Daneo Hall: Thirty Years (1972-2002) of Care and Healing in Holy Cross Province, Immaculate Conception Monastery, Chicago, Illinois

Home / Daneo Hall: Thirty Years (1972-2002) of Care and Healing in Holy Cross Province, Immaculate Conception Monastery, Chicago, Illinois

by Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P.

Passionists have always had surprising energy to preach and live out the Gospel in multiple ministries. However, like any family, the Passionist family continually has had to face questions of health care. Where does a Passionist recover from a heart attack? Where does a Passionist reside who has dementia, or requires rehabilitation? Where does a Passionist who has as a terminal illness receive care?

Daneo Hall was dedicated on May 12, 1972. This thirtieth anniversary historical essay celebrates the attempt of Holy Cross Province in the United States to answer the above questions. Likewise, the details of the story, based upon a May 2002 interview which I conducted with Daneo Hall staff members Barbara Ayers, R.N. and Robert Schmitt, L.P.N., might help us to remember several perspectives. First, health care is more in the forefront today because Passionist priests and brothers live longer. Second, as a place and community of care, Daneo Hall serves as a reminder of just how Passionist health care has developed in one hundred and fifty years. Prior to 1906, when one United States Passionist province became two, a significant number of Passionists died from tuberculosis. In the first part of the twentieth century heart attacks were common. In recent decades cancer has been another affliction. In effect the history of Passionist health care for its vowed members, in this case, Holy Cross Province is certainly worthy of study. Those interested in the history of the health care apostolate might wish to consult Christopher J. Kauffman, Tamers of Death and The Ministry of Healing (Crossroad, 1976, 1978).


In the late 1970s or early 1980s I traveled to Chicago, Illinois to attend the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. It was the week after Christmas. Staying at the Immaculate Conception Passionist Monastery on Harlem Avenue, I arose each morning to take the Blue Line CTA train to the downtown hotel convention center. As one might expect, a blast of cold weather hit the Chicago lake front. As a result I came down with the flu. The convention and commute were exhausting. Upon my return to the monastery, I remember walking down the corridor and running into Brother Dan Smith, C.P. Noticing my poor condition, he brought me to Daneo Hall where the staff gave me some medication to reduce my fever. In the process I listened to Brother Dan speak about his years of Passionist ministry in Alabama. A decade later I had the opportunity to meet Father Barnabas Ahern who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. And from 1995 until 2002 I have had the opportunity to see and experience the day to day operation and oftentimes pray with the Daneo Hall community in Chicago. I was pleasantly surprised to realize 2002 is the thirtieth anniversary.


In February 1971 Barbara Ayers, an employee of the Home Aid Nursing Service, began to come to Immaculate Conception Monastery, Harlem Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. Her assignment was to come three days a week in order to give Vitamin B12/Betalin shots to Father Loran Aubuchon, C.P., the assistant superior in Chicago. He was suffering from cancer of the liver and the shots were part of the required care. The decision to employ the Nursing Service was made by then Chicago local superior Father John F. Kobler, C.P. Such shots were beyond the scope of the then Passionist internal health care process. When Father Kobler saw the advertisement in the Chicago Catholic Newspaper for the Nursing Service he put two and two together and acted upon it. Barbara Ayers fulfilled the contract in a satisfactory manner. At the same time, her involvement at the monastery slowly expanded as more patient needs were addressed.

Seeing the benefit of continual attention to Passionist health needs it was not long before then Passionist Consultor Father Roger Mercurio, C.P. hired Barbara Ayers to work for the Passionists on a more permanent basis and Daneo Hall was built and dedicated on May 12, 1972. Provincial Paul Boyle, C.P. thought that Daneo Hall would be ideal on the property of Immaculate Conception Monastery Chicago, because it was nearby to Resurrection Hospital on the Northwest Side. A short time later, on June 1, 1972 Robert Schmitt was asked if he was interested in working at Daneo Hall. He was then working at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, Harvey, Illinois. Bob Schmitt gave two weeks notice and started working for the Passionists. One of the aspects that was helpful for Bob was that he had entered the Passionists in 1963 and left while in temporary vows in 1968. Within a year Bob Schmitt was working full-time at five days a week and Barbara Ayers was employed two days a week. At first the men in Daneo Hall were cared for by Mr. Al Waltermire. He was a friend of the Passionists from California. As time progressed more Passionists needed health care. As a result, by November 1975 Daneo Hall was a twenty-four hour operation.

