Time for another shout out in our Summer Agency Series. These stories spotlight some of the 90 agencies in our Catholic Charities federation that, day in and day out, provide help and create hope for New Yorkers in need.
By Juliann DosSantos
Behind the front desk of The Leo House, a prominently displayed wooden crucifix is one of the first things a guest notices upon entering.
Once inside, guests in the lobby can view a flat screen television—all under the watchful eyes of a statue of St. Raphael in the background. Religious statues are dispersed throughout The Leo House, adding to a Catholic charm 125 years in the making.
The house. (an affiliate of Catholic Charities,) was founded on State Street in 1889—three years before Ellis Island opened—as an affordable place for German Catholics to stay.
Peter Paul Cahensly, a wealthy German, was instrumental in the beginnings of the guesthouse. He was one of the founders of the St. Raphael Society, which was tasked with helping recent German arrivals in New York. The generosity of the St. Raphael Society allowed The Leo House to open its doors.
Pope Leo XIII, who was pontiff from 1878 to 1903, also made a donation. The house is named for him.
Under the guidance of Mother Agnes Hazotte, C.S.A., the Sisters of St. Agnes ran the house at the outset, and they have served there ever since. Sisters of St. Agnes Kathleen Ries, C.S.A., and Marilyn Ellickson, C.S.A., are now on staff. Today, The Leo House is run largely by lay personnel.
The Leo House moved to its present location at 332 W. 23rd St. in 1926. Travelers from around the world, including Canada, Germany, France and across the United States, have found respite inside.
“The Leo House has been a safe haven of Christian hospitality for world travelers for over 125 years,” said Frank Castro, the executive director for the past eight years.
“That mission will continue to be that vital and important beacon of light in this ever-changing world.”
The motto for the nonprofit organization reflects Castro’s words: “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains immortal.”
Accommodations include a total of 81 single and double guest rooms. In-room WiFi is available, as is a state-of-the art computer room. Room reservations should be made six months in advance.
Hidden in plain sight is a beautiful garden with tables and chairs for guests to relax outside, a unique spot for quiet amid the busy city. A fountain bubbles comfortingly in the background. Another statue—this one of Mary, Mother of Travelers—has her arms extended as if in welcome.
Castro noted that the house has a patron saint—St. Raphael, the patron of travelers. A regal painting in the dining hall depicts St. Raphael, along with SS. Michael and Gabriel, watching over the Blessed Mother and child.
The guesthouse accepts reservations from followers of all religions. Catholic mementos are prominent throughout. For instance, on each dining table, along with a card with tips for travelers in New York City, are prayer cards.
A highlight is the newly renovated chapel, seating some 40 people, which Cardinal Dolan blessed at a Mass he celebrated there May 24. Inside are original, refurbished pews from Leo House’s beginnings. On each side of the tabernacle stand two stained glass windows. Mass is offered daily in the chapel by visiting priests. The Leo House is seeking a resident priest to offer Mass, counseling and hear confessions.
Archdiocesan Catholic Charities donated $10,000 for the re-gilding of the tabernacle that has been in the chapel since 1926. The reconditioning of a stained glass window of the Blessed Mother was paid for by a donation from Angela Durso, who at one point was a resident of the Leo House. The other, depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was reconditioned from smaller donations. The American St. Boniface Society donated $15,000 for the reconditioning of one of the stained-glass windows that shows Pope Leo XIII in the hallway leading to the chapel.
For information and reservations: (212) 929-1010.