Kathy W72

The children tell their stories: Children don’t forget.

sacred heart cover

Kathy (Roman) O’Connell- you can read my story in my very graphic novel ( like a comic book) The mostly true graphic memoir, about a little girl, who along with her four brothers are abandoned by their mother. A tragicomic dealing with sex, violence, hope and happiness. A sometimes funny, sometimes sad but always told with brutal honesty. Seven year old Katy Sue just wants a family to love her, but in her search for love she finds something even more valuable. SACRED HEART is a graphically rendered account of growing up in rural Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 70s in a orphanage run by catholic nuns. Kathy O’Connell’s messy, dark,distinctive illustration style with its wry observations and amusing details is fun to read and examine, and draws you into her story quickly.This is a story that’s loud, frank,dirty and not easy to put down.


Delores (Morgan) Cherry, 77, of Allentown, was among the first at the home. Taken there with her two older brothers as a 2-year-old, Cherry said she was told her dad lost his job in the Depression and her mother didn’t work. They lost their house, and her parents were sleeping in coal bins in Allentown. They wanted better for their children. And they got it. Delores found a lifetime of steady work as a waitress and is still working part-time at an Allentown doughnut shop to keep active. She has two daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.”They did a good job,” she said, “because I turned out OK.”

Larry Schaffer, now a 69-year-old retired small businessman in Bethlehem, was an “insider.” After his parents got divorced, his father couldn’t care for him and dropped him off at the orphanage, where he stayed from 1949-1956. He recalled chores like making the beds, polishing more than 70 pairs of shoes a week, and being forced to “chew” milk (the reason for which he still can’t figure out). He remembers breaking his leg in a fight. While he doesn’t know first hand, Schaffer said the linen closet, where corporal punishment was administered, was so feared that one boy tried to escape it one night by lowering a rope of tied bed sheets out the window.

imageJoan Miller-My brother & I arrived at Sacred Heart Home in November 1950. If I remember correctly the main house was used as the convent and to board the girls; while a smaller building served as the rectory and to house the boys. There was a barn, which we were forbidden to go into.

Boys were always separated from the girls. This was especially distressing for my brother and I at 4 yrs old. Even in later years when the pool was built, a special time was allotted for each group to go swimming.

Days were planned according to a strict schedule and I recall that a loud bell designated every change of event; such as waking in the morning, church, breakfast, school, etc.

Punishment was doled out frequently to any disobedience. On numerous occasions, we were told the world was coming to an end. This tactic worked wonders in getting children to obey.

Outsiders attended school there, but would then leave and go home. How we envied them! I remember every night going back to our classrooms to do homework. When report cards were handed out, Mother Alfreda would call us up to the desk. I thought for every “A”, we were given a nickel. My brother thinks it was just one nickel if you had an “A” on your report card. Does anyone else remember this?

There wasn’t much of a social life at the home since we were not allowed off the premises. The playground had a long cemented run for roller-skating, which was fun along with ice-skating on the pond when it froze over. Although the playground offered enjoyment, we could not go to the movies, walk to the corner store, go bowling or to dances, anything that most children take for granted. Occasionally, a movie was brought in. I especially liked the operettas with Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy. Seeing these started my love of opera. However, if a movie had any kissing, the nuns would hold their hands over the projector so the kissing scenes couldn’t be seen. Funny!

Sure the home was spotless and we helped keep it that way by scrubbing, dusting, and polishing. After ending up in the hospital a number of times with bad cases of poison oak/sumac, I finally was given a reprieve for having to pick up rocks and pull weeds.

I think the discipline we received during our stay is something most children will never experience and created a very different, hard, childhood. The isolation made me very shy after leaving, but it did create a good work ethic in me. I visited the home often after we left and especially enjoyed visiting on Donation Day. A few times, I would visit the nuns who went to stay in Reading after the home closed. It was interesting to see the changes in the home itself and the rules, which appear to have relaxed over the years – which was good news!
Joan Miller-

imageJohn Miller: My name is John Miller. My twin sister and I were at Sacred Heart Home from Nov (26th, I think), 1950 until June 23, 1959. I don’t know how else to notify someone about updating the records on the web site. Unfortunately, I do not remember you – actually I remember no girls except my sister and in those days the boys had to play separately from the girls. That was my first recollection of the home. The 1st morning there, the children were gathered outside and I went over to my sister and we held hands. We were only 4 at the time and didn’t know anyone so naturally we sought each other out. Immediately a nun came over and told us we couldn’t be together – the boys had to stay with the boys and the girls with girls. (And this was a good day!). Of course we all remember the linen closet and learned that rulers weren’t just used for measuring and belts weren’t used for just keeping your pants up.

