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Featured on Karen's Genealogy

Collins Genealogy, By Ethel (Buxton) McLean 





Richmond Times-Dispatch              St. Joseph Villa Pictures Pages                November 4, 1934


Home    >    Newspaper Articles    >    St. Joseph's Villa:   Orphanage Here is Model for U. S.





Real Happiness of Little Waifs, Not Bare Necessities,
and Family Environment, Not Bleakness of Usual Institution
Makes Lot of 170 "Unfortunate" Lasses a Lucky One



St Joseph's Villa

So come to me, my little one--
My years with thee I share,
And mingle with a Sister's love
A mother's tender care.





One hundred years have passed since this thought of the immortal bard was first enacted in Richmond by that devoted trio of Sisters of Charity sent here at the request of Father Timothy O'Brien when St. Joseph's Academy and Orphan Asylum materialized out of the dream texture of the kindly old priest's heart.

Today, a century later, St. Joseph's Villa stands a monument to that pioneer group's heroic vision; a model to which Uncle Sam is proud to point and send visitors from far and wide.


An aerial view of the Villa


And this month as November 25 approaches, the thoughts of all connected with the work of St. Joseph's turn back to the 97 years spent under the roof of the Fourth Street house, and to the Master's work that flourished there; then are irresistibly drawn to that munificent gift that made the villa and its greater scope possible--the three million dollar endowment left by the late Major James. H. Dooley.

No story of the St. Joseph's of today and of the 170 little orphaned lasses there would be complete without a backward glance at that other St. Joseph's so recently left behind.

The three Sisters sent from Mother Seton's Sisters of Charity at Emmitsburg were Sisters Margaret Cecelia George, Ann Catherine and Mary Editha. With their arrival in the Southern capital begins the story of this institution.

A small wooden chapel stood on the property at Fourth and Marshall Streets. It was only 30 by 40 feet in size and had been dedicated in 1825 and was the first Roman Catholic Church in Richmond. After Father O'Brien's request for some Sisters to help with his work here had been granted in 1834, and prior to the arrival of the nuns, this chapel had been divided into four small rooms where the Sisters eventually took up their residence. It was only a year later that Father O'Brien found it necessary to build a brick house on the church property, so successful had been the first 12 months of the St Joseph's services in the city.


* * *


The academy was incorporated on March 27, 1848, and numbered among the pupils on its roster the daughters of some of Richmond's first families. Two years later, when Bishop John McGill came to this city, there were 14 orphans at St. Joseph's and 90 pupils at the Academy. There were six Sisters in charge with Sister Rosalia as superior. During this year it was found necessary to erect a new building.

Seven years later the number or orphans taken care of had increased to 65, and enrollment in the Academy had grown to 125 with 190 attending the free school.

Sixty-five little orphans to be cared for called for ever-increasing inconveniences from the Sisters who cheerfully went on depriving themselves of sleeping quarters and other much-needed rooms until in 1857 conditions were remedied for the time being by the construction of the Asylum proper.

Sixty years ago, on November 25, 1874, the fortieth anniversary of the founding of St Joseph's, the last addition, the Fourth Street Building, was formally opened and the new chapel dedicated by Bishop James Gibbons, later cardinal archbishop of Baltimore.

The property on which the present St. Joseph's Villa stands was acquired in 1898 by Sister Madeleine McDermott, then Superior of St. Joseph's. A summer home for the orphans was erected there and later Sister Dora Riley, Sister Madeleine's successor, added a wooded tract to the south which gave the property practically its present extent.

This brief resume brings us up to the time of those events which definitely lead us to the beautiful villa site, two miles beyond the corporate limits of Richmond on Jefferson Davis Highway to Washington.

Major James H. Dooley had for many years been a trustee of St. Joseph's Asylum and had shown deep and continued interest in the work among the children. Despite this wide knowledge of his interests, the terms of his will, made public after his death on November 16, 1922, created the greatest surprise. Three million dollars was left to the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's Academy and Orphans Asylum, the bequest to become effective after the death of Mrs. Dooley, which occurred in December, 1935.

