Raised by the Church
Growing up in New York City's Catholic Orphanages
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Fordham University Press
Title Page, Copyright
My Ten Beliefs for Success
I was born on March 23, 1946, and abandoned six months later when my mother, Viola Best, brought me to the Angel Guardian Home to be raised by the Sisters of Mercy. A couple of months later she and my father, Edward Rohs, formalized the arrangement by signing papers that made the church temporarily responsible for my upbringing...
Hollywood loves its orphans. Any given year you are likely to find at least one movie involving a parentless child. The plot usually turns on one of the following scenarios:...
I. Orphans in America
1. The Search for Solutions
It’s a fantasy to imagine that our complex world has somehow lost its ability to provide compassionate care for the most vulnerable children in our society. It’s a fantasy to believe that if we could...
2. New York City in the Nineteenth Century
Between 1810 and 1860, New York City’s population grew from 119,734 to 1,174,799, in large part because of a huge influx of immigrants from Ireland, Wales, and Germany. Being a port of entry, New York was the place where most immigrants settled, and...
3. The Twentieth Century
In the twentieth century, the focus shifts from a historical overview of the way things were in the hazy past, with only archival records and yellowed daguerreotypes to guide us, to events and memories that are still fresh because people like me who experienced them are still alive....
II. Raised by the Church
4. The Sisters of Mercy: A Tale of Two Cities
In 1846, a small band of nuns from the Order of the Sisters of Mercy made the long and arduous journey from Dublin to New York City. They came after New York’s powerful Archbishop John Hughes himself traveled to the Mother House in Dublin specifically to recruit...
5. My Earliest Years
The Angel Guardian Home was one of the many institutions for children founded by the Sisters of Mercy. When it opened in 1899, the first residents were ninety girls, ages two to five, who had been separated from their families for all the reasons children ended up in such...
6. St. Mary of the Angel
I came to live at St. Mary of the Angel in 1952. It had the feel of a rustic homestead, although in fact it was an institution that housed 172 boys in three dormitories. The property, a 120-acre farm in Syosset, Long Island, had belonged to the Van Nostrand family. The church...
III. Homes for Boys
7. St. John’s Home for Boys
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, St. John’s was the name given to the institution for boys that opened near Albany and Troy Avenues in Brooklyn. At its peak, the Sisters of St. Joseph cared for about a thousand boys, but in 1937, at the request of Bishop Thomas...
8. St. Vincent’s Home for Boys
On December 8, 1858, the evening of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in a gas-lit classroom at St. James School in Brooklyn, Bishop John Loughlin exhorted members of the Brooklyn St. Vincent de Paul Society to find ways to alleviate the suffering of indigent...
9. Growing Pains
When I am fifteen years old the gates to paradise open: I get to go to my first dance. It is a monthly event open to all the boys in the home, held in the St. Vincent’s second-floor auditorium. Parish girls and girls from the local community are invited, and we are allowed...
IV. On My Own
10. Alone in the Real World
On a sunny, unseasonably mild January afternoon in 2009, I take a sentimental journey on the D train, ending up in Flatbush. As I exit the subway at Newkirk Avenue, I wonder if the old neighborhood has changed. I pass familiar streets. Turning left, I keep walking until I am one block past Glenwood Road and then turn onto...
11. Inventing Another New Life
I am twenty-six years old and on top of the world. I have a good job with the Brooklyn DA’s office. For the first time in my life I am able to save money. I coach football, basketball, and baseball part-time at St. Vincent’s Home. I live in a great apartment in a great neighborhood...
In 1978 I graduate from Fordham University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science and am accepted at the Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service. I am thirty-one years old, and a party is held in my honor. It is the first time that anyone has made a party...
No child should grow up in an institution. My upbringing was harsh, with little in the way of pleasurable ease, not much nurturing, and many unanswered questions and unacknowledged needs. By and large, I was raised by people who made do with little. The Sisters of...
Postscript: September 11, 2001
Following 9/11, my office assigned me to provide assistance to the local governmental mental health agency. The 9/11 emergency health center started out at the Lexington Avenue Armory, but it was immediately inundated with people needing multiple emergency service...
A. Vinnie Boys in the World
B. The Foundling Hospital
C. Suggested Reading
Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 12 b/w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011
OCLC Number: 830023672
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