I noticed that Larry Funk is listed as a resident of the home. This is not the case. He was an ‘outsider’ that used to attend school there. On a rare occasion, my mother would come and take up to a restaurant on the highway that was owner by Larry’s parents. They live down the street from the home.

I knew of only one Merrit – he lived about a block from my dad’s house and on the rare occasion I went home, Iused to visit him. His first name was Eddie – at least at the home and for years after we left the home, we all called him Eddie.
My sister says there were a lot of Vitko’s at the orphanage. I knew Judy. Together we went to Mother Alfreda’s viewing In Dec., 1992. She also lived past 100 (103 actually). I’m surprised there’s no record of the Vitko’s there. I believe Judy left the year following us, along with Art Unger – another freind we kept in touch with for a few years after we left the home.

I believe Nick Langston left in 1960 but I can’t recall if he was in the same grade as Joan and I. His mother and our mother worked together at Carusal’s restaurant in center square in Easton. I saw Nick once again at one of the “donation” day events.

Sister Etwara was in charge of the boys. I guess she had a two-way mirror because she could always see who was playing around at night and would come into the room and start whacking away with a belt. I always pretended to be sleeping and avoided that punishment. Poor kid next to me got it though – even though he was sleeping the whole time. I remember a time I fell off the slide and broke my arm. I had to be taken to the hospital, but before I could go, sister Etwara made me take off my dirty t-shirt and put on a clean one. You can image how painful that was- but we had to keep up appearances.

I honestly have very few good memories of the place. I see where the kids were taken to various things, some stars came to the home and it appears that the kids also got to interact more with people from out side the home, The only star that ever came when I was there was the actor who played Pancho on the Cisco Kid.
actor who played Pancho on the Cisco Kid.

Richie “Rich” Merritt “I was born and bred in the Lehigh Valley. Born at Easton Hospital and raised on the South-side of Easton on Wilkes-Barre Street for most of my childhood years. That was my permanent residence with my grandmother and my father who was going through a bunch of a mess relationally with his marriages and relationships. Most of my actual residence living however, was at the Sacred Heart Home and School for Children in Coopersburg, PA., and a couple of foster homes along the way too. My brother and I spent approximately 8 years in the children’s home until we finally went home for good in 1973 when I was 12 years old.”

Dean Rooks “Indeed, I remember that linen closet and the plastic jump rope that was used to administer punishment. I remember a boy by the name of Curtis B., a tough fighter who I remember having a singing voice best described like the sound of a buzz saw when singing in the choir. One day, Curtis did something wrong that warranted him to become a victim of the linen closet. When Curtis emerged from the linen closet, he had welts down the side of his leg that amazingly spelled the word “ball”. As children, we were so amazed by this gruesome anomaly and we all marched Curtis over to the nun who administered the punishment on poor Curtis. The nun (whose name I cannot remember), upon seeing Curtis’s leg and the word ball written in black and blue welts, sternly told Curtis that it meant for him to get on the ball. I think I never really cared for playing jump rope ever since. I also remember acquiring a fond taste for black pepper, as it was also used as a means to punish those of us who had a propensity to offend nuns with unwanted questions and/or statements. I also remember having my arm nearly twisted off in the laundry room by a nun, while my sister Charlene, who was working in the laundry room at the time, stood watching in helpless horror. I received this punishment for throwing a snowball.”

Nick Langston “I was there from 1947 to 1959. I remember Eugene Scrivanek and his sister, John and Joan Miller, the Dutkos. I remember Stanley ( was my best buddy) & Mickey Herman. I remember the place fondly, though Sr Bonita used to take me to the linen closet so often I had calluses on my rear end. I vaguely remember when their were no brick buildings, just the barns and houses and we built the school and church and dormitories. I remember Sacred Heart fondly but haven’t been back there in quite a while. I remember, “Donation Day”? in the summer every year and the Christmas pagent in Rockne Hall in Allentown every Christmas, using divining rods to find water before digging the pool, the pool was half paved and half mud bottomed. Neat place that Sacred Heart. I do remember the room you are talking about where the kids would go with their parents to pick out candy and maybe a soda from the display on the table. I remember Mother Alfreda used to slip me a candy bar.
That room, was actually in a converted barn that was part of the original residence. That barn also was the original chapel. Of course, it was all torn down to make room for the new dining hall and dormitory.”