Land opposite the renowned "Maymont," the Dooley residence, was designated in the will as the site for the proposed institutions the Dooley endowment was to create, but permission was granted by the court for site of "Hollybrook," where the asylum's summer home was then situated.

And so St. Joseph's Villa grew up where formerly one old frame farm home stood, and today there is a monument at the villa, erected at the suggestion of the court as propitiating the change of site, to the memory of Major Dooley. It is on almost the exact site of the old frame structure which the villa replaced. A simple shaft of granite crowned by a tabernacle in which stands a small statue of St. Joseph, patron of the institution, bears also, according to provisions in the will, this inscription:

These buildings were dedicated to charity by James H. Dooley in memory of his father, Major John Dooley; of his mother, Sarah Dooley; of his wife, S. M. Dooley, and of himself.

Coats of arms of the Dooley family and of the Richmond Diocese are carved around the base of the monument as are representations of St. Vincent de Paul, a Sister of Charity, the obverse and reverse of the Miraculous Medal and symbols typifying the seven corporal works of mercy and scriptural devices.


* * *


In the administration building, just to the right of the entrance, is the office of Sister Madeleine O'Reilly, present superior, who succeeded Sister Rose Smith in September, 1930, where a warm welcome awaits every visitor. Here in this modern office setting--broad executive desk, newest-fangled telephone switchboard, comfortable easy chairs--Sister Madeleine conducts the myriad duties entailed in running an institution of 170 children, first-class school, infirmary, power plant, homes and the one hundred and one other details of the villa. Capable, indeed, she looks, and yet I thought her surroundings betrayed her a bit. Capable, indeed, she has proven, as tales of the other Sisters bear witness, still I hold that these executive responsibilities do make mandatory many times attention which she would delight to bestow upon the little individuals intrusted to her care. I infer all this, yet find it impressed upon me by the light manner in which she refers to her undeniable responsibilities and the kindly gleam which shines whenever talk turns to the children themselves.

"Institution! Horrid word," she declares with an expressive shudder. "Home! I like that much better, and this is what we try to make St. Joseph's Villa--a real home, and I think we have succeeded pretty well."

It was ten years ago while attending a convention of the Catholic Charities in Washington that Sister Madeleine first heard of the cottage plan for orphanages. A paper was read before the gathering and at adjournment the Sister asked where any institution following the lines explained in the speaker's talk was in operation.

"He did not know. It was just Utopia then," she relates in telling of the origin of the plan. "But it made a deep impression upon me and the advantages seemed so obvious I felt sure that in time it would come, but I had no idea then that a single decade would see such universal acceptance of the principle."

At first it was planned to house the children and the entire equipment of St. Joseph's orphanage in one large building, but wisely Bishop Brennan and Sister Rose Smith, then superior, and the trustees decided to build upon the "cottage" plan, the Sister-servant explained. The contract was awarded in September 1930, work was begun immediately and the buildings were formally dedicated and opened on November 9, 1931.

The entire property embraces 246 acres, but only a small part of the whole is occupied by the villa buildings. Woodland forms the southern boundary, and other space is devoted to spacious playgrounds for the little folk, tennis courts for the older one and a large and profitable farm is conducted on the section which lies across the "Richmond-Ashland Railway tracks. This farm is connected with the villa proper by a cement foot bridge over the tracks, eliminating a grade-crossing danger.

The 14 buildings are all of buff-colored tapestry brick, trimmed with terra cotta and limestone and roofed with green Spanish tile. They sit in the midst of an historical section, quite near Solomon's Store where the old "Mountain Road" to Charlottesville and the west branches off from the main highway. Not far away is the site of Yellow Tavern, where Jeb Stuart met the Union forces under Sheridan and where the noted Confederate officer fell mortally wounded on May 11, 1864. Three entrances lead into the grounds from the Richmond-Washington Highway along with thousands daily pass.


