100 years on, St. Charles Children’s Home in Rochester has new purpose
During that time, more than 6,000 children have called the old Victorian mansion, built in 1878, home, for various lengths of time.
At its height, the nuns of St. Charles took care of as many as 150 children. Today, those numbers have dwindled, and soon St. Charles will transition from a residential home for children to a day-based program to help children with behavioral problems, carrying on the mission started in 1913.
This was the case for Roger “Butch” Tremblay, 80, of Rochester who lived at the home from 1936 to 1939. His father was injured in an industrial accident and his mother couldn’t “hack it” with two rambunctious boys, he recalled during Monday’s open house. He was 4 when he arrived at the home; his brother, Ronald, was 7.
He also remembers his father visiting on weekends to help them build a boat for the Sea Scouts.
Clement Comtois, 73, also pointed out the location of his bed in the boys’ wing when he was at the home 70 years ago with his brother, George, 75, of Raymond.
The brothers return to St. Charles every year to drop off donations and help the facility continue to take care of children in need.
And it is a long series of nuns like Sister Mary Agnes, the home’s current administrator, and Mother Paul Marie, that have made every child who passed through the doors feel loved and part of a family.
“To be honest, I think the key in the past 100 years to the residential program has been the sisters who live here. It is much easier to operate like a family when the people you have here are here 24 hours a day seven days a week,” Sister Mary Agnes said.
“There are no loyalties violated by the kids becoming comfortable with us,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “If they become comfortable enough, the bond with the sisters is not a threat to their families of origin. It is a unique reality that has given us great success in the past.”
The home was operated by the Grey Nuns of Canada, until 1968, when the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church took over administration.
“We started getting kids who had been the victims of different forms of abuse and neglect and everything that comes with a drug culture,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “Our program became much less of an orphanage, because these are not orphans, and more of a therapeutic placement.”
At the same time, the trend nationally has moved away from placing children in group homes.
The former chaplain’s home will serve as a new location for “Our Place,” a NH Catholic Charities program that focuses on helping young mothers, and the home has started working with area school districts offering services at St. Charles for children whose behavioral problems are prohibiting them from participating fully in a public school classroom.
Some things will remain the same, including the sisters’ commitment to caring for needy children and families.
“The home is a mystery for some,” Sister Mary Agnes said.
Marlene Brooks said she has lived in Rochester her entire life but had never visited the home, and was glad she did.