Wednesday, February 17, 2010
SISTER MARY IRENE FITZGIBBON
Around the same time that Reverend Brace was beginning his work on behalf of the homeless children in New York City, another person of faith, Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon of the Sisters of Charity, felt God’s calling as well. With beginning capital of just five dollars, Sister Irene sought help from charitable women and raised enough money to rent a small house located at 17 E. 12th Street where, on October 11, 1869 she began preparations for opening what would be called the New York Foundling Hospital. The mission would be to save the thousands of infants and very young children who were being left to perish in alley ways and trash heaps around the city. Appropriately enough, October 11th is the Feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Sister Irene, along with the other Sisters of Charity, intended to take three months to get the home ready to open, but on the very first night an infant was left on the front steps and without ceremony, the Foundling Home was in operation. By January 1, 1870, when the Sisters had originally intended to open their doors, they had 123 babies in residence.
Placing a white cradle in the foyer of the Home, while leaving the front door unlocked, word was sent out that a desperate mother could enter the Home and leave her child in the cradle with no questions asked. All the Sisters asked was that when leaving, the mother ring the bell by the front door so that the Sisters would know that there was a new little one to be gathered up and brought upstairs with the other babies.
Prior to the opening of the Foundling Home, abandoned infants found alive on the streets were taken by police to Blackwell’s Island (a prison and workhouse) where they were cared for by aging prisoners. Few survived infancy.
In the following six years, the NY Foundling home relocated twice to larger buildings to accommodate more children. By 1876 it became apparent that another solution was needed to solve the problem of homeless infants….Mercy Trains, or Baby Trains as they were sometime called, would be the answer….