I’m posting this today, since weekend postings tend to reach more people, but this Thursday, November 18th, St Louis will celebrate its 64th annual “Old Newsboys Day”. This event, which helps to raise money for over 100,000 needy children in our area each year, will be more normal, after being virtual last year.
The effort began in 1957, when Richard Amberg, then publisher of the Globe Democrat, realized that many children’s charities were falling short of meeting their financial goals. His idea of selling newspapers on street corners to raise funds for the charities has transformed into what we have today.
Led by the area’s most prominent citizens, it became a project of the Suburban Journals, after the demise of the Globe-Democrat. The effort is now spearheaded by the St Louis Post-Dispatch.
But the concept began with a Catholic priest, Father Peter Joseph Dunne.
After the Civil War, St Louis found itself home to hundreds of young boys, orphaned by the war, or having parents who could no longer afford to care for them. Unsupervised, & often unruly, many ran in gangs for mutual protection. Seeking a way to remove them from the street, the City started the St Louis House of Refuge. Having the sound of a charitable organization, it more closely resembled a prison, surrounded by 20 foot high brick walls. For the majority, petty thievery was their most serious crime. Although there were several allegations of cruelty, conditions remained much the same for the remainder of the century.
Peter Dunne was born in Chicago in 1870. As an infant, Dunne’s Irish-born parents moved to Kansas, & after his mother died in 1881, the family moved to Kansas City, where his father died the following year. With his siblings sent to orphanages, 12 year-old Peter tried to make a living in a print shop, a dairy, then as an apprentice blacksmith. When none of his efforts proved successful, he moved to St Louis. He held a number of menial jobs, but the course of his life found purpose when he took a job as night watchman at St Louis University. The Jesuits provided him with a basic education, & when he was 30, sent him to Kenrick Seminary to become a priest. He was ordained by Archbishop Glennon in 1903, & due to his unique background, he was sent to St. Patrick’s to work with Father Timothy Dempsey, known locally as the “Apostle of Charity.”
Father Dempsey would open the “Father Dempsey Hotel”, which many know today as the St. Patrick Center, one of Missouri’s largest providers of homeless services with housing, employment and health programs assisting more than 8,000 people annually who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
In 1906, Father Dunne would open his Newsboy’s Home. Moving into progressively larger quarters, they would eventually erect their own building at 3010 Washington, where over 2,500 boys would live in the first ten years. Resigning his post at St. Patricks, Father Dunne spent all his time attending Juvenile Court, acquiring food & clothing for the boys, getting the younger ones to school, & helping the older boys find jobs.
Some had been too old for orphanages. Others had parents who were too poor or ill to care for them. Many had been abandoned, or turned over to the juvenile courts. A number were also runaways, whose home life had become unbearable. But they all had something in common. They had no place else to go.
On March 16, 1939, Father Peter Dunne died of pneumonia at St. Mary’s Hospital, at the age of 68. Over 20,000 attended his wake, and in 1948, RKO Pictures released the movie, “Fighting Father Dunne” based on his life, with Pat O’Brien portraying Father Dunne.
Fr. Dunne’s old Newsboys Home, a Catholic Charity providing residential services for boys in foster care, ages 12-21, was one of five agencies that merged to form Good Shepherd Children & Family Services in 2006.
As we observe our annual “Old Newsboys Day”, I hope you’ll think of Father Dunne, & the 270 children’s charities this event benefits.
Then you can read about one of the top Orphanages in St. Louis: