Systematic Change from the Start: Marillac Center, Chicago

On official White House stationery, an assistant to President Lyndon Johnson sent a message of congratulations for “the valuable contributions which the Sisters of Marillac House have made toward the progress of our nation’s education and toward the general betterment of living standards in their community.”  Sent to Sister William – actually Sister Mary William Sullivan – the letter reflects the priorities of Civil Rights and fighting the War on Poverty undertaken by the Sisters at Marillac House, Chicago throughout the 1960s.

Marillac Social Service Center relocated to its building in the East Garfield neighborhood in 1947.  Over the next 15 years, as suburbanization changed the composition of American cities, the neighborhood rapidly changed from largely white ethnic groups of Catholic background to poor African-Americans who had difficulty purchasing their own homes due to rising housing costs.

In an area with high unemployment and death rate, Marillac Center provided a day nursery, held events for teenagers to keep them safe and off the streets, “Chess and Chatter” events once a week, religious counselling, events for senior citizens, and Bible study on Sundays.

In the tradition of the settlement houses as originated in Chicago, Marillac Daughters did not shy away from living within the neighborhood.  Marillac sent representatives to the Catholic Inter-Racial Council and Chicago Youth Commission, and they began to hold leadership programs to assist African-American youth with both personal growth and promoting systematic change.

In 1964, Sister Mary William served as the emcee for the leadership dinner of the Catholic Inter-Racial Council, where she had the honor of introducing the recipient of its highest honor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Among the most prized artifacts in the archive is the handwritten note from Dr. King to Sister Mary William that reads, “In appreciation for your devotion to Christ and your love for all mankind.”

Four years later, in the anger and frustration of the aftermath of Dr. King’s murder, Marillac opened its doors and provided food and clothing to those who had lost their homes.

In 1965, Marillac Center received some negative publicity, but for all of the right reasons, when six Daughters of Charity were arrested during a march to end the de facto segregation in the Chicago school system.  The Daughters walked into the street singing Freedom songs, and were taken into custody as they knelt in prayer at the corner of Madison and State.  By all accounts, they were treated courteously by the police, although they later attested at their unhappiness of being kept in the police station office rather than in the cells with the other prisoners.  Among other religious arrested were three priests and 14 Protestant ministers.

Sister Mary William paid the Sisters’ bail, and they appeared in court.  The judge sentenced them each to a fine, which they refused to pay.  According to the account in the July 10, 1965 Chicago American, “…the nuns had taken vows of poverty and felt they could not use money contributed to their religious order to pay personal fines.”  Facing jail time for refusal to pay, two lawyers, Maurice Scott Jr. and Howard Geter Jr., whom the sisters had never met, heard what was happening and paid the fines.  Marillac Center suffered as a result of donors withholding their funding after the incident.

In 1968 while serving at Marillac Center, Sister Julia Huiskamp directed the advocacy program, primarily concerned with freeing up aid programs to the poor run by state and federal agencies.  Part of this job was educating lawmakers and bureaucrats about the truth of poverty and correcting myths about the poor.  Her ultimate belief and goal was to put a human element back into agency and ensuring that the poor have advisors and advocates in the halls of power, those that really understand the nature of poverty.

High-intensity advocacy continued at Marillac into the 1970s, when Marillac led the way in combatting high infant mortality and began to stock infant formula for families who could not afford it, provided a protective home for children who were in abusive situations, and educated for family members to better themselves. Today, the mission of Marillac continues on its old campus in East Jackson as part of the larger Marillac-St. Vincent Family Services, a combined mission with two campuses in the city, featuring a food bank, social workers, opportunities for students to pursue their interests in a secure environment, and a scientifically and spiritually minded daycare centers for children of various ages, abilities, and interests.

New building of Marillac campus, 2004

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The Emmitsburg Community Chorus and Sister Jane Marie Perrot

When Sister Jane Marie Perrot was a child, she asked her parents if she could take piano lessons.  The ongoing Depression meant that her parents had to say, “no;’ they couldn’t afford them. When Sister mentioned this to Sister Loretta Larking, one of the Daughters of Charity who taught her at St. Joseph’s Academy in Portsmouth, Virginia, Sister Loretta made sure that the young child would have music in her life.  Thus began a career and a vocation for Sister Jane Marie.

Sister Jane Marie Perrot

Sister began teaching music at her first mission at St. Ann’s School in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  At nearly every school where she taught, Sister Jane Marie would, at least part of the time, be involved with children and their appreciation of the arts.  In addition to her teaching duties, she studied organ at the Peabody Conservatory and received a Master of Arts from The Catholic University in 1952.  She eventually became the music director at St. Joseph’s Central House and St. Joseph College in Emmitsburg in the mid-1960s.