Christine Miller “One morning in August 1960, my mother said, “Hey, let’s go for a walk”. After some distance, she stopped and said to me, “Open the door and take your sister Theresa in with you. Tell the nice lady your names. I’ll be back in a little while.” Jaye was five months old then, and came some months later. I did what I was told. The building I walked into was the Catholic Welfare Services. And that night was the first night of the 1,l00 days that I resided at that orphanage. Each day seemed like a week, each week seemed like a month, each month seemed like a year, and each year seemed like a lifetime.”

Carol K “My aunt put my cousins in there in the early 70′s and I remember going to visit them there amd they hated it.It looks run down but every time i pass I remember how sad I felt to leave my cousins who were innocent victims of my aunt.”

Lyn Hertzog  “I also took many a trip to the linen closet for knocking off the habits of many of the nuns, by accident of course.”

Eileen Slaughter “I hated that home and was devastated when my dad would come from phila every two weeks for visiting days. sister bonita, sister,petra,sixth grade, sister ernelda. i know that thehome was clean but it was not a home. my family has never healed from the beatings.”

Diane (Campbell)  Slaughter- was 13 when her mother put her and her sisters in a cab that took them to a Catholic Charities office, eventually landing her at an orphanage in Coopersburg. Campbell remembers vividly the bad stuff but talks about the good: three meals, a bed off the floor and new sneakers. One year, the girls organized a basketball team without a coach and taught themselves to play full court, only to be told by opposing teams that girls only played half court. “At the time, it was terrible. I was homesick,” “But now I realize it was a gift that my mother gave us up.” Dianel is now a pastry chef and living in Chester County.

Rudy “When I went to the home in 1939, it was only a few years in existence. I was at the Sacred Heart Home from 1939 to 1947,and remember it well, altho I don’t have pictures. The brick building, the ‘Boys’ house was built during that time. We cleaned up the barns and other buildings for the school and church, and I remember serving Mass almost every day. Some names I remember are Flately, Jones, Schadel and the caretaker Mr. Coudriet, His son became an actor in Hollywood. I remember Sister Itwara, Sister Boromeo and a Sister Leonciona, I think was her name. she was in charge of the kitchen. I also remember the boys building being built. Originally the basement had a large play room with a stage on one side and a storage room on the other side. The main floor had the dining room, the skullery and the kitchen and the second floor had two rooms for boys, younger on one side and older on the other. We farmed the fields behind the school all the way to the car tracks.”

Rosemarie Makuski “I remember taking accordin lessons and Larence Welk and his whole tv show came to the home and put on a show in the gym and we played our accordins for them. We all got to meet Larence Welk and the Lennon sisters and there whole show members.what an experience that was. I,ll never forget that.”

Dean Rooks “I was around 6yrs old. I remember mother Alfreda (not sure I spelled that correctly. I remember being sized for socks (does anyone remember how that was done?), the shoe room near the gym, the swimming and fishing pond, playing baseball without bats (using our fists) and a few other things. Does anyone remember the Halloween parades we marched and participated in? Does anyone remember the big meteor that flew past one summer?
I remember some of my occasional charges involved polishing hundreds of shoes, dishwasher duty, cleaning scoff marks off the gym floor (they would line us up in a row and give us a tooth brush & paste balls made of Ajax). I remember drinking black tea and cornbread, and that one had to act quick when the bowls of food arrived and were placed in the middle of the table.

Here is a funny story that I will share…..
As I had mentioned the shoe room earlier, there may be some that don’t remember that it was a room where hundreds of assorted shoes were deposited into a big pile, and one had to go through them to find a matching pair that fit; consequentially, I seldom had shoes that fit. Anyway, next to the home, on the other side of the street was a golf course, and we use to occasionally go over and find golf balls to bring back to the big courtyard and play wall ball (using the big brick walls of the gym)…
On one occasion, a few others and myself had gone over to acquire some golf balls, and in the process of our covert actions we were discovered and chased by big men in a golf cart. We all ran in the direction of the home, and because my shoes never fit, both of them immediately flew off of my feet and high into the air… Never to be seen again. It must have been a hilarious sight (for those who were chasing us), that is, to watching me leap out of my shoes in fright!!! “

Dean Rooks “I also remember there was an individual that used to sleep on his hands and knees and violently rock himself to sleep at night. So much so, that his bed would move 10 to 15 feet from where it started, and one could never be quite sure where you would find him and his bed in the morning. “

Rita “Myself and my brother were only there temporarily in 1947, while my parents tried to find a place for us to live after my Dad’s return from WWII. “

Greg Casamassa “I remember the gym, creek, dorms with long rows of beds and a little set of drawers next to each. I remember movie night and those stainless steel pitchers full of drink. I remember being dropped off at the the school in the office, which was just inside the front doors and crying my eyes out. I also remember alot of crying at night in he dorm rooms after lights out, even though one of the Nuns would sit there in a chair for quite awhile until, I guess, we were asleep.”

