Partners by Providence

Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center, 2003-Today

The Daughters of Charity have a long history serving the city of Chicago. Their first official work was teaching at the Holy Name School which opened in 1861. Just a year after getting their start, however, the sisters were called back to the East to minister to the wounded of the Civil War. Though they eventually returned to teaching at Holy Name School, it was not for long, as the school was completely destroyed during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The Holy Name School project seemed to be an unpromising beginning to the Daughters’ ministries in Chicago. Fortunately, however, the Daughters persevered and their legacy can still be felt throughout Chicagoland in the sectors of health care, education, and charity, as well as in other institutions. Indeed, though their numbers may have dwindled over the past five decades, the Daughters of Charity’s determination and their ability to minister to the poor has not diminished. In fact, by consolidating their ministries, the Daughters have been able to ensure that their projects remain affiliated with their organization for many years to come. Marillac St. Vincent Family Services is one such example of a successful collaboration. Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center began in similar ways (by local Parish priests), serve underprivileged communities (though in different locations), have compatible mission statements, and concentrate their programs on children and families. In 2002, they began to experiment with a merger; partners by providence, their collaboration has proved fruitful and may well be a model for other types of non-profit mergers in the future.

Though the Daughters of Charity’s presence in Chicago predates the Great Fire of 1871, Marillac Social Center, in the city’s East Garfield Park neighborhood, can trace its beginnings back to 1914 and the Catholic Social Center. When the Catholic Social Center relocated to 2822 W. Jackson Boulevard, the Center changed its name to Marillac Social Center, though often informally referred to as Marillac House. Since its beginning, Marillac Social Center has offered a variety of services to the poor, including daycare, afterschool programs, and elderly assistance. Throughout its years of service, Marillac “shifted from offering a variety of social services and recreational activities to a racially, ethnically, and economically mixed population” to “a multi-service and advocacy agency” for people living in poverty and the working poor. [1] Marillac Social Center “is both a haven of support and a beacon of hope for revitalization of the East Garfield neighborhood.”[2] Clearly Marillac has endured for a century because of its ability to adapt to the changing needs of its community and to the new demands of a fast-paced, evolving society.[3]

Marillac’s sister institution, St. Vincent de Paul Center, also has a long, fruitful history. Founded in 1915 by De Paul University’s President, Father Frances X. McCabe and the Daughters of Charity, St. Vincent de Paul Center has been a constant in the heart of the ever-changing community of Lincoln Park in Chicago, IL. Though initially an outpost for northern European immigrants, such as the Germans and Irish, Lincoln Park has undergone a dramatic makeover in the nearly 100 years that St. Vincent de Paul Center has been in operation. According to Norma Maratea, a former client and employee at the center, St. Vincent’s is “a great agency that, from its inception…continually grew and was unceasingly anticipating the many needs of working parents and providing a safe, healthy environment for children.”[4] As Maratea’s recollections make clear, throughout it’s history, St. Vincent de Paul Center has provided poor and working class people with a variety of high-quality services such as daycare, afterschool recreational activities, homeless outreach, and a variety of programs to aid the elderly.[5] During the early 2000s both Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center would weather a great upheaval, but this time, they would do so together.

In 2000, the East Central Province of the Daughters of Charity, comprised of the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, felt the pressure of the declining vocation; there were simply fewer women entering the community. Since the late 1960s, the number of Daughters across the United States had shrunk, yet the number of their ministries did not. The Daughters realized that they needed to address this situation. Thus, the Daughters of the East Central Province commissioned a study of their ministries, or a re-visioning initiative, to determine which ones had the most promise as a Daughter of Charity project and which ones could be transitioned to lay persons and/or other Catholic institutions.

