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From: Nan Brennan <>
Subject: [IRISH-IN-CHICAGO] history of Chicago's Mercy Boys's Home
Date: Tue, 8 May 2007 02:22:11 -0500


http://archiver.rootsweb.com/th/read/IRISH-AMERICAN/2005-04/1113122561

Reposted from Irish-American List (Rootsweb)
From: "Jean R." <>
Subject: History of Chicago 's Mercy Boys' Home ("Mission of Our Lady
of Mercy") - Turning Lives Around Since 1880s.
Date: Sun, 10 Apr 2005 01:42:41 -0700


SNIPPET: To this day, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Chicago, IL,
provides a loving home for abandoned, abused and orphaned kids under
the leadership of the Rev. James Jacob CLOSE and his dedicated staff.
(See interesting history below, especially, the WW-I "shoe repair"
venture in the last paragraph!). Father Jim, born in 1936, is the son
of Irish immigrants. His father Sylvester CLOSE (who died when James
was in his 20s) was born in Stoneyford, Co. Antrim, a little village
in the foothills of the Antrim Plateau about five miles north of
Lisburn Town and three miles south of Dundrod. His mother, Catherine,
was born in Connemara, Co. Galway. Sylvester CLOSE came to the north
side of Chicago in the 1930s from Belfast. James and his siblings,
Bill, Mike, Leo, Sheila and Letitia (now Sr. Letitia) attended Our
Lady of Lourdes school. (See Mercy Home website for more details).

For Chicago's poor, the 1880s were far different from the "good old
days" so romanticized in story and song, per Fr. CLOSE's book, "No
One To Call Me Home," (1990). Hundreds of young boys, the victims of
family misfortunes, were thrown out on the streets to shift for
themselves. They sold newspapers and shined shoes to earn a few
pennies for food and bedded down for the night in open doorways,
piano crates, or anywhere that afforded them some protection against
the weather. Some of them were crippled or ill; few had much
education, and all were unwanted and unloved. But their plight did
not go unnoticed. In 1886, a group of priests met with the Most
Reverend Patrick A. FEEHAN, the Archbishop of Chicago. Their
conversation turned to Chicago's homeless children and how they could
be helped. Father Dennis MAHONY, a Boston native who was working in
the Chicago Archdiocese at the time, outlined a plan to alleviate the
problem. Archbishop FEEHAN became interested and ass!
igned a diocesan priest, Fr. Louis CAMPBELL, to open a home for the
boys. In 1887, Fr. CAMPBELL rented several small rooms above the
Catholic library at La Salle and Madison Streets, and on November 3rd
founded the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy, which over the years had
come to be known as Mercy Boys' Home. Shortly thereafter, Father
rented a large, barn-like space at 45 E. Jackson St., which soon
became home to many of Chicago's troubled boys. A kitchen stove was
the main source of heat, making the place seem perpetually desolate
and cold, particularly in the fall and winter months. On many nights,
the boys bundled up in worn, donated clothing and crept into their
painted iron beds to keep warm. For, although many generous people
sent the orphans their cast-off clothing, few ever thought of sending
bedding. When Fr. CAMPBELL's health failed, he was succeeded by Fr.
MAHONY, who was officially transferred to the Chicago Archdiocese.
Fr. MAHONY's work got off to a shaky !
financial start when his $200 a month rent was immediately increased
to $300. Unable to pay the rent, he was forced to close down the
building. He scattered his boys among families in cheap lodging
houses while he sought additional funding and another location. In
1889, he purchased a private residence at 1140 W. Jackson Blvd.
Father and the boys did their own cooking and tried to keep the house
going in as dignified a manner as their scanty means permitted. As
word of the Home's good work spread, many people contributed funds to
help the homeless boys. Poor health forced Father to retire. Under
the leadership of the new Supt., Fr. C. J. QUILLE, Mercy Boys' Home
greatly expanded the scope of its ministry over the next 12 years.
Fr. QUILLE realized that, to be more effective, he needed to provide
the boys in his care with more than food, clothing, shelter and
medical care. He purchased printing equipment to teach the boys a
trade. He added a laundry, bathrooms, a !
recreation room, and a hall to accommodate the ever-growing number of
boys. He introduced educational and trade programs which would equip
the boys with job skills. The Home received no church or state
monies, depending solely on private contributions for its maintenance.

As Mercy Boys' Home continued to grow, larger facilities were needed.
In 1910, a new red brick structure, large enough to accommodate 150
boys, was built at the site. As the U.S. entered WW-I, 40 boys left
the Home to fight for their country. To make ends meet, the Home
began a new venture -- mending shoes. In addition to helping conserve
the country's resources, mending shoes provided much needed income.
The Home's offer was one few could refuse. "Mail your old shoes to
us, " their ads read. "We will repair them and return them to you
with the bill. If you are satisfied, pay the bill. If you are not
tear up the bill. Your say-so goes with us. No strings to this offer.
If there are, the strings are in your hands." The success of the shoe-
repair venture expanded social action as well. The boys volunteered
their services for numerous community and charitable services. As
Mercy boys returned from the war, new efforts were made to better
equip them to enter the jo!
b market. The boys were taught trades such as shoe repair, carpentry,
auto mechanics, retail and clerical skills, More of the Home's
efforts centered on rehabilitation. Athletic programs and extra
curricular activities were established. In 1929, as Fr. QUILLE left
the Home to assume another ministry, his brother, Father A. G.
QUILLE, succeeded him. In 1933, Fr. Vincent W. COOKE was transferred
from St. Mary's Training School to assume a one-year assignment at
the Home. At the height of the Great Depression in 1934, Fr. Edward
J. KELLY was named the Home's Superintendent. Despite the poverty,
homelessness and unemployment plaguing the nation, Mercy Boys' Home
continued to accept the many boys who came to its door. Once again,
private donations kept the Home going. As WW-II began, the Mercy boys
again rallied in support of their country. One hundred forty-eight of
them served in WW-II, six of those never to return. During the post
war years Fr. KELLY continued his!
work with unwanted and troubled boys. By now, the boys were coming to
the Home from towns and cities throughout the nation. In both the
Korean and Vietnam Wars, boys from Mercy Boys' Home serviced in the
Armed Forces. Through its ongoing religious, educational, cultural,
and social programs, the Home was successful in helping thousands of
boys turn their lives around and become responsible citizens. Father
KELLY served 39 years. Father CLOSE was appointed the 7th
Superintendent of the Home upon his death. Under the leadership of
Fr. CLOSE and staff, the ministry has been expanded to address the
needs of the boys and girls of today and to create an atmosphere
which more closely duplicates a family and home setting. In 1988, a
home for teenage girls was opened in a private residence located in
the Beverly-Morgan Park area of Chicago. Like Mercy Boys' Home, Mercy
Girls' Home cares for teenagers from 14-18, although occasionally
younger children have been accepted in a!
n effort to keep brothers and sisters together. One or both of their
parents may be living. Yet, because of their desperate circumstances,
they are the "new orphans" out on the streets because their parents
and relatives are unable or refuse to take care of them. (See website
for more recent history).



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