St. Vincent Home for Children was founded in 1850 following a cholera epidemic and a fire, both of which occurred the previous year and which left many St. Louis children orphaned. The fire, begun aboard a steamboat at the levee, caused hundreds to be homeless and ravaged a 15-block area. Meanwhile, the cholera, transmitted by arriving immigrants, brought business to a standstill and killed more than 4,000 of the city’s 64,000 residents.
Diocesan orphanages at the time were already very crowded and many of the victims of the disease were poor and helpless. An appeal to the German Catholic community brought a strong response and construction of the new orphanage began in 1850 under the auspices of the newly-formed German St. Vincent Orphan Society. Five sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet took charge of the new home in 1851 and the first orphan, Anna Schwerdt, arrived on July 25 that year. Within two months of opening its doors, the orphanage became home to some 30 children.
In 1888, the Sisters of Christian Charity assumed the duties of the orphanage. They found 141 children placed in their care and an increasing number in the future.
In 1914, a 20-acre plot in Normandy Park was purchased for $18,000. The Cornerstone for the new Home was set on June 15, 1916 and the children moved into their new home in Normandy on August 8, 1917.
St. Vincent Home sustained itself through the Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars and other conflicts, all of which brought their share of orphans to the Home’s doors.
In June 1950, families, friends and benefactors of St. Vincent Home for Children celebrated its centennial. The Home’s Centennial celebration was marked by a performance by the children of the Home at the Opera House of Kiel Auditorium in downtown St. Louis. The following Sunday, the German St. Vincent Orphan Society held a Solemn High Mass at St. Mary of Victories Church on South Third Street, where the Society had been founded in 1850.
Over the years, St. Vincent Home has transitioned to meet the changing needs of children in the area. No longer an orphanage, St. Vincent Home is a Residential Treatment Center that provides treatment for at-risk youth.
The enduring heritage of the Home assures the continuing fulfillment of its mission to provide love, security and treatment to children in need.