* * *


Sister Madeleine's next words intrude upon our mental survey of the site and bring us back to an attentive poise.

"Many have told me that "cottage" is a misnomer for our homes here, she is saying, "but I like that word and think it conveys a cozier idea than any other we could use."

(Secretly, we agreed with her critics in that regard after we visited the "cottages," finding them more like palatial mansions than the commonly accepted type for cottages.)

"--but then," she continues, "our villa is just like no other orphan home and visitors continually comment much in the vein of some recent guests here who were witnessing the children coming out of school. The youngsters were scampering off in all directions.

" 'Why, where are they going?' I was asked.

" 'They're going home,' I replied, 'going home just as we used to do after school was out, and they are hurrying that way just because they love their homes and love to get into them just the same as you or I used to when we were schoolgirls.'

"The visitors just couldn't seem to grasp the idea that because this was an orphanage the children shouldn't have long, solemn faces, move with the restraint that institutions stamp upon all humans, and dread the hour when they were shut up in their room cells."

Sister Madeleine's voice was tense with pity for children in institutions such an attitude by the visitor implied was expected of charity shelters.

"You will see as you inspect our villa, how we strive in every way to keep from placing any stamp of institutional rearing upon our children, and strive equally hard to emphasize individualism," she asserted as she summoned Sister Esther of her clerical staff to act as guide on the tour of inspection.


* * *


First, en route, is the church. The main entrance drive leads to a plaza in the center of which is a statue of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus. Beyond this rises the church. It is of Romanesque design with a graceful campanile which rises to a height of 81 feet and is surmounted by a dome and bronze cross. The church has a normal seating capacity of around three hundred. We enter by a side door just to the left of the altar and are immediately awed by the beauty and richness of design. A touch of the Old World seems to cling to the open roof and low arched aisles. The ceiling is treated with acoustical board and decorated with stenciled designs with appropriate scriptural passages on the wooden beams.

Sister Esther called attention to the large Munich stained glass windows in the clerestory which carry scenes representing the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Holy Family, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, the Miracle at Cana, Christ and the Little Children, Christ the Good Shepherd, the Last Supper the Agony in the Garden and the Resurrection.

The smaller windows in the aisles represent St. Andrew, the Raising of the Daughter of Jairus, the Guardian Angel, St. Agnes, St. Cecilia, St. Anne and St. Joachim with the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Vincent and the Daughters of Charity, and the three apparitions of out Blessed Mother to Sister Catherine Laboure.


A radio panel in one room offers a public address system communicating with all rooms in the building.

Passing out the other side of the church, Sister Esther led the way to the school which houses all the elementary grades and junior high classes to the first grade of high school. Modern equipment in every department provides every facility for study or demonstration work. A radio panel in one room offers a public address system communicating with all rooms in the building. Here the bishop, the Sister superior or the pupils themselves may broadcast an address to the whole school or to any single room desired.

And now we get a first glimpse of the little citizens of this Utopia town. A rhythm orchestra has just recently been formed among the smaller pupils, and in they file to give a performance. Thirty-five of them, some with pairs of sticks, others with miniature triangles and some with bells like sleigh bells, tambourines and whatnot. Their leader with her baton gets the Sister's piano signal and away they go in a catchy rhythmic song.

But surely these are not orphans. Why here is a little dark-haired miss with a bright red bow and a cute little dress that matches; there a blonde lass with a pretty blue gown, and nowhere are there any two dressed alike. So it goes throughout the villa. Sister Esther explains that dresses and clothes for all are bought at Richmond stores as they are needed, and none are doled out and none are dolled up in anything suggesting a uniform.

My ideas of orphan asylums are rapidly undergoing radical reverses, but I must bear up for it is intimated that there are more jolts to come. And they are not along delayed.

