Wardrobe can be a bit of a problem when you’re a priest. You can’t just run over to Macy’s or Nordstrom and pick up a couple of vestments and a spare cassock. Since 1907, Chicago’s best-dressed Catholic and Anglican clergy, including Cardinal George, have gone to the House of Hansen (4223 W. Irving Park) for custom-tailored clerical garments. They have to: the next-nearest clerical outfitter is in Philadelphia.
“People from all over the country call us,” says Martin Arens, who runs the business with his brother Gerard and their nephew Bob Mangione. (The last Hansen died in 1978.) “You can’t stay in business with just one diocese.”
In addition to clothing, the House of Hansen also sells priestly paraphernalia, such as chalices, rosaries, and communion wafers in both white and wheat. The most popular item among lay shoppers is a miniature of Saint Joseph that, when buried upside down and facing a house, is supposed to help it sell. “People swear by it,” says Mangione. “I’ve seen real estate agents buy 25 at once.”
The House of Hansen, however, has another patron saint. Back in the 1970s, when it was still located downtown, its next-door neighbor was a porn store. “People would walk by and laugh,” says Arens. “So I said a novena to Saint Rita, the patron saint of impossible cases. And then an inspector came by from the city and said that while it was technically zoned correctly, he didn’t want it in the area and shut it down. In those days, they could do that. But after they moved, whenever I went over to turn on the air conditioner, I walked by the old peep show they left behind.”
Still, to this day, the House of Hansen hands out rose petals from the shrine of Saint Rita to all visitors.