The first United States mission of the Wheaton Franciscans was founded in Missouri in 1872. New members were received at our original motherhouse at the site of the old St. Anthony’s Hospital located in St. Louis. During the 1940s, it was concluded that a hospital in a large city was not a suitable place for the formation of new members. A more rural site was sought. The search ended when the Hurley estate went up for sale. The location of the property in midwestern Illinois, near Wheaton, was deemed an excellent location with its rolling lawns, lush wooded areas, wild life, flowers, many varieties of birds, a creek and two large orchards. The convent (Province Offices) and novitiate were established in the estate’s two large homes. It was an ideal setting for Franciscan women to develop their personal and spiritual life.

In 1947, when the motherhouse moved to Wheaton, there was a constant influx of new members. Soon the two residences became too small, and wings were added to both buildings while the plans were made to build a “proper” convent and novitiate. Ralph Ranft, a St. Louis architect, was engaged to design a functional layout for a new building which would be in keeping with canon law, the requirements of religious life and the spirit of Francis of Assisi. The result of this effort is Our Lady of the Angels Convent named after a church dear to St. Francis. Constructed of reinforced concrete throughout; its exterior walls consist of variegated salmon-rust face brick with limestone trim. Above the entrance (#5), the Franciscan Coat of Arms is engraved in stone. The first part of the convent, including the novitiate wing, was built in 1955; another wing was added in 1963. The slope of the land was incorporated in the layout of the structure, resulting in the varied levels of the building’s wings, gardens and courtyards. In 1955, Our Lady of the Angels Convent and Novitiate was dedicated just as membership for the Franciscan Sisters crested to the all-time high of 496 members.

-Written by Sr. Jane Madejczyk

   

On August 19, 1955, the altars and chapel were consecrated and dedicated. The following week, on August 24, 1955, there was a dedication Mass in the chapel for the Motherhouse and the Novitiate. We celebrate both these significant dates on August 19, 2020. It is with joy and a felt sense of sacredness we praise Our Lady of the Angels for the gift of this motherhouse and chapel. The prayers that have been spoken here out loud, in communion and in the privacy of one’s heart echo through the entire building, making it holy ground. It is little wonder that one of the most frequently spoken feelings of the motherhouse and chapel are that they make one “feel at home”.

Click below for additional archival photographs from the architect’s point of view as the building was going up. There are also photos of the finished product, from the outside and inside of the motherhouse, along with photos from the dedication ceremony in 1955, highlights about the chapel’s windows and marbles, and photos of a recent display of artifacts and photographs from the original chapel and building.

Included among the photographs are sisters’ and covenant companions’ special memories of the chapel, Father Phil’s reflection from the 65th anniversary, as well as some historical background.

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This is a color photo of the chapel sometime soon after it was dedicated, circa 1955. The colors are a bit faded; the floor was a forest green ceramic, but it still gives a fairly accurate look at what the chapel looked like prior to its Post Vatican II renovation in 1991.