Clothes at American Orphanages: Individual experiences Mount Loretto

Figure 1.--.

Mt. Loretto, a Catholic orphanage/chilren's home in the late early 1950s cared for children from 4-18 years of age. We were sent their by family courts or local churches. The younger boys wore knickers, one boy remembers wearing them without kneesocks. When the knickers were phased out we wore cordoroys. A boy remembers sounding like a horde of locusts in new cords when marching off to school and to the cafeteria.

Mt. Loretto

A HBC reader reports that Mt. Loretto was home for about 4 years until the end of August 1954. It was located in an area called Princess Bay. Tottenville and Pleasant Plains are nearby villages. About a 1,000 boys and girls lived there at that time. Boys outnumbered girls by 2 to 1. The campus still exists but is no longer used as an orphanage. The Diocese uses it for several different activities at the present time. When he was there it was suppose to be the largest orphanage in the United States.

The Dairy

Mt. Loretto had a dairy farm which closed in 1961. It was thought to be the third largest dairy farm in New York State, I'm not sure if this was accurate. A HBC reader reports, "We had no pasteurizing equipment so we had to clean the cows prior to the milkers taking over. After cleaning the cows, we headed off to high school. We repeated the cleaning after we got home from school for the next milking." When the dairy closed the cows were sold and moved out of state. These were the last cows in New York City. Another boy at Mt. Loretto writes, " 'd like to introduce myself, my name is Ronald E. Viel, and I am an alumnus of Mount Loretto. I was placed there when I was about 6/7 years old, and left at sixteen. From 1944 until 1954, I spent time at Mt. Loretto along with my sister, Florence, and my brother George. My brother and I worked on the dairy farm, and we did have a pasturizer which my brother ran after Gaston Gregory left. It was the second largest pure breed herd in New York! Mr. James Corrigan was the farm manager for many years, and a great father figure who was skilled at many trades. May God bless him."


Mt. Loretto had its own beach which was about a half mile long. There were two gymnasiums, a boys and girls grammar school and a trade school that went to the 10th grade.


There were several ball fields where the children played baseball and football. No soccer back then. One reader reports, "I learned to lift weights there, Olympic style, and competed in meets until I was 49 years of age. We had a fair number of good athletes including a kid named Eppie Alonzo who won the 1949 Nwe York City sub novice Golden Gloves and the Golden Gloves in 1950. He won the Ray Robinson Award that year as the tournaments outstanding fighter." At one time the campus boomed with intramural games. Everybody played something.

The Children

Most of the kids were Catholic so there were not many blacks. A reader in the 1950s rports, "Irish was the most common group, then Italians and Puerto Ricans were becoming numerous, when I left."


Th children lived in houses which at first were dormitory style though age 12. The senior side boys lived 6 to a room beginning in 1953. The girls lived dormitory style in and in rooms also.


A couple of our famous alumni were Harold Robins, he was thought to be Catholic and was sent there, and Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke of Lufthansa fame. We don't always mention them. A fellow named Pat Murphy left the Mt. in 1950 and became a cop. He worked his way through college nights and rose to Deputy Commissioner of Police for the City of NY. The mount has the only known alumni association of former residents of a children's home that I know of.


The school was founded in 1881 by the Rev. John C. Drumgoole who made it a refuge for newsboys from the streets of New York. These children slept in alleys and wherever and sold newspapers to support themselves in 1860s through 1900. Father Drumgoole was one of the first commuters between Staten Island and Manhattan. In March, 1888, on one of his trips, he got caught in the Great Blizzard. A few weeks later, at the age of 72, he died. With his death the newsboys lost their best friend. It is estimated that one hundred thousand people came to pay their respects. The Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral was crowded with hundreds of priests, bishops, and thousands of the poor. March 28 of this year was the 100th anniversary of his death. Father John is buried at Mount Loretto in a mausoleum overlooking Princes Bay.

A memorial statue was erected in 1894 and placed in front of the Mission at Lafayette Street. It stayed in Manhattan for over twenty-five years before being moved to Staten Island in 1920. The statue depicts Father Drumgoole with two boys--one well-dressed and reading a book and the other a ragged newsboy who had thrown down his pack of papers and clings to the priest for protection. The two figures represent the same boy--before and after meeting Father John.

Father Flanagan is supposed to have modeled his home, which he started in 1920-21, after the Mt.

Life Style

A reader reports, "I think the number of noted Alumni speaks for effectivness of the program at the Mount. It wasn't home, but it was the next best thing. They fed, clothed and educated us. Most of us did alright. No one that I knew of was ever abused or mistreated. There is a cemetery on the grounds and if I had my choice I'd chose to be buried there."


A rader reports, "At Christmas, we received a pair of shoes, a jacket and a hat. With this nice new smelly garb we went to our Christmas Concert which was held in the play yard. The boys who played musical instruments (we had a music instructor) would provide the concert. After which, we went to Midnight Mass."


Neal Mulligan reports, "We did not have uniforms at the Mount. Boys wore knickers, if I remember correctly without kneesocks. They were grey knickers of a heavy material, but not cordoroy. At one time all of the boys at M. Loretto wore knickers up to age 18. By the time I was the Mount, knickers were only worn by boys 12 and under. Knickers were phased out in 1952 and the boys were given long pants. I remember that they the new long pants were cordoroy and that we souned like a hord of locusts when we marched to school and to the cafeteria."

John Harrison tells us, "I read with interest the article about Mount Loretto clothing. I was there 1941-1946. I know I did not wear knickers. Some of us attended Tottenville High School, a regular New Yok City public high school. We could not have survived in knickers there.

Care Givers

The Priest in charge was Father Patrick O'Boyle who later became the first Cardinal of Washington D.C. Those of you who have Catholic Bibles from around the 50'a can look in the front and see his name as the approving authority.

The care of the chilren was given to a community of Franciscan sisters. Pat Adams found this article about Mt. Loretto Orphanage in Staten Island very interesting. She is doing family genealogy and an Aunt of hers was at the Orphanage, a nun on the boys' side about the same time that Mr. Mulligan was there. She would like to contact Mt. Loretto student who might remember her aunt, Sr. M. Anne Catherine. She remember her aunt talking about one of her "boys" that was in the Golden Gloves. Pat can be contacted at: e-Mail.


Harrison, Neal. E-mail message.

Mulligan, John. E-mail message.

Viel, Ronald E. E-mail message, August 3, 2004.


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Created: January 18. 2001
Last update: 10:29 PM 5/4/2011