In the 1920s the Sisters of the Resurrection, a Roman Catholic order whose mission is to help families in need, wanted to create a ministry for the children of working women.
At first they looked at New Castle, Pennsylvania. However, Sister Honorata Handzes argued they should work closer to their headquarters in Castleton on Hudson and proposed Amsterdam. Amsterdam was described in chronicles kept by the Sisters “as a manufacturing city where women were compelled to work and their children were left without any care or guidance.”
Sister Rose Konopienis, who had experience at a children’s home in Chicago, and Sister Ann Lawrence Cyranek came to Amsterdam where they were well-received, especially by Polish Catholic pastors Peter Nowak and Anton Gorski.
The sisters organized a Ladies Aid Auxiliary to help finance their work. In September 1926 they opened a nursery for pre-school children on Park Street near the Bigelow Sanford carpet mills. Thirty children were registered the first day.
The place was too small. Judge Leonard Moore of the Children’s Court and Genevieve M. Liddane, who was directing child welfare for Montgomery County, convinced the sisters to make their next facility a children’s home or orphanage.
A large house on Brookside Avenue, later the Bigelow Weavers Club, was renovated.
That Christmas the children put on a short comedy play, “The Vain Housekeeper.” The sisters organized the St. Therese Society for Young Ladies who met weekly for an inspirational meeting and hymn sing. Lee Ains, the manager of the S.S. Kresge five and dime downtown, became a generous benefactor. He took the sisters to Auriesville Shrine and to picnics for rest and relaxation while he and his employees watched the children.
Ains and his family decorated the Christmas tree, visited on the holiday and bought gifts for the children. He also donated much-needed diapers.
The Brookside Avenue facility soon became too crowded and in 1932 the children’s home relocated to the former Gardiner Blood residence at 118 Market St. on the southwest corner of Market and Prospect.
In 1933 an Amsterdam concert by world-famous Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski raised more than $2,000 for the sisters, enough to pay off a loan on the building.
The Market Street building was more spacious than either of their previous locations. As many as 12 to 16 infants were among the children being cared for there. A student from Poland who was unable to return to his home because of the world situation spent seven years with the sisters who made it possible for him to complete his medical studies. Another individual was helped after he escaped from a concentration camp in Spain.
In the late 1950s state officials became concerned with deterioration of the Market Street building. And state welfare officials began making greater use of private foster homes instead of institutional care. The number of children housed at the Resurrection Home declined.
The Protestant-oriented Children’s Home on Guy Park Avenue in Amsterdam, built in 1896, faced similar challenges in the late 1950s.
The Guy Park Avenue orphanage had 23 residents when it closed at the end of the summer of 1957. The building was eventually torn down.
The Resurrection Children’s Home was closed by the diocese in 1960 and the sisters’ ministry with children relocated to Massachusetts. The building was demolished in 1966 for Amsterdam’s Route 30 South arterial.
The Sisters of the Resurrection for many years staffed the Mount Loretto Nursing Home on Swart Hill in the town of Amsterdam.
Much of the information for this column came from Sister Alexandra Jazwinski, provincial archivist for the Sisters of the Resurrection.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]