Saint Joseph Orphanage for Girls-Paterson, NJ-1853


Betty Pruzinsky
Taken from
“The New Jersey Sisters of Charity – Our Missions 1859-1933 Volume III”
by Sister Mary Agnes Sharkey, A.M.,Longmans,
Green and Co., New York: 1933.

Founded virtually in 1853, some years before the New Jersey Community took charge of the work, Saint Joseph Orphanage was first opened by Father Dominic Senez, and directed by the Sisters of Charity from the New York motherhouse, Mount Saint Vincent, under Sister Anastasia. The original orphan asylum was situated first on Oliver, then on Church Street in a large dwelling adjoining the public library, with our Sister Mary Catherin Nevin in charge. On the removal of the orphanage to its new home above the Passaic Falls by the late beloved Dean McNulty, the first building on Church Street was remodeled as a private Academy for the children of the City of Paterson and called Saint Aloysius. This Academy, over which Sister Mary Catherine Nevin first presided, later Sister Mary Pauline, before her transfer to the care of the parochial mission at Oliver Street. Both the Aloysian School and the public library referred to, were totally destroyed in the great fire of 1902; the academy was not reopened by the Community.

From 1855 to 1867, the orphanage, as stated, occupied the site on Church Street but on the advent of Father McNulty, a more favorable environment for the orphaned children of the parish was sought in the purchase of the old Sheppard Farm near Lincoln Bridge. A residence on the farmland was used for some time as the orphan asylum proper, and in later years, other frame structures were erected by the pastor. These historic buildings stood back from the road on the banks of the Passaic, pleasantly situated on a picturesque knoll overlooking one of the prettiest reaches of the river. As years went by, the original buildings were much enlarged and improved. By the will of the late Charles O’Neill, a lifelong benefactor of the institution and of the parish of Saint John, a sum of money was bequeathed to the asylum by which an extension was made possible, containing dining rooms, school rooms, workrooms, sleeping quarters, and a chapel. His daughter, the late Mrs. John Agnew and her sisters, were also generous providers for the institution, a charity which Mrs. Agnew’s daughters have maintained with filial devotion to this day. A bequest of fifty thousand dollars from the late Senator John Hinchliffe was used in furthering the development of the orphan asylum on an adjoining site as the property on which the orphanage was located was needed for the extension of the cemetery of the Holy Sepulchre, the parish burial ground. Father Edward Quirk, who succeeded to the pastorate of Saint John’s, on the death of the revered Dean McNulty, still further matured plans for the new institution.

The Sisters who during the past sixty years have ministered to the wants of the orphans form a noble line of selfless Religious. Among the names of those who from the first served the institution we find, besides Sister Mary Catherine, who labored for the children even before she severed connection with the New York Community to become one of the Founders of the New Jersey Congregation, Sister Mary Joseph, one of the Cincinnati band of Founders, Sister Baptista of true religious zeal, Sister Thais, earnest provider for the little ones, Sister Immaculata, gentle mother of the distressed, Sister Gonzaga, with sixty-three years of Religious life to her credit; Sister Assissium, the whole-souled, self-denying orphan mother, and Sister Annina, who took Sister Assissium’s charge while the latter sought renewal of health at the recruiting home for the Sisters at the old Villa, Convent Station. In addition to those who had direct care of the institution, however, there were other earnest laborers who strove to build up the work, and whose service made possible continuance of the great charity dear to the parishioners of old Saint John’s. With comparatively few conveniences even in our time, what must have been the fortitude of those who suffered real want of necessaries in the first days at the orphanage when, we are told, they had to carry water, pail by pail for every household purpose, providing for the Sisters of the home and for one hundred children of their charge as well? Others who shared in these hardships, most of whom have passed to their eternal reward, must not remain unmentioned in a list designed to commemorate the efforts of the founders of the now defunct Saint Joseph Orphanage: Sister Mary Bernard, Sister Innocentia, Sister Romana, Sister Teresa Francis, Sister Francis Xavier, Sister Laurentia, Sister Phillipine, Sister Anne Francis, Sister Angelica, Sister Basilissa, Sister Febronia, Sister Julia Agnes, Sister Martina, and Sister Marietta.

The sequel to the story of the orphanage must be found in the following chapter that deals with Mount Saint Joseph Home. (See ORPHAN RESEARCH – Paterson: Mount Saint Joseph Home on our MAIN PAGE.)

(Note: Researcher Betty Pruzinsky was fortunate to receive this article from Sister Elizabeth McLoughlin of the Sisters of Charity of New Jersey. Betty’s mother and her two sisters became residents of Saint Joseph’s Orphanage in 1911, following the divorce of their parents.)

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