of " Mother" was accorded Sister M. Theresa Dudzik by the sixth General Chapter of the Congregation held in 1940. The vision, courage, and love for humanity evidenced in the life of Mother M. Theresa Dudzik, who died in Chicago on September 20, 1918, led to the first official step in the process of her beatification and canonization. The exhumation of her body at St. Adalbect Cemetery in Niles took place on October 13, 1972, The remains of Mother M. Theresa were brought to the motherhouse in Lemont on October 15, 1972, and were interred and sealed in a granite sarcophagus at a side altar in the Sacred Heart Chapel while further proceedings in her Cause continued. In the summer of 1979, the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome released the decree to open the cognitive process toward the beatification of Mother M. Theresa. Cardinal Cody appointed a diocesan tribunal to investigate the documentation concerning her life and to interrogate witnesses who knew her personally. On September 8, 1979, the Most Rev. Alfred Abromowicz, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and Most Rev. Joseph Imeach, bishop of Joliet, joined Cardinal Cody in celebrating a Pontifical Mass in the Sacred Heart Chapel in the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters formally opening the process of beatification of the Servant of God, Mother M. Theresa Dudzik, O.S.F.

From "A History of the Offices, Agencies, and the Institutions of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1981

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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