Nancy Higgins Patston provided the following memories of ReVive Center for Housing and Healing, then Cathedral Shelter of Chicago, to Janice Ladd in the late-1990s:
My grandfather, David Gibson, a photographer from Pennsylvania, moved to Illinois in the early 1900s, and established his business in Chicago’s Loop. One Sunday, he happened to worship at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul at Washington Boulevard and Peoria Avenue. Though raised in a Protestant Reformed Church, he was captivated by the Anglican Church and its liturgy and in time he knew he was called to the priesthood. In 1921, at the age of 55, when many men had reached their life expectancy, he was ordained. He knew his special calling was to social services work with transients and the poor in the skid row area of Chicago, which was very near the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul.
Tragically, a fire destroyed most of the Cathedral in the early 1920s except for Sumner Hall that then became the sanctuary for worship services. Sumner Hall was more like a gymnasium than a church, but services continued for the congregation that remained. In the basement below Sumner Hall, used clothing donated by various Chicago area parishes was regularly distributed to the poor who lived nearby or on the streets.
Under Canon Gibson’s leadership, the remnant of the worshipping community of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul served hot meals to the poor in the adjacent St. Mary’s Mission House. The community now was known as Cathedral Shelter of Chicago. The name grew out of the merger of the Cathedral worshipping community and the sheltering care now being provided to so many poor and addicted people in the neighborhood. It had become both a church community and a social services agency under the leadership of Canon Gibson.
My father was the Rev. Joseph Higgins. He came to work with Canon Gibson at Cathedral Shelter in 1929, the year the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. The numbers of impoverished, unemployed, hungry, and often addicted people who lived on the west side of Chicago and in the shelter of the former Cathedral mushroomed. My father left Cathedral Shelter for a few years in the 1930s right after I was born, and was assigned to parishes in Chicago and in Lockport, Illinois. Then, my mother died in 1937 when I was only seven years old. Four years later, in 1941, in the midst of World War II, my father returned to Cathedral Shelter to help Father Gibson with growing social services agency and worshipping community. Also that year, my father married Ruth Gibson, the daughter of David Gibson. Following somewhat in her father’s footsteps, Ruth had earned a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Chicago and brought that expertise to Cathedral Shelter for the number of years that she also worked there. In 1941, Ruth Gibson became my mother, and David Gibson, my grandfather. I was to be the only child of Ruth and Joseph Higgins.
In 1942, Cathedral Shelter became a part of the historic Church of the Epiphany at Adams and Ashland Avenues. Both my father and my grandfather had their offices on the first floor of Epiphany, adjacent to the sanctuary. My father was priest-in-charge of Epiphany, but continued to assist my grandfather at Cathedral Shelter. Meals were no longer served, but other social services were now provided and the numbers served continued to grow.
In response to the growing number of alcoholics living nearby on Chicago’s infamous skid row, my father founded the addictions program at Cathedral Shelter. In 1956, my grandfather retired at the age of 90. He lived another seven years. My father remained at Cathedral Shelter until his retirement in 1968 at the age of 76. Several dedicated priests were assigned to Epiphany Church and helped carry out the mission of Cathedral Shelter during my father’s tenure. They included Father Jim Jones, Father Art McKay, and Father Jack Whitehouse. The second floor of Cathedral Shelter’s home on Ashland Avenue was used as a residence for Father Jack Whitehouse and his family. When the Whitehouse family moved to another home, the building was renovated, and in 1958 became the first halfway house for alcoholics in the state of Illinois. It was named Higgins House in honor of my father.
My husband, the Rev. Ralph Patston, worked for my father at Cathedral Shelter from 1966 to 1968, when my father retired. Ralph’s desire for parish work led us and our five children to Michigan, where we now reside in retirement in Ludington. Our hearts still belong to the Windy City and to Cathedral Shelter, which has been such an important part of our family for so many years. Some of the very early history of Cathedral Shelter is described in the book entitled “The Great Forty Years in the Diocese of Chicago,” written by John Henry Hopkins and published in 1936.
Cathedral Shelter of Chicago has a heritage to be proud of, serving Christ’s beloved people on the West Side of the city for over 80 years uninterrupted. Those who started this ministry and who devoted most of their lives, well into old age, to its mission did so out of love and compassion for people very much like Christ ministered to. The challenge to carry on this life-transforming work, that had its roots in the basement of a burned-out Cathedral, continues undiminished today.