By Tim Harfmann
Construction workers are erecting a new, eight-story building. When they’re done, a historic wall would be covered forever. It’s the facade that remains of the Catholic chapel that was part of the Saint Joseph Orphan Asylum, which opened its doors to children in 1898.
Over the years, many changes occurred at the site but the facade stayed. Now the Spence School, a private institution for girls, is building a multi-million-dollar athletic facility. “Having a school will make this a livelier block. I see the value of that,” said Father Boniface Ramsey. He is the pastor of Saint Joseph Catholic Church, which is located blocks from the site. Father Ramsey fears the athletic building would block the orphanage wall entirely saying “as long as the Spence School building is there, the facade is going to be obscured.”
According to a Spence School official, a plaque will be installed to honor the orphanage, plus there’s going to be a display inside the athletic building’s entrance. Father Ramsey had other ideas; “I asked whether the Spence School could put up a window so you could look at the facade from inside the school. Did they have to build a school so close to the facade?”
Though the new center won’t damage the wall, Father Ramsey stressed the history of the orphanage which was part of his parish. Saint Joseph Church still keeps baptismal records of the orphans from the 1800s. “Parents are listed where they know the names of the parents, and where they came from is also listed. Many, many from Germany,” said Father Ramsey.
Residents who live around the site now had mixed reactions. Matthew Haines approved the plans the school has in place. “This facility was part of that history and to remember that history, in some way, is a very nice thing,” said Haines. But George Prado, another neighbor, said more needs to be done. “That’s not enough. This is a really important structure. The work they did was incredible,” said Prado.
Father Ramsey said he wished passersby could see the facade forever, but he’s just glad the school will acknowledge the history of the orphanage. No word yet on when the new athletic center will be completed.