The Mission Begins
The next year, Campbell rented a collection of rooms in the city’s financial district to house the first group of boys. Then he rented a space a few blocks away and incorporated the Home as the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy. But the responsibilities involved in keeping the new mission afloat and providing for the daily needs of its children took a toll on Campbell’s health and he was reassigned to a local parish.
Mahoney asked to stay in Chicago and assume leadership of the Home. When he arrived, he found that the accommodations fell far short of the comforts that he had envisioned for the boys. They slept in green iron beds with only tattered clothes to cover them and a kitchen stove to provide feeble warmth. Mahoney slept in his overcoat each night and worked tirelessly each day to raise the funds he needed to improve living conditions. But he soon realized he would have to think bigger if the mission had any hope of surviving.
Mahoney concluded it would be better to apply the $200 he spent on rent each month—a considerable sum in the 1880s—toward a permanent facility. The landlord forced the issue when he raised the rent to a whopping $300. During the search for new home, the mission closed briefly. The young men were scattered among local families and in cheap lodgings. Mahoney bunked with friends and fellow priests.
A Permanent Mercy Home
Eventually, Mahoney had raised enough money to purchase land and some existing structures about a mile west of downtown Chicago—where our Hay Campus for Boys stands today. But there was still much work to be done. Mahoney needed to secure food, furniture, and other necessities. Revenue was hard to come by, while the needs of more and more youth grew each day. He worked tirelessly on improvements, adding laundry facilities and a play room. He even added a printing plant to help raise funds to support the mission where the boys began to publish a newsletter, the Waifs Messenger. The Waif Messenger continues to this day and keeps thousands of our supporters across the country up to date on the impact of their donations.
In 1901, Mahoney proposed a spacious new building for the boys. He said he wouldn’t consider his life’s work complete until it was built. But the adversities he weathered during the Home’s early years had caught up with him physically. Mahoney was forced to retire, and in 1906 was replaced by the Rev. Centennial J. Quille. Finally, in 1909, the structure that Mahoney had envisioned was dedicated on Jackson Boulevard—the red brick building that today serves as Mercy Home’s headquarters.
In 1911, within the space of 10 days, both Rev. Campbell and Rev. Mahoney returned home to God. Following Mahoney’s passing, The Waifs’ Messenger called his efforts to help our mission “almost herculean.” Mercy Home had come upon troubled times, “yet energy, perseverance, and abiding faith in Our Lady of Mercy eventually surmounted every obstacle.”
At Mahoney’s funeral Mass, Father Quille eulogized his predecessor: “He became the friend of the friendless, the brother of the poor and the humble…How could they help but love the great-hearted, genial man who made himself one of them.”
Today, the Rev. L. Scott Donahue serves as the eighth president of a mission that is celebrating 130 years of growth and service to the neediest young people in Chicago, thanks to the steadfast support of generous donors.
To celebrate Mercy Home’s 130th anniversary, we’re posting each week for the next 13 weeks to share stories from our history. Stay tuned to read more from the past 13 decades of Mercy Home!