When Servant of God Father Thomas Frederick Price purchased the land on which the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will be built 113 years ago, his vision was to make the location the seat of what he hoped would become a thriving Catholic presence in North Carolina. The first native North Carolinian to be ordained to the Diocesan priesthood, Father Price was able to raise enough money from the small number of Catholics in the state at that time to purchase 400 acres of land to the west of the small downtown area of Raleigh. The location was known as the Nazareth Community.
In the early years, the land served as the base of Father Price’s missionary work in the state. There he established a headquarters for spreading the Gospel and teachings of Catholicism throughout North Carolina. In his travels, he came across a number of families so impoverished that, in many places, children could not be clothed, fed or cared for properly by their families. He came to realize something had to be done and, once again with no money, set about to build an orphanage on the property that would provide care for boys from impoverished families. When asked by a Catholic parishioner how he would build it with no money, Father Price said, “I don’t know, but I will have an orphanage.” And through increased prayer and penance on the part of Father Price and his commitment to those in need, he succeeded.
As the years passed, the orphanage became coeducational and during the Great Depression came to serve more than 250 youngsters at any one time. One of those former residents recently visited the Diocesan Catholic Center, which is now housed on the remaining 39 acres of the Nazareth Property. Below is the story of her visit.
Above: School buses picking children up from the former Nazareth Orphanage for field trip.
It’s been a number of decades since Mary Frances Gallagher Donahoe visited the Nazareth property, site of the current Diocesan Catholic Center and previous site of the Nazareth Orphanage. Mrs. Donahoe, now 90, wanted to see the location that had been home to her and her younger sister in the 1930s, having heard that the property would soon become the location of the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral.
In her visit to the Catholic Center, Mrs. Donahoe explained that during the Great Depression, which began in 1929, many families were unable to provide for their children and often had to break up their home, sending each child to different members of the family. She said life was difficult for her parents with her father in the Veterans Administration Hospital and her mother without work.
“My family was close to Msgr. William O’Brien, pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham,” she said. “He suggested to my mother that she take the children to Nazareth Orphanage, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy. He said they’d take care of us. And they did.” Her mother brought both girls to the orphanage in 1934. At the time, Mrs. Donahoe was in fourth grade, and her sister was two years younger. They both stayed until they graduated high school.
Looking at the black and white pictures of the former orphanage that are in the lobby of the Catholic Center, Mrs. Donahoe pointed out the location of the boys and girls dormitories, the dining hall, offices, elementary school classrooms and the chapel. She said the high school was downtown and that the students were bused back and forth. She also recalled that the orphanage averaged more than 100 girls at any one time and many more boys.
“We would be able to go home on vacation, but the orphanage was our home,” she said with fond recollection. “We loved it!” Upon graduating, she returned to Durham, got a job, married and had eight children.
In looking at the model of the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Mrs. Donahoe said, “It’s beautiful. What a fitting tribute to this property that was home to so many children.”
In the 1960s, with the shift from orphanages to foster care, the orphanage closed to be replaced by a group home that served approximately 50 children at its peak. The property also was used for the old Cardinal Gibbons High School. In the last two and a half decades, the land has housed the Catholic Center. In the late 1980s, the Diocese sold a parcel of land to North Carolina State University in what is now the ever-growing Centennial Campus. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the acreage was used to establish the Endowment for the Poor, which provides grants each year to assist those in need.