History of St. Vincent's Center

A Heritage of Hope and Healing since 1856

On April 1, 1856, at the request of philanthropists and officials of the city of Baltimore, three Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul from Emmitsburg, Maryland, undertook the care of neglected and unwanted babies in a little rented house at 293 Druid Hill Avenue. The first child, a 3-year-old girl, was admitted on April 10, 1856. The need for such a service was clear. During the first year, 50 children were admitted for care. With the number of admissions increasing, the institution moved in March, 1857, to a larger, but temporary location on Pratt Street.

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On the 13th of April in 1857, the Daughters of Charity formed a corporate body under the name of “St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum of the City of Baltimore.” From its inception until today, St. Vincent’s “asylum” provided “a place of refuge” for the children brought to its door. The original charter states that St. Vincent’s would “establish and maintain in the city of Baltimore an institution for the maintenance and support of foundlings and infant orphan children; and also provide for deserving indigent and unprotected females during their confinement in childbirth.” Many of the children “were left at the door of the asylum during the silent watches of the night.”

On February 8, 1860, St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum moved to its permanent home for the next 74 years at Lafayette and Divisions Streets. Forty-seven infants were transferred to the new building on opening day. Available records indicate that there was a tremendous need for such a facility. It is reported that from 1856 to 1867 an average of 50 to 60 children were admitted annually. During the early 1900s the figures increased dramatically. In 1907, 576 infant and foundling children were placed at St. Vincent’s.

In 1888 new land on the outskirts of the city at 6700 Reisterstown Road was purchased for the purpose of a “country home” for the children during the summer months. Throughout the years, additional property was acquired and buildings constructed so that by 1934 most of the children’s services were housed at the Reisterstown Road property.

In 1935, a group of dedicated ladies formed the Auxiliary Board of St. Vincent’s Infant Home. Today, the Auxiliary maintains its close relationship and continues to make contributions to the care of the children. Over the years, thousands of members have provided nearly $1 million for the center.

In October, 1949, the Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution that St. Vincent’s be consolidated and merged with the Associated Catholic Charities.

On March 29, 1963, ground was broken in Timonium by Lawrence Cardinal Shehan for the building of a cottage home for 116 infants and pre-school children. Separate facilities, remote from the cottages were to be constructed for the unwed mothers program, known as Villa Louise (now the home of the Francis X. Gallagher Center for people with developmental disabilities). The move to the new facility on Pot Spring Road took place on October 24, 1964.

In the 1970s the need for orphanages greatly decreased. Infants awaiting adoption no longer resided at St. Vincent’s but were placed in pre-adoptive foster homes through Catholic Charities. St. Vincent’s Center evolved into a childcare facility serving abused and neglected children. The children who came to St. Vincent’s were removed from their family due to abuse and/or neglect and were placed directly at St. Vincent’s because they needed a safe place to live. Many of these children lived at St. Vincent’s for years and only left when they were too old to remain. Other children returned to their families or went to adoptive homes. The population of children served during this era was younger, had experienced fewer out-of-home placements, and tended to have fewer behavioral, emotional and psychiatric challenges.

Currently, St. Vincent’s Center is licensed by the Maryland State Department of Human Resources as a Residential Childcare Facility and provides intensive diagnostic, stabilization and treatment services to children, ages 3 to 13, and their families when children are unable to live in a family setting due to severe emotional and behavioral challenges. Many of the children have experienced profound abuse, neglect and trauma. These children, who come to us from all over the State of Maryland, have often endured numerous moves from one caregiver to another before arriving at St. Vincent’s Center. In 2006, St. Vincent’s completed a total renovation of its facility, constructing new living units for the children and adding a new creative & spiritual arts building and a gymnasium.

From 1990 to 2008, St. Vincent’s Center operated Chara House (ka-ra, Greek meaning joy) as a transitional group home in Baltimore City for medically fragile children ages birth to four.

In keeping with our mission to serve children, St. Vincent’s Center has two community-based child abuse prevention programs, Child Safe and Illuminations. These programs provide education, training and public awareness about the issues of abuse to educators, parents, mental health providers, criminal justice professionals and the general public.

Over 150 years have passed since the first child came to the doors of St. Vincent’s. The program is very different but also similar to that which began in 1856. The most striking similarity is that throughout its history, St. Vincent’s has always maintained its commitment to meeting the needs of children and families most in need and providing healing and hope towards a brighter future.