Pope Leo XIII was born in 1810, was ordained a priest in 1837, created a cardinal in 1853, and elected Pope in 1878. He died in 1903, having been the longest reigning pope in Church history.
During those same years, from 1865 to 1900, German immigration to America constituted nearly thirty-five percent of all immigrants arriving at its shore. German businessman, Peter Cahensly was very concerned about the plight of those immigrants, and founded the St. Raphael Verein, a society dedicated to the safety of these travelers to their destinations. The St. Raphael Society built on the efforts of the Verein, and was founded by immigrants themselves to assiste those who followed them. If the work of the Verein was to succeed a safe haven was needed in New York. In 1887, $10,000 was raised for that purpose and that amount went to $45,000 when Pope Leo XIII heard about the fundraising efforts. German American Catholics had given Pope Leo money in honor of his 50th Anniversary of ordination; the Pope in turn gave $50,000 back to the Verein. A building was then purchased on State Street and duly named The Leo House, in gratitude to Pope Leo XIII for his generosity. It was located close to Castle Garden, the predecessor of Ellis Island.
The building was duly named The Leo House, in gratitude to Pope Leo XIII for his generosity.
The Leo House relocated to West 23rd Street in 1926. Since its doors opened in 1889, Sisters of St. Agnes from Fond du Lac, WI, have been not its owner, but its caretakers.
The original role had been to be a safe haven for German immigrants. Its role has adapted to changing times and is now a Catholic guesthouse welcoming guests from around the world. It is the only Guesthouse of its type in the United States offering affordable rates. It is clean, centrally-located, classy, and has a chapel for Mass four times per week (Tues-Fri). All guests are welcome.