Philosophy of Health Care:

Daneo Hall was a whole new concept for the Passionists. Reflecting back on thirty years, Barbara Ayers said that it is somewhat surprising for her to have to admit that the whole idea of Daneo Hall was an innovative venture. This was a new sense of health care. Over the years Passionists, usually the brothers, normally cared for their own men. And when such care went beyond the ability of the individual house and community members then the respective Passionist was admitted to a hospital. In effect, this whole concept of a Daneo Hall, a more centralized place for Passionist health care, meant that the era of health care by the Passionist brothers had come to an end. This was a symbolic change. Passionists were most certainly skeptical as to how the plan would function and if it would work.

Both Barbara Ayers and Bob Schmitt agree that an early challenge in their job was to take the responsibility to organize the day to day operation and philosophy of health care. Barbara Ayers admits that it was a “sink or swim venture” when it first began. She recalled how she took on the responsibility of hiring the personnel, made the care plans, developed the twenty-four hour rotation care schedule and personnel policy, and began to initiate a plan whereby the people in need of care were brought to the doctor’s office, hospital, or dentist. Barbara Ayers suggests that one of the essential theories which was employed in the beginning and has been retained throughout the years is the triage concept. This care approach required several steps: do an assessment of the health situation of the patient under care; ascertain if a program of care might be developed at Daneo Hall; if not determine if there is a need for hospitalization and which is the correct hospital. This triage process of on-site or off-site care has been a key component to the long-term success of Daneo Hall.

From a personal point of view, both Barbara Ayers and Bob Schmitt faced some challenges as well. She knew she was a female in a male culture and a Lutheran in a Roman Catholic culture. On the other hand he had to face and possibly readjust some pre-conceived ideas, because he had been in studies with the Passionists and had left prior to final vows. However, both readily admit that it did not take long for them to gain the necessary respect. Passionist recognition and acceptance of their skill has remained steadfast throughout the years.

Another essential component behind the success of Daneo Hall has been the commitment of Holy Cross Province to assign Passionist leadership to minister to health care needs. The superiors of Daneo Hall have been Fathers Emmanuel Sprigler, Declan Egan, Kyran O’Connor, James Patrick White, Brother Bill Baalman, Father Andrew Lane, Bob Schmitt (administrator), and Brother Carl Hund. Barbara Ayers remembers fondly that Emmanuel Sprigler called her and Bob Schmitt “the body and soul” team. She admits that, over the years, this operative image of body and soul has been helpful in that it is a continual reminder of how spiritual care and physical care are intimately related.

The Seven Sacraments of Daneo Hall Community:

Both Barbara Ayers and Bob Schmitt agree this spiritual and physical sense of health care has allowed Daneo Hall to develop an identity as a sacred space within the province. This has taken place in several ways. First, experience has taught Barbara Ayers that the Passionist acceptance of death is a bit different than the average population because of their sense of faith. This acceptance has been nurtured, in part, because Daneo Hall has implemented the hospice concept. If a Passionist or layperson is dying, and most especially if their suffering has become intensely painful, it is has been quite common for the Passionist community at Immaculate Conception to enter into the care-giving process and be supportive and caring to the best of their ability. As a result, over the years Barbara Ayers, in general, has found the death experience there to be relatively peaceful.