When the reforms of Vatican II were introduced, Sister Jane Marie was not one to shy away from a new era of Church history.  She used music and song to “open up” worship, and, in postulant formation, emotional and experiential forms of evangelization.

Among her evangelization projects was the Emmitsburg Community Chorus, which continues today more than 20 years after Sister Jane Marie’s death.  The chorus began with amateur singers from parishes in Frederick and Carroll Counties in Maryland and Adams County in Pennsylvania.  Known for its yearly Christmas concerts that take place in the Basilica of Saint Elizabeth Seton, it also performed around the Frederick, Western Maryland, and Gettysburg areas.  Sister Jane Marie served as the director from 1968-1973.

In 1975, the world received news of the canonization of Elizabeth Seton, the founder of the Community in Emmitsburg and the first native-born North American saint.  At the invitation of the Vatican, the Emmitsburg Community Chorus, 45 strong, traveled to Rome to sing alongside musicians from the U.S. Army bands stationed in Germany and the Sistine Chapel Choir in St. Peter’s Square for the assembled crowds and St. Pope Paul VI as part of the canonization ceremony.  Sister Jane Marie took up the baton for the Chorus once again.  She became the first woman to conduct a choir in St. Peter’s Square.

Sister Jane Marie before performance in Rome
Sister Jane Marie “in action” in upper right-hand corner conducting the Emmitsburg Community Chorus
Arrangements and logistics for the performance in Rome

Sister Jane Marie was highly respected in the world of music education.  In 1978, she co-founded with Father Virgil Funk the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, receiving the Association’s award for Educator of the Year in 1996.  She was responsible for an arrangement of the Christmas Novena, performed by the American Daughters of Charity each year before Christmas, and she composed several other hymns.

In 1982, Sister Jane Marie was involved in an automobile accident, severely restricted use of her left arm after a car accident.  Afterward, she was unable to conduct in her preferred vigorous, expressive style.  This did not mean, however, that she could not compose or arrange music, and she continued to direct celebrations, liturgies, and arrange music at the Seton Shrine before her entry into the Ministry of Prayer in 1988. Sister died in December 1998.

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A Mount Alumni’s Blessed Donation

by Nathaniel Lee Rush Bentz

I have been an intern here for the Fall 2019 semester and I have discovered one of—if not the—most fascinating artifacts I have processed so far. This artifact is a large, metal crucifix with its very own metal plaque stating, “This crucifix was blessed by Pope Paul VI and donated to Providence Hospital [located in Washington, D.C.] by Monsignor Hugh Phillips September 14, 1975.” Having the responsibility to handle and process such an artifact is unbelievable. The weight of the situation is both physical and figurative because this piece is entirely made from brass and copper, making it very heavy, and the fact that a Pope blessed it—let alone interacted with it—makes this processing a rare opportunity for myself.

The donor, Monsignor High Phillips, is an important figure to this artifact in a different respect; he has a strong affiliation to Mount St. Mary’s University, at which I am a Senior student. Monsignor Phillips was a student at the grade school located on the Mount’s campus.  He spent his high school, college, and seminary years on campus and eventually becoming the school’s President—back when Mount St. Mary’s University was titled Mount St. Mary’s College—from 1967 to 1971. Before his presidency, he was a leading figure in maintaining Mount Saint Mary’s famous Grotto of Lourdes as its Director between the years 1958 and 2001. This honor of processing an artifact from a fellow member of the Mount community is astounding, especially given his accomplishments. What was fascinating with regards to Monsignor Phillips’ life is that he was born in the very same Washington, D.C. Providence Hospital that was gifted his donation of this blessed crucifix.

Having a fellow member of the Mount involved with the history of this artifact is one honor, but knowing that this very artifact is affiliated with a Pope as well is another amazing honor. I am not a very religious person, but I can recognize the authority, responsibilities, and image the Pope has to Catholics around the world, especially at Mount Saint Mary’s University. Moreover, getting the opportunity to interact with a blessed artifact is, what I would consider, a unique opportunity of the Daughters’ archive.

Besides the history behind the crucifix, physically speaking, this crucifix breaks norms compared to the other artifacts I have processed in the previous months of this fall semester. The dimensions of this piece deny it to be placed in its own box (for the time being), and it is incredibly heavy. To be extra careful, I find it safer and easier to transport the crucifix and the plaque by cart than carrying it by hand. The length of this crucifix is also large in comparison to other processed artifacts, standing at a height of two-and-a-half feet! The sheer size of this artifact makes a grand statement on its own, which makes this piece even more fascinating. My captivation goes for the crucifix’s aesthetic as well. It is beautifully crafted, likely out of brass and copper, on both the cross and the representation of Christ.

To read further about Monsignor Hugh Phillips, click the link below…


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