Children of St Joseph's Villa

In "Homes for Destitute Children," "Church Homes" and other charity shelters I have visited, assembling places always reminded me of a jail rotunda--gloomy, barren and places to hurry away from. Here the doors swung open and one was inside the prettiest little theatre imaginable. Bright-hued scenery graced the stage (just repainted for the villa by a Richmond artist, the guide informed) and dressing rooms and all necessary stage equipment. In the balcony is a moving picture booth equipped for "talkie," too. With its capacity for 500 in orchestra and balcony it is a veritable community center for the Sisters, children and friends of St. Joseph's.

From here Sister Esther decides the gymnasium is the next place of interest and there we find Sister Benedicta busy with her whistle refereeing a basketball game. The gymnasium proper is a large room, 50 by 90 feet, free of hindering pillars, and fitted with everything in the line of modern athletic equipment.


In the rear is the swimming pool, 60 by 20 feet, and running in depth from 2 1-2 to 7 feet. The water was crystal clear and so inviting one felt it would be a pleasure to be pushed overboard. Just beyond the pool are the shower baths, two series of baths with so many showers in each series we couldn't stop to count them. Back of these is a spacious locker-room complete with washstands. Potted plants, ferns and inviting wicker seats at the further end of the big pool detract nothing from the pleasantness of this room, one may be sure.

In a side room, on our way out, we see a playroom fitted up for the wee tots. The walls are decorated with the kind of pictures children delight in looking at , and tiny benches and tables do their bits in making life a happy one for these fortunate youngsters.

Now Sister Esther, apparently believing that having survived the shocks of an "orphanage" so far, we can stand some more, leads the way to the cottages. The "Rose" cottage, which is in her charge, she selects because, as she explains, she "feels more at home there."

It is a pretentious brick residence, and our approach is hailed by the shrill yelps of "Jiggs," the cottage mascot. He is a black and white terrier and takes upon himself the duties of escort through the house. "Jiggs" is one of the children's pets, and Sister Esther smilingly admits that "yes, of course, the children may have pets. They do at home, don't they?"

They do, one agrees, but who ever heard of officials of an orphan asylum "bothering" with animals around. Usually the orphans are enough to take care of.

Ah! But don't forget. This is a different kind of orphan asylum. This is a HOME.


* * *


Bright, cheery, sunny, dainty, charming, furnished in fine taste, and so on to exhaust the dictionary of adjectives--that is the first, and the lasting impression of the "cottage." Being the "Rose Cottage, the furnishings bear out that color scheme as far as practicable. And yet we learn the cottage was not named for the color but for Sister Rose Smith.

Of the front hall is a small reception room and on the other side is the library. A table and lamp which seem to say, "Come up closer and enjoy yourself," a bookcase and easy chairs easily explain the popularity of this room. Next we pass through to the living-room--a room, I dare say, comparable in furnishings, comfort, taste and coziness to any in this city.

No air of hands off, "please do not sit on furniture" or "reserved for state occasions" pervades these rooms. They are meant to live in, and they are lived in. Then comes the sun porch, a restful, cozy place. In one wicker chair there lies a doll baby, dropped by some little mother when the summons for school arrived, just as yours drops hers. The little matron who takes care of the home while the children are at school, and help the Sister with her duties, smiling sits Dolly in a more comfortable position to await the claims of her little owner. No word about children not picking up after them, or any of the familiar quotes of harassed officialdom predict doom for the culprit. Not here.

The dining-room is large and pleasant, too. A half dozen tables, dainty in white tablecloths and shining silverware, are placed advantageously about. Wide door lead to the spotless kitchen where the latest in electric and steam equipment renders comparatively simple the task of feeding 24 hungry children. A huge pantry is well stocked, the larder being replenished each Friday from the each Friday from the general storerooms in the basement of the administration building.