While the Daneo Hall area consists of nine individual rooms and a large common room area, an important second point is that the Daneo Hall members do not live in isolation. Whenever possible, the residents of the Daneo Hall community are mainstreamed with the other Passionists at Immaculate Conception. This is most obvious by the fact all eat in common in the dining room. Third, the spiritual life of the Daneo Hall community members has remained a priority. In fact this Daneo Hall community in Chicago has always had its own chapel and daily Eucharistic celebration. Normally, a priest from the larger Chicago community is principal celebrant at the liturgy. Daneo Hall community members concelebrate as priests or attend as brothers or laity. Over the years the devotional rituals such as the rosary, have changed depending upon the makeup of the Daneo Hall community.

Over the thirty years of Daneo Hall, a fourth area, almost unknown thirty years ago has become a regular dimension of the Daneo Hall health program. This is preventive medicine. Diet and exercise are critical and embraced by the participants. They know that such a program reduces stress. This coincides with an emphasis about fifteen years ago whereby such a plan of health care would lead to a decrease of heart problems, and a greater control of diabetes. This has been successful because it has benefited from the collective long-term relationship with the doctors — internists, cardiologists, surgeons, and dentists — in the greater Chicago area. As a result, Barbara Ayers is of the opinion that the Passionists are more healthy than they were in years past.

Fifth, it is not uncommon for Passionists, even some from other provinces, to come to Daneo Hall to recuperate after an operation, heal, and gain strength to leave. Both Barbara Ayers and Bob Schmitt have seen a development in the psyche of Holy Cross Province whereby Daneo Hall is now not totally equated with death. In the beginning that was a stigma: people would come there to die. That is less the image now. The lives of Father William Westhoven and Brother Dan Smith exemplify the change in the mentality. When they first arrived at Daneo Hall in the mid 1970s the consensus was they were arriving to die. However, Father Westhoven lived another nine years and Brother Smith lived another ten! In effect, time has allowed Daneo Hall to become a community of health care and death has become part of the life process. Estimates are that approximately one hundred men came through who eventually died. Others have come through and left in order to take advantage of the rehabilitation atmosphere

Sixth, as their acceptance among the Passionists developed both Barbara Ayers and Bob Schmitt agree that they have become friends and are members of an extended family. Bob Schmitt has often looked more towards the structure of the operation and Barbara has looked towards the more fluid side of things. In that sense they balance each other out. Barbara Ayers has found it to be most gratifying to participate in the rehabilitation of people and admits that she has stayed there for thirty years. I “love being there” she said and acknowledges that she “has found her niche.” Professionally it has been most rewarding in that she has taken advantage of the “chance to expand, experiment, pull on past experience and implement” new possibilities of health care to get the job done. She readily admits this has been accomplished and she has “remained her own person.”

Bob Schmitt has experienced a similar sense of satisfaction in his thirty years at Daneo Hall. In the beginning an exciting part of the job was that he helped research some of the possibilities as to where to ultimately set up a place for some health care for Passionists. There were operational and legal questions to consider. As time went on the levels of nursing took on a variety of needs. But it did not take long for Bob Schmitt to realize that he had found his vocation. It has been most important for him that he has been able to maintain a sense of professional development and skill, for both he and Barbara Ayers regularly attend professional seminars. At the same time the people became his friends. A sense of family began to develop. Personally, he “bonded” with Daneo Hall. This has become particularly true for Bob Schmitt in the last five years.

The nursing station wall indicates the seventh aspect of the thirty year history of Daneo Hall. On it are a great many photographs of Passionists who have come to Daneo Hall to find a place of healing. It has also become a place of security in the life of Holy Cross Province. A very real aspect is that there are a group of Passionists who have come together and have participated in their suffering together. There is a hope that this experience continues to serve as an ongoing foundation for Passionist community life. Emphasis has been on a home atmosphere. Over the years, Bob Schmitt is thankful that he and Barbara Ayers have been able to find other professional health care workers who have been willing to help see the same philosophy of spirituality and health take root. Bob Schmitt sums it up best when he says that “thirty years seems like a long time ago.” He finds it hard to believe that the time has gone so quickly and the healing continues.

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