This was not the first time the East Central Province had to make such a tough decision. Indeed, in their first years as a Province, in 1970 and 1971, the Daughters of Charity of the East Central Province conducted internal surveys to determine “continuance, modification, or phasing out” of the various schools, hospitals, and social agencies.[6] The surveys made clear that they would need to close, consolidate, or transfer to lay persons/organizations a variety of institutions across their province. St. Vincent’s Home in Saginaw, Michigan, for example, “was transferred to a lay board of directors.”[7] Due to low enrollment numbers, Saint Patrick’s High School in Chicago was closed. And Saint Vincent’s Infant Hospital, also in the city, met a similar fate (though its corporation was not dissolved and it merged with DePaul Settlement and Day Nursery, the former name of St. Vincent De Paul Center). By the late 1990s, the East Central Province was once again facing tough choices. Their survey discovered that both St. Vincent de Paul Center, as well as Marillac Social Center would be better served if they transferred to non-Daughters of Charity leadership within five years.[8] That being said, “the specific recommendations for the two agencies recognized the potential” to maintain a Daughters of Charity connection, “if a mutually beneficial collaboration between [the two organizations] could be actualized.”[9] The question was whether or not such a collaboration could, or even should, materialize.

Perhaps the first indication that the two centers would one day come together under the same organizational umbrella can be found in the early history of St. Vincent de Paul Center, originally DePaul Day Nursery and Social Center. The minutes of the club reveal that on June 20, 1915, a “committee was dispatched to call on St. Patrick’s Settlement [or the Catholic Social Center, the precursor to Marillac Social Center] to investigate cost and management of operating a day nursery.”[10] In addition, the DePaul Day Nursery and Social Center also relied upon a number of Daughters who had formerly worked at the Marillac Social Center precursor. Among those, was Sister Raphael Creagh, the young sister who only a few months before was working diligently to prepare for the opening of the Catholic Social Center.

Throughout the years, these two ministries of the Daughters of Charity seemed closely connected, and not just in mission and vision. In 1923, when the DePaul Day Nursery and Social Center adopted by-laws and was incorporated, the administration contemplated a name change to Marillac House. According to scholar Connie Stitt, “Were it not for the disapproval of the DePaul Settlement Club, the agency might have changed its name at the time of incorporation.”[11] Moreover, probably because they both began as day nursery’s run by the Daughters of Charity, the two organizations were linked in the minds of the public. In Donna Gill’s 1969 Chicago Tribune article, “Waiting Lists are Long for Day Care,” for example, Gill compares the Centers.[12] She determines that they are similar in a variety of reasons including the fact that they were two of the few full-day care centers in the state of Illinois.”[13]

Thus, “although the [staff at both agencies] were initially skeptical of ever finding a reason to collaborate…much less any desire to consolidate,” the two centers shared a history, offered some of the same programs and services, and were seen as similar institutions to many Chicagoans.[14] In addition, in one of their initial reports to the East Central Province, SynerChange Chicago, the consultants hired to investigate a possible collaboration noted that “The challenges of today’s social ministries suggest that there may be economies and efficiencies gained by the collaboration of the two agencies.”[15] Clearly, from a financial and efficiency perspective, collaboration between Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center was a wise decision, but was it possible?

Based on SynerChange Chicago’s recommendation, the Daughters of Charity agreed to explore collaboration. In 2003, they formed a new entity, the Daughters of Charity Ministries of Chicago, or the DCMC, and began consolidating their backroom enterprises. By the end of 2003, a joint board of trustees—comprised of an equal number of board members from both Marillac and St. Vincent’s—was appointed, and they hired its first CEO (although both organizations would continue to have their own executive directors). The collaboration was starting to take shape, although there were some initial traumas. For example, some staff members thought that there was a general lack of communication between and among the agencies and their boards, and there were several changes in leadership at the top tier within a very short period of time.

In addition, even as the backroom operations became one, the two organizations seemed to function independently of one another for a long time. They published the same newsletter, informing their respective friends and collaborators of the joint organization, but even in 2009, the staff and other interested parties struggled with the idea of the two organizations being one. One stakeholder even commented that the collaboration “seem[ed] to make two relatively simple organizations complicated.”[16] Another responded, that staff and personnel “felt unsure of the whole purpose of the DCMC.”[17] Yet, knowing that “in order for both organizations to create a sustainable future,” their continued intertwining was necessary, both Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center’s Family Services pushed ahead.[18] Ironically, the financial crisis of 2008 actually helped bring the two Centers together as they fought side-by-side to save themselves and the services they offered to the poor and needy.

