The History of St. Aloysius

History-Cincinnati-1837While official papers indicate that St. Aloysius Orphanage was established in 1837, development of this unique institution and charitable works began in 1832. The history of St. Aloysius is entwined with the growth of Cincinnati itself.

In the early 19th century, the thirty five squares, which encompassed all of Cincinnati, rose above the hill between Third and Fourth streets. The area was home to primarily English descendants, who had entered the Miami Purchase area along the banks of the Ohio River after the Revolutionary War.

The 1830′s, the fifth decade of Cincinnati’s history, were years of phenomenal growth for the city. Because of its geographical importance to developing Northwest Territory, Cincinnati would soon deserve the title as “Queen City of the West”. Due to glowing accounts of beauty and opportunity, German speaking immigrants converged on the area after reading books and papers that found their way back to Germany.

The Need Arises

Between 1830 and 1840, the population of Cincinnati expanded from 24,831 to more than 46,000 people. Many of them were German immigrants. In 1832, a national depression, fire and flooding devastated the city. Famine and Cholera overcame the population.

In October of 1832, 423 people died. By the summer of 1833, Cincinnati averaged 40 deaths per day. Asiatic Cholera, killed 4% of the population, leaving a large number of orphans. By 1835, there was concern among the German-speaking Catholics in the area for the growing number of orphaned German boys. There was only on Catholic orphanage in the area, St. Peter’s Orphan Asylum, but it only cared for girls.

Father John Martin Henni, pastor of the newly organized, German-speaking Holy Trinity Church, saw the need to organize help. Fr. Henni was a popular community leader who founded many institutions for the German speaking citizenry of Cincinnati. Among them, was the first German speaking parish school at Holy Trinity which quickly gained popularity because it enabled the German immigrants to retain their language and customs. Since the Ohio lands were considered mission territory, Fr. Henni traveled to Germany where he sought help for the spiritual needs of his German community. The varied works of charity he discovered in Germany encouraged him to build similar institutions in this new city on the banks of the Ohio River.

An Orphan Society Begins

History-1844-BuildingUpon his return from Germany, Fr. Henni set about the task of establishing an orphan society which would concern itself with the plight of the many homeless German boys of Cincinnati. He discussed his plans with several members of his parish and after a few private planning sessions, a public meeting was called on January 27, 1837 in the assembly room of the Holy Trinity School.

The ideas and plans set forth met with instant approval, and the men present organized into a society to help the needy and distressed boys of German decent in Cincinnati. First officers of the Society were: President, J.B. Germann; Vice President, G.J. Schulte; Secretary, John H. Berte; and Treasurer, Clement Dietrich. They, along with Father Henni, laid the foundation for an orphan society which has lasted more than 175 years.

To help the Society raise the necessary funds for their charitable works, the Wahrheitsfreund (“The friend of truth”) became the first German Catholic publication in the United States. With Father Henni as editor, the paper was designed to provide immigrants with practical advice on life in the new world of Ohio, but its main emphasis was to keep the faith alive and be a guiding spirit for the orphan Society. The first issue was published July 20, 1837 and continued to be published by the Society until 1843.

Growing Pains

In the beginning, St Aloysius found places for its wards in private homes, paying for the maintenance of each child. The disadvantages, however, were too great so they decided to purchase a nine-room house at Sixth and John Streets. The new home opened for six boys, ranging from ages three to ten, on the feast of St. Aloysius in June of 1839. From then on, they would be identified as the St. Aloysius Orphan Society.

The Mission Grows

By 1842, the number of children at St. Aloysius had grown to 29 children. Three traveling Sisters of Charity from Germany were assigned to St Aloysius; Sisters Seraphine McNulty, Germana Moore and Genevive Dodthage. In the following year, they were joined by Sister Wilhemina. On March 3rd, 1843, the Orphan Society was officially named “St. Aloysius Orphan Society”.

The next year, 1844, Father Henni was selected to become the first Bishop of Milwaukee. It was a sad time for the Orphan Society, for Father Henni’s leadership was paramount to many worthwhile achievements in Cincinnati. His successor as orphan Society mentor was Father Joseph Fernedign, the Vicarâ General of Cincinnati.

Larger Quarters

The original home soon became too small, and in April, 1844, the Society purchased property on Fourth St., between Western Row (now Central Ave.) and John St. A second lot was purchased on Third Street that was intended to become an orphanage for girls.

