When German immigrants came to the United States in the late 19th century, many of them entered through New York, seeking a new life in a world that promised endless opportunities. But the transition to a new life was not always easy. A New York based guesthouse called The Leo House took many of these immigrants in, guiding them on their journey in an unfamiliar land.
The Leo House is a Catholic guesthouse on West 23rd Street in New York. Today it serves as a nonprofit budget hotel for travelers, but it played a significant role in lives of German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. Between 1865 and 1900, 35 percent of all immigrants who arrived in the US came from Germany. But after a difficult 4,000 mile journey, many of them found new hardships in the US.
“They didn’t speak English. The gangs of New York were ruthless – they saw Germans who just got off the boat as ‘easy prey,’” says David J. Smith, executive director of Leo House. “And many Germans lost their faith.”
German businessman Peter Cahensly became concerned about the plight of German immigrants and founded the St. Raphael Verein in 1883, an organization dedicated to ensuring the safety of German travelers. In 1887, immigrants connected to the society started a fundraiser to further help incoming immigrants. Pope Leo XIII had recently received money in honor of the 50th anniversary of ordination, and the pope took that money and in turn donated $50,000 to the St. Raphael Verein. This money was then used to purchase a building in New York that became known as the Leo House, named in the honor of Pope Leo.