Though the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, a global bank, in September 2008 seemed to mark the beginning of a financial crisis that would spread around the world, the truth was, average persons had started to feel the effects of the economic downturn by 2007. The housing bubble, which peaked in 2006, had burst by 2007 and this in turn, set off a chain of events in America that reverberated around the world.[19] Marillac Social Center was first to feel the effects of the credit crunch and ensuing policy modifications. City and State billing changes fell through the cracks as Marillac switched to a new billing process. The new process, however, caused delays and “billing procedures were not properly expedited.”[20] This resulted in significant deteriorat[ion]” of Marillac’s financial situation.[21] Internal documents reveal that in the ensuing years, St. Vincent’s had some financial troubles of its own as their revenue from investments plummeted from $260,751 in 2008 to a loss of almost $1.7 million in 2009.[22]

In addition to capital losses, the organizations also had trouble securing funding from one of their longest and most trusted sources, the United Way. As an attempt to redress “corporate excess” various United Way agencies throughout Chicagoland consolidated into the single entity, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.[23] They did this in January of 2004. As part of that consolidation process, and as a consequence of decreased revenue resultant from the economic downturn, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago could not allocate funds to all of the many places they used to. Internal memos make clear that in 2004 the DCMC was “disappointed to learn that neither Marillac Social Center nor St. Vincent de Paul Center received funding from [the] United Way for the Kids Multi-Year Funding Program.”[24] Their efforts would continue to be denied year after year.[25]

And yet despite the financial setbacks, the Daughters of Charity Ministries of Chicago soldiered on. They continued to offer quality services to the working poor and others in need. In 2004, Marillac Social Center was accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). A year later, St. Vincent’s won accreditation from NAEYC as well. 2005 also saw Marillac’s fundraising event for Hope Junior raise a record-setting $20,000 for the program.[26] Yet, despite these gains, when the effects of the financial crisis of 2008 really started to be felt, Marillac even discussed outsourcing its expensive day care center.[27] Times were hard, but as one board member said, “Many changes have come and we have survived.”[28] She continued, “We can survive this [too].”[29] And indeed, they did. In 2009 and again in 2010, both Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center had a balanced budget.

By continuing to merge backroom operations, by relying on their competent staff, volunteers, and generous donors, as well as by making smart decisions, both Marillac and St. Vincent, as well as they many services they offered, were spared. In 2011, they restructured the DCMC, though leadership at the two organizations remained constant, with Maureen Hallagan remaining the executive director at Marillac and Carrie Callas staying on as the executive director at St. Vincent’s. A year later, the DCMC combined the names of Marillac and St. Vincent to form their new name: Marillac St. Vincent Family Services. The restructuring brought “together three separate boards into one to serve the mission of the two agencies more effectively.”[30] The centers would share, not just a Board of Trustees with their executive committee, but also board members would now serve on committees such as the Finance & Operations committee, the Development committee, and the Programs & Services committee. Now, board members were involved at a greater level across the two institutions. This made it easier to share resources and to keep one another abreast of issues and concerns. This also made it easier to share donor monies. Indeed, in 2012, the new Marillac St. Vincent Family Services had their first joint Fleur de Lis fundraising ball.[31] It was a resounding success.

Perhaps Bart Winters, the current CEO of Marillac St. Vincent’s Family Services put it best, when in his letter in the annual report of 2012, he wrote, “Each member of our community has his or her own strengths. When we come together, all of those characteristics add up and become something greater.” He then reminded everyone of Aristotle’s genius which certainly applied to this changing organization when he continued, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”[32] Marillac St. Vincent Family Services proves this.