In 1836, policy prohibited the sisters from keeping boys over the age of nine in the asylums without special permission from the mother house. At the time, the practice of caring for boys was not permitted in many women’s congregations. By 1843, the age was raised to twelve. In 1845, however, Reverend Louis Deloul, superior of the sisters, sent a letter to bishops in whose diocese Sisters of Charity were serving, informing them that the sisters were giving up charge of all boys’ asylums and boys’ schools.

After the Sisters of Charity left in 1846, Mrs. Henry Schulhof, a lay woman, was appointed superintendent. By this time the number of boys being cared for had grown to fifty three.

Breaking New Ground

By 1848, there were 58 boys in the care of the Society as more epidemics spread through the city. A search began in earnest for a healthier climate in the country for a Waishenaus (children’s home). On September 15, 1849, the Society purchased 62 and 1/2 acres of farm and forest land on Dayton Road (now Reading Road) for $9,588. This land is still the site of what we call St. Aloysius Orphanage in Bond Hill. 

New Home for Girls

After years of helping the German Catholic boys of the community, it was on July 1, 1850, that the Orphan Society also established a home for German Catholic girls. The girl’s orphanage was located on Abigail St., (now E. 12th) between Spring and Pendleton streets. This new orphanage was cared for by Miss Mary Wiggerman, who was in charge of both institutions until 1866 when Miss Elizabeth Paper took over the duties.

Once the girl’s orphanage had been set up, the Society set out to complete the building on Reading Road. By October of 1856, a three story building 70′x 60′ was finished on that Reading Road site for $9,000. An addition built on the front of the original structure became the main building of the new home in Bond Hill. The project was completed in 1861 at a cost of $17,437. The new building measured 90′ wide x 60′ deep and 56′ high, and was dedicated on October 21st of that year. It still stands today, and continues to give daily aid to the children and families of the community.


New Acreage for Farming

In 1864 and 1865, additional lands were bought, bringing the total to 71.24 acres. Portions of which were used as farmland to grow fruits and vegetables, and grazing area for livestock, making the orphanage self-sufficient. By 1869, a wing on either side of the main building was added for classrooms, and in 1875, a second building was erected as a heating and gas plant, which included a large laundry facility.

The German-Speaking Sisters

It was 1877 when the Orphan Society again looked for orphans which now crowded the Bond Hill Waisenhaus. They petitioned Archbishop John Baptist Purcell for assistance, and he was able to arrange for a group of Sisters, newly arrived from Germany to the Ohio area, to begin care of the descendants of German-speaking Catholics. The entry of the Sisters of Notre Dame into the history of St. Aloysius Orphan Society has been providential. Their hard work and charitable natures have served the Orphan Society and the children placed in their care, in outstanding ways.

With World War I in 1917, the melding of the German population in Cincinnati was finalized into a total Americanization. German was no longer taught in the schools, books no longer were printed one page in German, with the facing page in English, and the need to care for only German speaking children at St. Aloysius began to change. Total Americanization brought an end to the feverish growth of the German orphanage. Children in need could be cared for in a variety of Catholic institutions, and a limit on the number of children which St. Aloysius could care for was adopted.

A New Chapel

In 1923, the chapel, which was previously located in a section of the second and third floors of the main building, was given a structure of its own. This has been noted as one of the largest changes to the campus since St. Aloysius was established. The Chapel’s new location set it slightly apart from the main building and extended the north wing. A large auditorium was provided for the chapel undercroft, and the space occupied by the old chapel was converted into dormitories for the children. With that building, the long and arduous task of acquiring the necessary housing and recreation facilities for the more than 200 children at the orphanage was now completed.

A Flood of Children

As the catastrophe of World War I and World War II unfolded, the numbers of children provided for by the St. Aloysius Orphan Society grew. The flood of 1937 in Cincinnati forced the population of St. Joseph Orphanage to evacuate to St. Aloysius Orphanage until it was safe for them to return to their own home. Again in the sixties, the Orphanage offered safe harbor to nine Cuban refugees from Communist takeover of their country. It is the task of our mission to be ready to accept and help children at any time they are in need.

Although the St. Aloysius Orphan Society members had provided financial support since the inception of the Society, the elected Board of Directors had the responsibility to set policy and direction. Until the 1930′s, members of the Orphan Society actually arranged for admissions and placements of the hundreds of children in their care. Many children remained at the home far into their adolescent years until a suitable home could be found for them, or an apprenticeship arranged.

Years of Transition

In 1925, Catholic Charities came into being as part of the Archdiocesan Social Work effort. Specialized training in social work was requested for administrators of child care institutions, and the St. Aloysius Board of Directors responded by sending,then Administrator, Sister Mary Edwardine SND, to Catholic University of America for a Degree in Social Work. Upon her return, many adjustments to the program took place.

