Mississippi history: Community remembers history of orphanage

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 27, 2023

Cathedral School students, officials and community members of all ages gathered around a historical marker on a hilltop behind Cathedral School on Wednesday morning to celebrate the dedication of a historical marker for the former Devereux Hall Orphan Asylum, out of which the Catholic school was established.

Between 1861 and 1966, the Devereux Hall Orphanage, led by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, cared for more than 1,500 boys.

One of them was James Shaidnagle, who entered the orphanage in 1955 and graduated from Cathedral School in 1962.

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“As a representative of these boys, we do not want this piece of history to (be forgotten). The brothers instilled in us an everlasting work ethic and values that allowed us to become productive citizens,” Shaidnagle said during Wednesday’s dedication.

His brothers, Donnie, Billy and Paul, were raised by the orphanage also.

Shaidnagle, a lifelong teacher, retired from Cathedral in 2022 and turned his attention to memorializing the orphanage.

In 1855, William St. John Elliot willed his mansion, Devereux Hall, for the creation of a boy’s orphanage. His widow Anna Elliot later purchased the estate from the church in order to keep the house in the family and the proceeds were used to purchase 35.19 acres for a new orphanage on Aldrich and Pine streets, which could only accommodate 12 boys.

After the Civil War, a larger brick building was constructed and was right away filled with 41 orphans. Through the years, the building expanded in size. But in 1966, several factors, including the escalation in operational costs and a decline in the number of orphans, contributed to its closing and demolition.  With Wednesday’s dedication of a marker at the site of the former Devereux Hall Orphanage, younger generations learned about it and the impact it has had on their lives and the generations before.

“The school, the gym, and the football field are all on the original orphanage land,” Shaidnagle said. “The cornerstone and original bell that went with this orphanage are displayed at the back of Devereux Hall Plantation located on Devereux Drive.”

Students read aloud the Mississippi Department of Archives and History marker that explains the site’s significance.  Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz and the very Rev. Aaron Williams, St. Mary Basilica rector, blessed the location and the marker.