Primary Sources: Archives and Manuscript Collections

Marillac Social Center Archives

St. Vincent de Paul Center Archives

Primary Sources: Books, Articles, Newspapers, & Miscellaneous

Chicago Tribune

Secondary Sources

Hannefin, Daniel D.C., Daughters of the Church: A Popular History of the Daughters of Charity in the United States, 1809-1987 (New York: New City Press, 1989)

[1] April 1989, A Report to the Chicago Community Trust & Marillac Social Center, box 5, folder 9, Marillac Social Center Archive, Chicago, IL (hereafter, MSCA).

[2] Ibid.

[3] For more information on Marillac Social Center, see “A Shared Story: Marillac Social Center and East Garfield Park,” by Stella A. Ress, 2014.

[4] “1994 Norma Maratea’s Memories from the 1970s,” p. 2. St. Vincent de Paul Center Archives, Chicago, IL (hereafter SVdPCA).

[5] For more information on St. Vincent de Paul Center, see “Caring for a Changing Community: St. Vincent de Paul Center, 1915-2003,” by Stella A. Ress, 2014.

[6] Ibid., 8.

[7] Sister Daniel Hannefin, D.C., Daughters of the Church: A Popular History of the Daughters of Charity in the United States, 1809-1987 (New York: New City Press, 1989), 268.

[8] “Final Report: SynerChange Chicago, July 2002,” p. 4; box 9, folder 7, SVdPA.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Connie Stitt, “DePaul Day Nurery and Social Center: The Founding and First Five Years,” 1976, p. 3; SVdPC Histories Folder, SVdPA.

[11] Connie Stitt, “St. Vincents from 1920-1976,” 1977, p. 7; SVdPC Histories Folder, SVdPCA.

[12] Donna Gill, “Waiting Lists are Long for Day Care,” Chicago Tribune 1 May 1969.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Final Report: SynerChange Chicago,” p. 3; box 9, folder 7, SVdPCA.

[15] Letter from SynerChange Chicago to Sister Catherine Madigan, D.C. 9 January 2002; box 9, folder 6, SVdPCA.

[16] “Daughters of Charity Ministries of Chicago (DCMC): Strategy/Operations Assessment” by Deloitte Consulting LLP, 30 January 2009; p. 4, box 9, folder 11, SVdPCA.

[17] Ibid.

[18] 2012 Annual Report, “Traditions: News from Marillac Social Center & St. Vincent de Paul Center, Winter 2012,” box 10, folder 4, SVdPCA.

[19] “Crash Course,” The Economist 7 September 2013.

[20] “Annual Report: Board of Directors and Corporate Members, Daughters of Charity Ministries, Fiscal Year 2007,” n.p.; box 10, folder 4, SVdPCA.

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Leadership Group Minutes of the Meeting, February 12, 2009,” SVdPCA.

[23] Amanda Vogt, “United Way Completes its Consolidation,” Chicago Tribune 1 January 2004.

[24] Draft Letter from Renard I. Jackson, Ed.D., Chief Executive Officer, Marillac Social Center & St. Vincent de Paul Center, 20 August 2004; box 9, folder 1, SVdPCA.

[25] “United Way rejects 2 more proposals,” March 2005 Newsletter; box 10, folder 4, SVdPCA.

[26] 2005 Annual Report, Daughters of Charity Ministries of Chicago, December 2005; box 8, folder 2, SVdPCA.

[27] Managers Meeting, 30 January 2008; box 7, folder 10, MSCA.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] 2011 Annual Report, Missions of the Daughters of Charity, box 10, folder 1, SVdPCA.

[31] First Fleur de Lis Ball for both St. Vincent de Paul Center & Marillac Social Center, 25 February 2012; box 9, folder 2, SVdPCA.

[32] Letter from Bart Winters in the 2012 Annual Report, “Traditions: News from Marillac Social Center & St. Vincent de Paul Center, Winter 2012;” box 10, folder 4, SVdPCA.

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