In directing her staff of Child Care Sisters she compiled a 48 page handbook to offer guidelines in caring for children. The handbook’s purpose was to promote uniformity of method, while leaving ample scope for each individual’s initiative in child care. In the Handbook, Sister urged that “the prevailing atmosphere should be one of harmony, peace and joy, not scolding, nagging, or gloom. We must be Christ conscious and Child conscious.”

A Focus on Treatment

It was in the 1950′s that a new element in child care was first recognized. There were fewer children who had lost their parents in death, than there were bereaved by broken homes. The National Council of Religious Catholic Charities was organized with representatives from all family care groups to address concerns centering on these problems. The Board of Directors supported the work and provided the funds for training and membership in these national committees for the Sister Administrators of the Orphanage.

The Orphan Society sent representatives from the staff of Notre Dame Sisters to attend the University of Chicago seminar on “The Institution as a Treatment Center”, and new ideas began to shape the programs at St. Aloysius. Students were enrolled in neighborhood schools to ease their transition back into the mainstream, and families were included in treatment and rehabilitation.

Renovations began in the building as well, with bathrooms for each group replacing the general shower room and, for younger children, tubs on raised platforms to ease the Sisters’ task of bathing the children.

A New Era Begins

By 1972, the number of orphaned children decreased, due in part to the work of social service agencies in placing homeless children, and governmental assistance programs. Boys and girls were now coming to St. Aloysius because of a breakdown in traditional family life, not because they were orphans. Consensus between Catholic Social Services and the St. Aloysius Orphan Society was that our programs had to adapt and respond to the needs of the children in this new era.

From Dormitories to Apartments

In the 1970’s, St. Aloysius underwent a process of evaluation that examined the building, mode of operation, staff programs and the school itself. After much investigation and planning, we reorganized to allow us to meet the current needs of children. In keeping with the directions in child care during the 1970′s, the physical plan was altered from dormitory styled housing of twenty to thirty beds per room to four individual apartments. Although children still required food, shelter, and clothing, the need for rehabilitation and protection became paramount.

Peer Families

During the 1980′s, the focus of child caring institutions shifted to assisting children who were abused, neglected, and/or dependent. Poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness were common problems among these children and families. It was decided that apartment-style living would make the work of the Sisters and staff more effective. Small family type units of 10 children would be more natural and meet the children’s needs more easily than in large, age-segregated groups. Living in large “families” meant that older children could act as big brothers and sisters, and help raise the younger children. While the older children assume more responsibility and independence, companionship would be found among children of different ages. At the same time, peer group and gang pressures diminished.

Coordinated Therapies

Therapy became an important part of St. Aloysius Orphanage with treatment offered on an individual basis, at times in groups, and involving families whenever possible. A staff of social workers was hired to provide guidance and support for the child and family during the child’s days at St. Aloysius. Times were provided for individual and group therapy sessions under the social worker’s direction, and the psychologist or psychiatrist as resource was added to the staff. All staff members, including administrator, child care staff, school and social workers and recreation director, became involved in treatment planning for each child.

Help Us Transform a Community

In today’s world, children are dealing with an abundance of pressures and social conditions such as: poverty, racism, substance abuse, mental illness, mental retardation, child abuse/neglect, delinquency, poor academic performance, divorce, and neighborhood isolation. The intertwined and interrelated nature of these pressures and conditions have called for renewed commitments from many professionals, community leaders, and spiritual advisors. As families and children become involved in multiple systems and sometimes “fall through the cracks”, the need for more coordinated treatment interventions and greater community involvement has become paramount.

In addition, severe budget constraints on local, state, and federal support programs have brought most child-care institutions into the “managed care” and “privatization” arena. St. Aloysius has been proactive in this competitive and changing treatment environment by hiring additional leadership, incorporating Medicaid and licensed Mental Health Services into treatment programming, increasing information support systems, and negotiating with Administrative Service organizations to continue serving today’s children and families.

We Can’t Do It Alone

For anyone meeting a challenge in their life, like trauma, the loss of a family member, a learn disability, an addiction, or neglect, they must first overcome despair. St. Aloysius is a family that will do whatever it takes, for however long it takes to help the children, adults and families in its care overcome that despair and rebuild their lives.

We have the patience and desire to put in the long hours and do the hard work. As part of our highly qualified and dedicated staff, skilled professionals required to treat the most mentally disabled and physically neglected people in our community and help them get their lives back on track. You can be a part of the real, lasting change we bring to the lives of the children and adults here, in our neighborhoods. Call us today to find out how you can join our family and make a positive influence in someone’s life.