St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum for Girls — Annie A. (née Skehan) Gerow, mother of Bishop Gerow, Sister Leonie, Sister Mary Alice McKay in the yard with children of St. Mary Orphan Asylum October 1926.
By ANNETTE BURNS
Bishop John Joseph Chanche, S.S. arrived at Natchez on May 18, 1841. As spiritual father he knew provisions must be made to care for orphans. He arranged with Daughters of Charity of St Joseph to found an orphanage for girls in Natchez.
Sister Martha, Sister Philomena and Sister Scholastica arrived in Natchez by boat from Emmitsburg, Maryland, at 11:00 o'clock on the evening of January 28, 1847. They immediately received two girls on January 30, 1847 and the next day received a three-year-old girl.
Needing funds to help find a permanent place large enough for the orphanage and a day school they advertised a ladies fair. It was held for three days in December at the Natchez Court House assisted by ladies of all religious persuasion in Adams county.
With proceeds from the fair, subscriptions from citizens and the generosity of Colonel Rice C Ballard, the Sisters were able to purchase property on April 18, 1848. The house on the corner of Jefferson and Rankin, formerly occupied by Mr. Ferriday , consisted of 11 rooms, 3 dressing rooms, pantries, closets, 4 cisterns, brick house, wash house, cellars, stable, carriage house and school house.
Sixty children had been admitted to St Mary's Orphanage by January 30, 1854.. Bishop Van de Velde, who succeeded Bishop Chanche, felt it was desirable to incorporate the Asylum and on March 11, 1854 "An Act to Incorporate St. Mary's Orphan Asylum, a Charitable and Educational Institute in the City of Natchez" passed the state legislature and was signed by the Secretary of State.
The meeting of board of trustees May 1, 1857 mentions grateful acknowledgement of a legacy of $5,000.00 from Francis Surget, Esq. A committee was appointed, estimates and proposals received and a new addition completed.
The numbers increased because of the war. These years find St. Mary's Orphanage struggling with expenses of caring for orphans and the sisters called to care for sick and wounded in other places of need, including Monroe and New Orleans La.
Natchez was briefly shelled September 2,1862, and the Sisters with 105 orphans hurried out of town to Laurel Hill Plantation, which the owner Mr. Mercer, offered to the Bishop for the Sisters and children. They would remain there for 17 months before returning to their home in Natchez.
Federal soldiers from many regiments made donations from collections taken at different times for the orphans. The ladies fair continued through the years and was the major source of income for St. Mary's Orphanage.
Providing a home like atmosphere began as a national movement and was thought to be a better option for children who were orphans.
The orphanage was open for 119 years from 1847 until 1966 when the building was razed. The Daughters of Charity were tireless as workers during their years caring for the orphans in Natchez.
From Cradle Days of St. Mary's at Natchez (1941) by Most Rev. Richard O. Gerow