Masons of Illinois

Masons of Illinois

Building for the Future

As Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center embarks upon an exciting new era, it looks forward to an inspiring continued partnership with the Masons of Illinois.


Cynthia and Jerry Mungerson were raising a family in Boston in the early 1970s when Jerry was recruited to leave his position at one of Harvard University’s teaching hospitals to become the next president of Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “At the time I didn’t know anything about Masons, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Cynthia says today.

She liked what she found. The oldest fraternal organization in the world, Freemasonry is steeped in tradition. But with three million members representing every race, religion, opinion, and background, Masons are as open and contemporary as the modern and light-filled new facility on Nelson Street that Illinois Masons collectively provided more than $2 million in philanthropy to help build.

Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s first major patient-care construction project in 40 years, the Center for Advanced Care is a stunning structure that brings the medical center’s campus in line with its designation as one of the nation’s 100 Top Hospitals. Designed in partnership with the medical center’s neighbors to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding community, and targeting LEED-NC Silver Designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, the three-story building houses three critical, high-tech areas with shared needs: The Angelo P. Creticos Cancer Center, the Digestive Health Institute and the Ambulatory Surgery Center.

“It doesn’t look like a typical medical facility, and that’s consistent with a new philosophy of care,” says Barry Weer, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A.M., which comprises 61,000 Masons belonging to 482 local lodges. “It’s amazing to me the forethought and vision of the medical center’s leadership in anticipating changes happening in health care. They looked at wellness and at coordinating areas of expertise—and then found an architectural solution to infuse energy and create a vibrant environment for patients, family and friends.”

The Masonic way

It’s appropriate that the Masons are in the vanguard of a new era of care because Freemasonry seems to flourish in times of change. Its history traces back to medieval Europe, but it rose to prominence during the Age of Enlightenment. Many of the early leaders of the American Revolution were Masons, including Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere and George Washington.

It was during just such a period of change that the newly formed Illinois Masonic Hospital Association purchased Chicago Union Hospital from the Belden Avenue Baptist Church Steadfast Sunday School Class in 1921. Advances in medical science were increasingly transforming hospitals from places where patients could rest and recover into places where illnesses and injuries could be actively treated—requiring more resources than a small group of neighborhood residents could provide. The Masons had been raising funds to build a hospital to care for their members and saw an opportunity to have a broader impact by purchasing an existing facility and serving all in need.

Under Masonic management, Illinois Masonic Hospital soon developed a reputation for both clinical excellence and an extraordinary commitment to the underserved. With only 60 beds for most of the 1920s, the hospital regularly turned away paying patients—102 in one month in 1925 alone—because the beds were occupied by charity cases. “Masons have always been dedicated to the service of mankind,” says medical center president Susan Nordstrom Lopez. “Everything they do is to help others, especially those without resources.”

“There are so many amazing stories,” Cynthia Mungerson says. “During the Depression, nurses worked 12-hour days without pay to take care of Baby Carol, an infant with pneumonia. During the polio epidemic, a minister had three sick children and Illinois Masonic was the only hospital that would take them in; all three were saved. More recently Masonic was the first hospital in the city to open an AIDS unit. Others were scared, but the Masons said, This is our community. I can’t tell you how people have told me, if it weren’t for Masonic, I wouldn’t be alive.”

Nordstrom Lopez adds, “Not only did Illinois Masonic never seek to reduce its care for the underserved; it actually went out and looked for more. That comes straight out of Masonic principles.”

Over the decades, community residents partnered with Illinois Masonic’s staff to advance the hospital’s mission through philanthropy. Unrestricted bequests helped fund the purchase of land for expansion, while other gifts were made with specific intentions: a new children’s department and a then-state-of-the-art Cobalt Bomb unit for cancer treatment in the 1950s, for example. Most of the charitable gifts came from individual Masons—including W. Clement Stone, the eponym of the Stone Pavilion—or members of the Order of the Eastern Star, an affiliate of Freemasonry.

For the greater good

At the turn of the 21st century, health care found itself in the midst of another major transition. It was then, in 2001, that the Masons sold their medical center to Advocate Health Care, depositing the proceeds of the sale along with its own charitable funds in an endowment and creating the Masonic Family Health Foundation (MFHF) to oversee distributions. “The hospital industry was consolidating, and we saw there was much to gain from partnering with other medical centers,” says Charles Gambill, chair of the medical center’s board of trustees prior to the merger and MFHF chair ever since. “We considered several options, but Advocate aligned best with our values and priorities.”

Entrusting the hospital to Advocate was “a superb example of stewardship,” says the medical center’s vice president of business development, Michael Swarzman, who has been with Illinois Masonic since 1974. “The medical center was doing well, but the Masons proactively recognized where health care was going and that there was a need for more expertise. Giving up control was hard, but their leadership was forward-looking and saw that it was for the greater good.”

While Masons no longer operate the medical center, they remain deeply engaged in its mission. The Masonic Family Health Foundation has provided nearly $6 million in philanthropic support of Illinois Masonic—including $1 million for the Center for Advanced Care—and each year raises new funds through a golf outing that benefits the medical center’s pioneering Autism Treatment Program. The Grand Lodge of Illinois also donated $1 million to the Center for Advanced Care. Another Masonic organization, Grottoes of North America, has long been the main benefactor of Illinois Masonic’s Special Patient Dental Care Program, which cares for adults and children with developmental disabilities. And countless individual Masons have made their own generous gifts before and since 2001.

Masons’ ongoing involvement has helped preserve a culture that astounds onlookers—from the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet review team to a local police chief who recently shared a story about the hospital at a national convention. “People say, I don’t know why there’s so much compassion here,” says Mungerson. “I’ll tell you why: It’s the only hospital in the world with the word ‘Masonic’ in its name.”

As the medical center anticipates its centennial as a “Masonic” hospital, it is grateful for the support that is once again enabling it to adapt to change and adopt best practices in health care. “So much of what we do is moving or has moved into the outpatient setting, and thanks in large part to Masons’ philanthropic leadership, we now have a state-of-the-art facility for delivering that care,” says Susan Nordstrom Lopez. “We look forward to an exciting continued partnership with the Masons of Illinois.”

The feelings are mutual. “Masonry exists to make the world a better place, but in today’s society it is harder and harder to have any impact unless we reach out and partner with good institutions,” Grand Master Weer says. “That synergy makes us greater than any one of us could be separately. We wanted to invest in Illinois Masonic Medical Center and help it be better—not just for Masons but for the broader community.”