Chicago Lutheran History: The Lutheran Orphanage- 1873

James Huenink
5 min readJun 26, 2021

In 1896, the German Lutheran churches of Chicago published Geschichte der Gründung und Ausbreitung der zur Synode von Missouri, Ohio und Andern Staaten gehörenden Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gemeinden U. A. C. zu Chicago, Illinois, a history of their growth in the city beginning with First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, now located on LaSalle and Goethe streets in Chicago. As far as I know, there is no English translation of this document, so I offer this translation to share this history with you. Follow me to get updates about the rest of this work.

The Lutheran Orphanage in Addison, IL at the time of publication.

As we near the end of the book, the history of the Lutheran churches turns to the institutions they founded. The orphanage in Addison, IL is one of the predecessor institutions for Lutheran Child and Family Services, which now administers adoption, foster care, and family services in Illinois. Some highlights from their history:

  • 1873 The German Lutheran Orphanage is founded
  • 1902 The Lutheran Children’s Friend Society is established in Peoria to administer adoptions
  • 1908 They establish Kinderheim (Children’s Home) in Chicago for wards of Cook County.
  • 1908–1959 Several agencies merge over time eventually forming an agency focused on service to families, unmarried mothers, adoption, foster care, and residential treatment for elementary school children
  • 1961 Lutherbrook children’s home is established as a residential facility
  • 1970 The agency changes its name to Lutheran Child and Family Services
  • 1978 LCFS begins working with the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services for foster care

Over the years, LCFS has both expanded and contracted their services. They closed Lutherbrook to focus on foster care, adoption, and other family services.

The German Evangelical Lutheran Orphanage in Addison, IL

On the 27th of June, 1873, 13 Lutheran congregations came together to found an orphanage in Addison, DuPage Co., Illinois. These were the congregations from Chicago: St. Paul, Trinity, St. John, Zion, and St. James congregations in addition to the congregations in Addison, Proviso, Harlem, Rodenburg, Dundee, Crete, Kankakee, and Yorkville. Today after 23 years, almost all Lutheran congregations in Chicago and several more from outside the city, 43 in all, belong to the association. The name of this association is The German Evangelical Lutheran Orphanage Association of North Illinois.

Early photograph of the Lutheran Orphanage courtesy of Lutheran Child and Family Services

39 acres were purchased for the sum of $4,425, right next to the land of the teaching seminary in Addison. On this land stood a small, ugly cottage containing two small parlors, two small bedrooms, and an attic. This cottage was dedicated on the 12th of October, 1873 as the temporary orphanage. Professor Selle took the consecration sermon about this word of God, “You are the orphan’s helper.” Psalm 10:14. An elderly couple from Rich, IL, Mr. F. G. Albers and his wife, moved into this small orphanage with 6 orphaned children, who all came from Chicago.

Professor C. A. T. Selle

But since Mr. Albers had only temporarily taken over this difficult job, the association called a childless couple to the orphanage from Crete, IL. Mr. Johan Harmening and his wife, Maria, nee Halfeldt. They entered their office on January 3rd, 1874, and they administered it faithfully for 17 and a half years. After they had resigned because of their advanced age, the newly called couple, Teacher Ernst Leubner and his wife, Wilhelmine, nee Wagner, took their place on the 21st of October 1891, and they are still doing this blessed work in this institution today.

For the good governance of the whole institution, the association has chosen a board of directors, composed of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and three trustees. These directors meet regularly in the orphanage every two months. The association holds a general meeting only once a year. Every congregation that belongs to the association has to send a representative to this meeting, who shall have a seat and voice. But also, Pastors, teachers, and other members of the congregations may participate in this general meeting as advisory members.

The good Lord has laid obvious blessings on this orphanage. Since the number of orphaned children has grown larger, a larger orphanage already had to be built in the year 1874. It cost $6,784.52 for which the congregations brought a combined contribution of $6095.03 in one year. In the year 1878, a larger addition was built for $5,122.25. In the year 1889, this was followed by a small two-story addition, which should be used exclusively for the sick. It cost $2621.49. And now, in the year 1896, the last spacious addition is finished, and every building has been connected to water, steam heat, and gas lighting for approximately $11,000. In the past 23 years 374 orphaned children have been part of the institution. The institution is equipet so that 110 orphans can live there at the same time. The association has chosen not to allow the number to climb higher.

The site of the teachers seminary turned into a home for children. Courtesy of Lutheran Child and Family Services

The children remain in the orphanage until after their confirmation. They attend the nearby congregational school. After the confirmation, the association is still responsible for them until they turn 18, and, if possible and necessary, even longer than that. Talented boys study. Others learn a trade or are placed in a job. The association holds their saved wages until the children come of age, after which it is paid out to them. So far 225 children have already been confirmed, 18 children have died in the orphanage, 33 children have been returned to relatives before their confirmation, and 98 children are presently in the institution.

Of the 225 confirmed, three are pastors, and 5 are school teachers. One studies in Milwaukee and one will enter the teacher seminary. As far as we know, 46 of our children are married. 9 of the confirmed children have died.

Since the year 1877, the association celebrates a yearly orphan festival in September at the orphanage. This festival is attended by many thousands so for years it has been necessary to hold simultaneous divine services with preaching at two places in the morning and evening.

The following are the current board of directors: Pastor T. Johannes Große, President. Pastor L. Lochner, Vice-President. Pastor Martin Große, Secretary. Mr. H. Oehlerking, Treasurer. Trustees: Teacher Emeritus, H. Bartling. Mr. H. C. Zuttermeister. Mr. H. F. Rathe. Mr. Wilhelm Leeseberg, sen., advisory member.