In both presence and ministry, the Sisters of the Resurrection Immaculate Conception Province has been a staple of Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood over the last 100 years.
Focusing their work on two vital areas — education and health care — the sisters have tended to the needs of the city’s Northwest Side from their Talcott Avenue campus with a consistent mission: to restore and renew society.
“When the needs of the people have become apparent, the sisters have tried to address those needs to the best of their abilities,” said Resurrection Sister Virginia Ann Wanzek, the order’s provincial superior.
This year, the sisters, whose campus hosts Resurrection High School, Resurrection Medical Center, a ministry for the elderly and a long-term care facility alongside the order’s provincial home, celebrate their centennial year in Norwood Park and reflect on a century of service.
Building a presence
The Sisters of the Resurrection first arrived in Chicago at the turn of the century to minister to Chicago’s burgeoning Polish population, settling into teaching positions at St. Mary of the Angels, 1850 N. Hermitage Ave.
In 1912, Sister Anne Strzelecka, the order’s superior, purchased 42 acres of farmland along the unpaved Talcott Avenue northwest of Chicago’s sprawling city center. According to the sisters’ internal history, the purchase included two cows, one light wagon, 65 chickens, two stoves, barn tools and more. The sisters would quickly embrace agricultural life, growing vegetables on the land and selling their yield at markets.
Between 1912 and 1926, Sister Anne would purchase six additional adjacent parcels in the area west of Harlem Avenue and grow the sisters’ holdings to 111 acres.
The earliest sisters on Talcott Avenue immediately took to educating local youth and adopted the core values of charity, truth and community.
In 1915, the sisters opened Resurrection Academy, an elementary school and boarding school for girls. Seven years later, the sisters added Resurrection High School, the all-girls secondary school currently celebrating its 90th year.
“We came to Chicago as teachers, fully believing that we could uplift society, particularly women, through education, and that tradition continues into the present day at Resurrection High School,” said Sister Stephanie Blaszczynski, a Resurrection High School alumnae who would later serve the school as teacher, principal and president. She now sits on the school’s board of directors.
In 1962, the sisters constructed a new high school building capable of holding up to 1,000 students. Today, enrollment hovers near 650, while the alumni base surpasses 13,000 graduates.
“We’re most proud of the women who have finished our school and committed themselves to be of service to others,” Blaszczynski said.
Health care needs
As early as 1920, the sisters contemplated opening a hospital when Sister Anne led the purchase of an onion farm located on the south side of Talcott Avenue. It was not until the late 1940s, however, that plans emerged in earnest.
As the neighborhood’s population swelled to nearly 30,000 and community members clamored for a hospital, the sisters responded. Together, the sisters and their neighbors raised approximately $4 million to build a 174-bed hospital in 1953. The new facility provided more than 250 jobs to local residents and employed the services of 112 physicians.
By its 25th anniversary year in 1978, Resurrection Hospital had expanded further, claiming 442 beds, more than 1,500 employees and 200 doctors.
Resurrection Hospital on Talcott Avenue would become the flagship of the wide-spanning Resurrection Health Care system, among the first in the nation to incorporate other hospitals, longterm care facilities and other continuum of care services into one system.
In 2011, Resurrection Health Care joined with Provena Health to form Presence Health, a merger spawned to better leverage capital and resources to serve patients.
“The hospital and congregation have consistently worked to respond to the needs of the community, adding programs and services and evolving as new needs arise,” said Sister Donna Marie Wolowicki, who worked at the hospital for 43 years, including a 22-year run as its CEO.
Today, the sisters’ Provincial Home on Talcott Avenue houses 29 members of the congregation, while another six live in the property’s convent and three live in nearby St. Thecla Parish.
Looking back at 100 years, Wanzek says she believes the site’s earliest sisters would be amazed at the parcel’s development and the order’s impact on the local community.
“These are women who came here not knowing the language, but with foresight, vision, faith and trust. If they could see it now, they’d be satisfied with their decisions of a century ago,” Wanzek said.
Blaszczynski said the sisters, aligned with their 121-year-old mission, continually work to bring hope to all they encounter — in the schools, in the health care setting and in the community.
“After all,” she said, “hope is the message of the resurrection.”