Gateway to St. Joseph's Villa

"The Sister in charge of each cottage makes out her weekly requisition on Thursday and it is sent to Sister Madeleine. After she approves it is sent to the basement where a Sister and her helpers fill the order and then it is delivered by truck to the cottage next day," explained Sister Esther.

"Our stock of canned goods has had considerable rest all summer," she continues, "as most our vegetable wants have been abundantly supplied by our farm across the tracks. "

More news--fresh vegetables in a charity institution.

And now, as we go up the wide and picturesque staircase to the upper floor, the Sister details that each cottage is laid out to accommodate 24 girls besides the matron and the Sister. There are two large bedrooms with six beds in each for the younger girls, and four smaller rooms of three beds each for the older girls.


"This arrangement gives the older girls a bit more privacy, and they can hold those little conferences dear to every girlish heart, the guide relates.

First, we visit one of the larger rooms and prepare to see a bleak dormitory, each item conforming to military precision, although our expectancies have weakened considerable since we started.

Agreeably surprised, we find six beds, each with the same colored spread to be sure, but some with doll babies for ornaments and others with fancy pillows as relief. Each little occupant, too, has her own cedar-lined closet, if you please, and last but by no means least is a peep into the lavatories. There is a room private to these six girls, are six wash bowls, each with separate towel racks, mirror and other accessories. Every girl has her own. The baths are divided up so that there is a tub to every three girls.

And the same applies to the quarters for the older girls farther along the hall. Only in these there is a dainty dressing table, some with a framed picture but all with a cute toilet set, carefully placed.


* * *


So this is living in an orphanage? But here the thought strikes one, What are older girls doing in the same house with younger ones?

Again comes Sister Madeleine's admonition against institutionalism. These are planned on family lines, and except possibly in the far-famed Dionne home, who ever heard of children being all the same age? Here there are older girls and even babies just as in a natural family group.

Everywhere everything is spotless, and this brings up the question of what duties are imposed upon the children.

"Most have some little task," explains the Sister. "The older girls make the beds and sweep out the rooms each morning, the middle aged ones help dry dishes and other homely tasks, and sometimes try their hand at dusting. The wee ones, of course, have no cares except to have a good time. And everything goes smoothly.

It would seem we had "done" this villa rather thoroughly by now, but Sister Madeleine has telephoned and expressed a wish for us to see the infirmary cottage, so there we go next.

If possible the home we had just left might be considered a tone or two dull by way of comparison with our next stop. This cottage, presided over by Sister Honoria, a registered nurse, is a replica of the others in construction but has been altered a bit for its particular purpose. Airy, sunlight everywhere, gay colorings in drapes and furniture, it is the acme of cheerfulness. If environment is any antidote for ills, sickness lingers but a short time within its walls.

Indeed, Sister Honoria admits that her most difficult task is keeping the little patients out, for she is a popular one with all, and they love to pay her a visit to have a scratch so tiny the nurse has to hunt and hunt to find the wound, "fixed up".

A completely equipped infirmary room, table and all, is upstairs, with other rooms fitted with the last word in hospital beds and necessities.

Latest of the equipment is a dental outfit that would gladden the heart of any member of the profession. This has been installed in the sun parlor, complete with lighting set.

Latest of the equipment is a dental outfit that would gladden the heart of any member of the profession"I believe that if I can furnish the children with the prophylactic work they need now, I am taking a big step toward insuring their health in the years that follow," said Sister Madeleine after Sister Honoria had promised us a hearty welcome any time we might need her professional services. "It has been a hardship for the children needing dental attention to always make the trip in to the city, and now we can have a dentist come here and all the children needing treatment will be available."

And so this is an orphanage--these happy smiling, playful little ones are the wards of a charity institution--but an orphanage where Christ is recognized and were His entreaty to "suffer little children to come unto Me" holds first place in the hearts of these foster mothers. May the principles of St. Joseph Villa spread far and wide and the story of these fortunate waifs inspire like homes in every land.



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