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Raised by the Church:

Growing up in New York City's Catholic Orphanages

Edward Rohs

Publication Year: 2011

In 1946 Edward Rohs was left by his unwed parents at the Angel Guardian Home to be raised by the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters hoped that the parents would one day return for him. In time they married and had other children, but Ed's parents never came back for him. And they never signed the legal papers so he could be adopted by another family.Raised by the Church chronicles the extraordinary life of Ed Rohs, a bright, mischievous boy who was raised in five institutions of the Catholic orphanage system in postwar Brooklyn, New York, from infancy in 1946 until he was discharged as an adult in 1965.Rohs was one of thousands of children taken in by Catholic institutions during the tumultuous post-WWII years: out-of-wedlock infants, children whose fathers had been killed in the war, and children of parents in crisis. Ed gives a brief history of each institution before describing that world--the Sisters and Brothers who raised him, the food, his companions, and the Catholic community that provided social and emotional support.When Ed finally leaves the institution after nineteen years he has a difficult time adjusting. He slowly assimilates into "normal" life and determinedly rises above his origins, achieving an advanced degree and career success, working for years in child welfare and as volunteer strength coach for the Fordham University basketball team. He hides his upbringing out of shame and fear of others' pity. But as he begins to reflect on his own story and to talk to the people who raised him, Ed begins to see a larger story intertwined with his own.With original research based on interviews with clergymen and nuns, archival data from the New York Archdiocese, and government records, Raised by the Church tells the social history of an era when hundreds of thousands of baby boomers passed through the orphanage system.Through the story of one man, this book gives us a much-needed historical perspective on an American society that understood and acknowledged the community's need for a safe haven.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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My Ten Beliefs for Success

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pp. ix-

Acknowledgment

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pp. x-

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Prologue

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pp. xi-xii

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...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-

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

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1. The Search for Solutions

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pp. 9-12

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...

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2. New York City in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 13-20

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...

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3. The Twentieth Century

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pp. 21-24

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

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4. The Sisters of Mercy: A Tale of Two Cities

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pp. 27-32

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...

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5. My Earliest Years

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pp. 33-44

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...

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6. St. Mary of the Angel

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pp. 45-58

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

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7. St. John’s Home for Boys

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pp. 61-84

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...

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8. St. Vincent’s Home for Boys

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pp. 85-108

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...

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9. Growing Pains

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pp. 109-124

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

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10. Alone in the Real World

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pp. 128-156

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...

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11. Inventing Another New Life

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pp. 157-174

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...

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12. Milestones

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pp. 175-196

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...

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13 Reflections

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pp. 197-206

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...

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Postscript: September 11, 2001

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pp. 207-208

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...

Appendixes

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pp. 209-210

A. Vinnie Boys in the World

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pp. 211-212

B. The Foundling Hospital

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pp. 213-214

C. Suggested Reading

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pp. 215-216

Notes

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pp. 217-220

Index

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pp. 221-228


E-ISBN-13: 9780823249480
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823240227
Print-ISBN-10: 0823240223

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 12
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Rohs, Edward, 1946-.
  • Orphans -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Children -- Institutional care -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Orphanages -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Church work with orphans -- Catholic Church.
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