Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Orphanages and Orphans

St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum

A photo from 1914 of the St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum in Philadelphia.

St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum, originally at Seventh and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, was established in 1797 after a yellow fever epidemic swept the city in 1793. The institution operated until 1984. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1797 after the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia, the St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum operated until 1984. In the last decade of the nineteenth-century, the institution housed two hundred children but continued to grow. A new building was constructed in Germantown and named after Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace, a Sister of St. Joseph who oversaw the asylum’s growth. The children at the asylum’s original location were eventually transferred to the Germantown building in 1944 as maintenance expenses grew for the aging building.

St. Joseph’s closed in 1984 as more orphaned children were placed in foster care rather than being institutionalized. Gonzaga lived in the original asylum building and worked as its head for several years until her death in 1897. Gonzaga Memorial, St. Joseph’s Germantown location, is no longer standing.

2 Comments Comments

  1. My mother Miriam Barnett & her three sisters Alice, Anna & Frances were raised in the Gonzaga Orphanage from 1918 until each of their high school graduations. They were placed there when their mother died of the flu in 1918. They were grateful for the education and care they received. They often went back to visit the sisters and help them. I would love to obtain any records their might be of my mother’s childhood. How can I ho about doing that?
    Emilie Murphy

    Emilie Murphy Posted April 16, 2021 at 12:51 am
  2. To Emilie & anyone else lurking: I had some luck contacting the Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – https://www.chrc-phila.org/ – from my understanding, records have shuffled around depending on which one you’re seeking and time frame. Any place that I have contacted that did not hold the records were able to give me leads elsewhere.

    C C Posted April 25, 2021 at 10:02 am

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