Audrey Allen “me and my brother were the only african americans at the home during our stay which was in the late 60′s early 70′s. I remember my introduction to Mother Alfreda and to Sister Ernelda who was in charge of the girls dorm. I know the answer to the person who was asking how we were measured for socks…we had to ball up our fist and the heel of the sock and the top met and that was your fit. does anyone remember the carnival like fair we put on the second sunday of august when the tents went up on the property of the home….i even remember the mans name mr. dematrovoich he had a daughter named marilyn to me she looked like a shirley temple and i mean that in a good way i can still see her.”




5 thoughts on “Stories

  1. I really appreciate the candor expressed in these accounts and thank u wholeheartedly! My brother, sisters and I were there in 1960 and thank God, went home within the year. I can honestly say it was a life changing experience that instilled only hopelessness and UNWORTHINESS (some call this a ‘good work ethic’….it was TRULY feeling u had to EARN the right to breathe because u were not worth the space u took up, so…..). I don’t blame the nuns; it was a daunting labor of love, I’m sure, but it was a hell that is still FELT every day of our lives even though we are now in our 50’s+. Several years after we went home, we were ‘put away’ again; I was in 5 different homes in the Phila. area, from Ambler to Clarks Summit, None were as horrible as I remember Sacred Heart being….they SEPARATED brother and sisters from each other, according to age, and if u tried to even talk to your baby sister through the chainlink playground fence, u were escorted to the linen closet for a whipping. I, also, was SICK the entire time I was there and NEVER had medical attention other than being forced to SWALLOW a tablespoon of VICKS VAPORUB chased with a butterscotch lifesaver (the ONLY treat I remember). I remember only ONE ‘normal thing’….we could make our rosary with these plastic beads called Pop-Beads that snapped together. TO THIS DAY, I REMEMBER ALL OF U in nightly prayer. My life has been challenging but I have NO DOUBT the major reason is due to the feeling of UNWORTHINESS and being treated like a herd of cattle rather than little children who were hurting and traumatized and scared to death EACH MOMENT there.

  2. I have been there at sacred heart in the 67 to70 follow a few faster homes st; vinces 63 or 64 and st;john65 67and a few faster homes’ went to st.gabreils hall and a half way house till I grad .high school. 74 my childhood was over I survied

  3. I was in Sacred Heart Home in Phila. Pa 65th and Callohill from 1945 to 1951, does anybody have stories about that home, we went To St. Donato school

  4. Some people have good memories others not so good. It is very clear that there was abuse and each person that spent time there has their own experience.

    There was a little boy there with a heart disease that made him age like an old man, his name was Donald, who had lost his hair and they used to rub duck dung on his head to make his hair grow. Another good memory was every other Sunday, a bakery would donate stale glazed donuts and that was a feast for us. Dinner was a bowl of Spanish rice to feed 10-12 of us at the table and breakfast was something that made me literally sick EVERY day….corn mush, I think.
    There was a ‘big girl’ there, named Jeannie with dark hair, who was VERY cruel to the small children. I remember two sisters, Carol and Jewel Matiallo (?sp), whom I still think about 55 yrs. later. Connie Frances came to visit us and took us for a walk to see giant sunflowers growing in a farmer’s garden. I have a photographic memory yet seem to have blocked most my memories of Sacred Heart, other than above & the sadness of being separated from my 2 sisters and brother that the nuns would never let us visit with, even when they were outside in the yard….that was horrible! Although we’ve all grown and have done well, we never rekindled our family unit since 1960; it’s like we’re afraid of being separated again and don’t want to bear that sadness. My name was Gwen(age 7) and my sisters were Sandy(5) and Christina(3) and my brother was Albert (11) Smith.
    We were in a foster home b4 with a couple named Mr. & Mrs. Wolfgang, who were REALLY mean and whipped my brother ‘s back till it bled for not eating his vegetables, even tho he was starved. They used to make us dress up in those Salvation Army uniforms and beg for money in shopping centers….very strange! But even so, Sacred Heart was worse! I’m not ungrateful but WHAT was the purpose of NOT letting siblings ever SEE each other?????????
    Doesn’t ANYONE remember being given VICKS VAP O RUB on a spoon to swallow for a cold?

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