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Orphanage Records

Catholic Orphanages in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Archives has compiled brief histories of Catholic orphanages within the current boundaries of our archdiocese.  The Archdiocesan Archives does not maintain the records for the majority of these institutions; contact information for the last known location of records is included with the historical brief of each institution.  Historical information may also be found in the archives of the specific religious order in charge of each institution.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Archives does not have legal authority to release any adoption information.  For information regarding adopted persons please contact Catholic Charities or the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. 

Elm Grove, St. Mary Orphanage, 1859-1923

Type: Female Orphans
Religious Order: School Sisters of Notre Dame
Record Location Wisconsin Department of Children and Family or the Waukesha County Court System

St. Mary’s Orphanage was opened on June 21, 1859 after King Ludwig of Bavaria gifted a grant for 20 acres of land to the School Sisters of Notre Dame.  The funds for the land were to be granted on the condition that the Sisters would take charge of twelve to sixteen female orphans.  The orphanage remained open as St. Mary’s until 1923 when the name was legally changed to Guardian Angel Home. 

 

Elm Grove, Guardian Angel Home, 1923-1934

Type: Female orphans
Religious Order: School Sisters of Notre Dame
Record Location Wisconsin Department of Children and Family or the Waukesha County Court System

In 1923 the St. Mary’s Orphanage in Elm Grove legally changed its name to Guardian Angel Home as the orphanage continued to grow.  The orphanage had classrooms and the children were taught and cared for by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.  The Guardian Angel Home closed in 1934.

 

Fond du Lac, St. Joseph Orphanage, 1879-1894

Religious Order: Sisters of Mercy
Record Location: Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

When the Sisters of Mercy came to Wisconsin their original mother house was located at St. Joseph Parish in Fond du Lac. It was there in Fond du Lac that they ran an orphanage until they relocated to Milwaukee in 1894.

 

Milwaukee, St. Rose Orphanage, 1848-1974

Type: Female Orphanage
Location: 2321 N. Lake Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Religious Order: Daughters of Charity
Record Location: St. Rose Center, 414-466-9450

St. Rose Female Orphanage was founded in 1848 by Bishop Henni and was cared for by the Sisters of Charity.  The first orphan, Katie Colfer, was brought to the orphanage by Rev. Peter McLaughlin on May 9, 1848.  The orphanage was especially important during the 1849-1850 cholera epidemics and the sinking of the Lady Elgin in 1860, as many children were left without parents.  Education was also a part of the orphanage; in addition to normal school classes children also learned needlework, cooking, sewing, typing, and stenography.  As the needs of the children of the Archdiocese changed so did St. Rose’s Orphanage.  In 1974, it was renamed St. Rose Center and the purpose of the institution shifted to residential and day programs for troubled teenage girls. 

 

Milwaukee, St. Aemilian Orphanage, 1852-1963

Type: Male Orphanage
Locations: Jackson Street, north of St. John’s Cathedral, Milwaukee, WI (1852-1854)
St. Francis Seminary grounds, Milwaukee, WI (1854-1930)
60th and Lloyd Streets, Milwaukee, WI (1930-1950’s)
8901 W. Capitol Drive, Milwaukee, WI (1950’s-1963)
Religious Order:   Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi
Record Location: St. Aemilian-Lakeside, Inc. 414-465-5735

The St. Aemilian Orphanage was founded in Milwaukee in 1849 by Bishop Henni as a result of the cholera epidemic.  The original orphanage was a small frame house located just north of St. John’s Cathedral on Jackson Street and was under the charge of the Sisters of Charity.  The site was quickly outgrown and the orphanage moved to the grounds of St. Francis Seminary; with this move the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi took charge of the orphanage.  A fire in 1930 forced the home to move; the only remaining remnants of the building are two columns on the south side of the seminary entrance drive. Boys living at the orphanage were given an education, participated in several outdoor recreational activities and were expected to help with basic domestic chores such as cleaning dishes and polishing the floors. Donations from private persons, societies and annual collections from German parishes helped fund the orphanage. By 1963 the need for an orphanage had declined and the orphanage became a residential treatment center named St. Aemilian Home.

 

Milwaukee, St. Joseph Orphanage, 1861-1888

Type: Small Female Orphans
Religious Order: Daughters of Charity
Record Location: St. Rose Center, 414-466-9450

St. Joseph Orphan Asylum was the junior branch of St. Rose’s Orphanage only admitting “small girls.”  The orphanage was only open for a brief time and was eventually merged into the existing St. Rose Orphanage.

 

Milwaukee, St. Vincent Infant Orphanage, 1877-1959

Type: Small and infant orphans
Location: 413 Virginia Street, 1877-1879
8th Street & Greenfield Avenue, 1879-1959
Religious Order:   Daughters of Charity
Record Location:  Archdiocesan Archives, 414-769-3431

St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum was an orphanage for small and infant children.  Up until 1932 children could be admitted to the orphanage by their parents or individuals, Misericordia Hospital, or the Juvenile Court.  After 1932 the children came through the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau.  St. Vincent’s also had a maternity ward which closed in 1929. If the children, both male and female, were not adopted or returned to their families by the age of seven they were sent to St. Rose or St. Aemilian orphanages.  In 1959 the orphanage was changed to St. Vincent’s Group Home. The building still stands today and is owned by La Causa, Inc. and serves as their Early Education and Care Center.

Note: The Archives staff is not authorized to release any adoption information.  If a child lived in the orphanage and was later returned to their parent(s) custody we can release basic information or any sacramental records before the year 1920. 

 

Milwaukee, St. Joseph Orphanage, 1909-1959

Type: Male and Female Orphans, Primarily of Polish descent
Location: 3249 S. 18th Street, Milwaukee, WI
Religious Order: Felician Sisters
Record Location: Child Development Center of St. Joseph, 414-645-5337           

In 1909, the St. Joseph Orphanage was established on Milwaukee’s South Side among the city’s growing Polish community.  The orphanage was under the direction of the Felician Sisters.  St. Joseph Orphanage had both male and female orphans between the ages of 3 and 16. In 2001, the two blocks long, five story building was razed to make space for a parking lot.  As the needs of the children and community changed, the orphanage became a treatment center for troubled teens and in 1968 became the South Side Day Care Center.  In 1999, the center changed its name to the Child Development Center of St. Joseph and is currently located just blocks from the old orphanage site.  

 

Wauwatosa, House of Good Shepherd, 1877-1978

Type: Female
Location: 49th & North Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
 88th Street and Bluemound Avenue, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
Religious Order:   Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Record Location:  Sisters of the Good Shepherd Archives, 314-381-3400

The House of Good Shepherd included an industrial school for female orphans ranging from three to fifteen years old and a reformatory for “wayward” girls.   The girls spent half of their day at school and the other half was time to work; they received instructions on domestic tasks such as sewing and cooking.  The House closed in the 1970’s and the site was sold to Wisconsin Lutheran College.

 

Wauwatosa, St. Joseph Orphanage, 1917-1967

Type: Male Orphans
Location: 1214 Kavanaugh Street, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
Religious Order: Carmelite Sisters
Record Location: Catholic Charities, 414-769-3400

The St. Joseph Home for Boys opened in 1917 by the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus.  In 1968 the Sisters made the decision to change from an orphanage to a residential treatment center for adolescent boys engaged in delinquent behavior.  The Carmelite Home for Boys is still active and has been successful in helping boys become productive young men.

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The Archdiocese of Milwaukee

3501 South Lake Drive
PO Box 070912
Milwaukee, WI 53207-0912

Phone:  (414) 769-3300
Toll-Free: (800) 769-9373
Fax:  (414)  769-3408