February 15, 2024

Homecoming for Catholic Order of Foresters

Historian Ellen Skerrett explores the deep ties between Catholic Order of Foresters and its birthplace, Church of the Holy Family in Chicago, Illinois.

The July 13, 2023, Mass at Church of the Holy Family marked a special homecoming for members of Catholic Order of Foresters (COF), the national fraternal life insurance organization now headquartered in Naperville, Illinois. Gregory Temple, president and CEO, and Mark Walsworth, executive vice president and CMO, led the way. As a group of COF life insurance agents from around the country walked through the ornately carved wooden doors, they looked around in wonder and amazement. Here in living color was the Gothic edifice that had been Rev. Arnold Damen S.J.’s dream when it was dedicated in 1860. As their eyes adjusted to the light streaming through the stained-glass windows, visitors quickly noticed the plaque honoring COF as “the first major benefactor in the historic restoration” of the church in 1992 and the name of High Chief Ranger John A. Gorski (1924-2008).

Throughout the campaign to save the church from the wrecking ball in the 1980s, COF leader Gorski publicly acknowledged that Catholic Order of Foresters founded in May 1883 with Jesuit support and encouragement. His fidelity never wavered and in return, the great nave of Church of the Holy Family was named in honor of COF. Few organizations can claim such deep connections! After Mass and photos on the steps of the sanctuary in July, delegates spent the day in meetings next door at Saint Ignatius College Prep. During the luncheon, President John J. Chandler described plans for Sodality Hall, the school’s latest building whose design recalls the birthplace of COF.

The story of COF takes on personal meaning for members of the Hurtubise family, great-grandchildren of John F. Scanlan, the first High Chief Ranger from 1883 to 1887. During his term of office, the organization grew to over 4,000 members and within 20 years, membership reached over 130,000. Scanlan was born in Castlemahon, County Limerick, in 1840 and emigrated to the United States with his widowed mother in 1848 as the Great Famine deepened. A resident of Chicago since 1852, he and his brothers were well-known in the confectionary business and for their fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Fenian Brotherhood. Scanlan married Teresa Lawler in Church of the Holy Family in 1862, the same year he became a captain of the 67th regiment of the Illinois Volunteers, Grand Army of the Republic.

The Lawlers were long-time parishioners living at 1141 W. Taylor Street and when Teresa’s brother Frank married in 1876, her husband John Scanlan was one of his witnesses. Frank Lawler was elected a Chicago alderman and also served as a U.S. Congressman and when he died in 1896, crowds in the thousands lined the streets to pay their respects to the “friend of the workingman.” At his funeral, Rev. Michael Dowling, S.J. paid personal tribute to this “man of the people,” an early supporter of the eight-hour day and a champion of the rights of postal carriers.

Teresa Scanlan Hurtubise, born in 1876 at 1141 W. Taylor Street, was baptized by the legendary Fr. John Setters, S.J., at Church of the Holy Family. She was seven years old when her father became the first High Chief Ranger of Court No. 1 of Catholic Order of Foresters. It was a signal honor. According to an early COF history, Rev. Thomas O’Neill, president of St. Ignatius College, welcomed men of the parish to meet at Sodality Hall at 11th and May Street in 1883. Their goal? To provide death benefits for wives and children at a time of labor strife and high mortality. The Rev. James M. Hayes, S.J. made sure that notices were read aloud at every Sunday mass at Church of the Holy Family, reaching thousands of families. Interest was immediate, but in order to flourish the group needed a charter. Who better to advise than John F. Scanlan, president of the Western Industrial League of America, and author of the widely publicized 1880 polemic, “Why Ireland is Poor”?

Chicago newspapers documented the success of COF, which first met in convention December 27-28, 1883, at the city’s fashionable Palmer House. In a rousing speech, Scanlan asserted that the new organization was “out of our swaddling clothes, and now it only needs the careful husbandry of its members and officers to make its growth a marvel among the societies of the state.” Although he acknowledged COF had the blessing of Archbishop Feehan, it was workingmen, not clergy, who would create “the best organization of [its] kind.” Scanlan worked tirelessly to build bridges among Catholics of different ethnic backgrounds whose untimely demise left families without enough capital “to start anew and become self-sustaining.”

In addition to serving as first High Chief Ranger of COF, Scanlan edited The Catholic Home, a weekly newspaper that initially served as the society’s official publication. Its contributors in 1886 included such well-known Chicagoans as Dr. Patrick H. Cronin and Adele Mulligan, daughter of Civil War hero James Mulligan. The newspaper’s “first class writers [aimed to provide coverage] of all the important events and personal movements of the Catholic Church and people in the northwest.” In public announcements printed in the daily press, Scanlan encouraged COF members to turn out “in full regalia” at bazaars and festivals for Catholic institutions such as the St. Vincent Foundling Home on N. LaSalle Street. When his tenure ended in 1887, the Chicago Herald praised COF for “making no distinction in race or color” among its 4,000 members who included “representatives of the Irish, German, French, Bohemian, Italian, and Polish nationalities.” Scanlan’s legacy was not forgotten after his death in 1920. According to the 1923 history of Holy Family Parish, COF had expanded to states beyond Illinois and to Canada, and “nearly 30,000 widows and orphans [had received benefits] of more than thirty million dollars.”

When I contacted members of the Hurtubise family now living in California and Washington State with information on their great-grandparents’ connections to Church of the Holy Family, I learned how deep their Jesuit roots go. Their father, Edward Hurtubise (1908-1966), played on the St. Ignatius basketball team that won the Catholic League championship on March 24, 1923, before 2,500 spectators in the old gymnasium on the fourth floor of 1076 W. Roosevelt Road. And the family’s history came full circle on June 16, 1924, when Edward Hurtubise received his diploma in Sodality Hall, the birthplace of Catholic Order of Foresters!

1923 photo of Edward Hurtubise, second from left, Saint Ignatius College Prep archives

Although 140 years have passed since the founding of COF, the descendants of John F. Scanlan and Terese Lawler remain proud of their great-grandparents’ roots in Church of the Holy Family. Accomplished writers and scientists, the family includes Jerry Hurtubise, a former personal injury lawyer in San Francisco and author of Parkinsonian Democracy: A Legal Fiction (Winterwolf Press 2023) and The Spiritual Apprenticeship of a Curious Catholic (ACTA 2005); Mary Ann Hurtubise of Citrus Heights, California, who worked as a clinical data manager before her retirement; Dr. Mark Hurtubise (named for his Jesuit uncle), former president and CEO of Inland Northwest Community Foundation; Dr. Robert Hurtubise, professor emeritus chemistry, University of Wyoming; and the late Dr. Paul Hurtubise, professor emeritus pathology, University of Cincinnati.

Article by Ellen Skerrett. Originally published in “Church of the Holy Family News” (volume three, issue one, winter 2024), this version has been lightly edited.