St. Otto’s Orphan Asylum

The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls Hospital and Orphanage, Little Falls, MN, undated photo published by H.W. Venners, made in Germany. MCHS collections #1980.59.11.

The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls Hospital and Orphanage, Little Falls, MN, undated photo published by H.W. Venners, made in Germany. MCHS collections #1980.59.11.

Little Falls, Minnesota, had an orphanage from 1893 to 1924. As early as 1875, Benedictine sisters were caring for orphans in Pierz, Minnesota. The Benedictine sisters were also caring for orphans in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

When the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota, then called the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, was established in Little Falls in 1891, the bishop of St. Cloud transferred the care of orphans in the diocese to the Franciscans. On August 17, 1893, thirty-three orphans arrived in Little Falls on the “noon train” and were transported to the Convent/Hospital of the sisters by hayrack. (Little Falls Daily Transcript, August 17, 1893).(1)

As a condition of the transfer, Bishop Otto Zardetti stipulated that a new building be erected to house the orphans as soon as possible. The sisters and the local citizens commenced fund-raising, and the cornerstone for a new building was laid by the summer of 1895. The Transcript reports a benefit on June 13, 1895, and lists persons active in the fundraising: Major A.C. Morrill, Messrs. L.M. Gaudet, M.M. Williams, A.R. Davidson, I.E. Staples, D. Musser, C.A. Weyerhaeuser, H.A. Rider, C.B. Buckman and G. Moeglein. The Diocese of St. Cloud also contributed $2000. The new orphanage was named St. Otto’s Orphan Asylum in honor of Bishop Otto Zardetti of St. Cloud.(2)

The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls and the people of Little Falls cared for orphans for 30 years. At the time of the 1918 flu, there were 125 children at the orphanage.(3) Businessmen organized benefits, women did sewing, the Women’s Guild planned events for the children, and Christmas treats and picnics were sponsored by the people of Little Falls. Some names mentioned were John Vertin, Charles Sylvester, Henry J. LaFond, and John Wetzel.(4)

By 1920 the building was no longer adequate and the twenty-five year contract with the Diocese of St. Cloud expired. Bishop Busch began making plans for a new building in St. Cloud. The people of Little Falls wanted to keep the orphanage and sent delegates to talk the bishop. Some of the negotiators were L.O. Wessel, J. Vertin, and L.P. Runkel.(5)

They were not successful. The Transcript, October, 1919, reported that the reasons given for the decision were that Stearns county was the “heaviest contributor and that the clergy wanted the orphanage in St. Cloud.”(6)
In 1924 the orphans were transferred to the new St. Cloud Orphanage. In Little Falls, St. Otto’s was renovated to become St. Otto’s Home for the Aged. In 1968 a new St. Otto’s was built, and the old building was renamed Mary Hall and became a residence for Franciscan sisters.(7)

~ Sr. Betty Berger

Citations:
1. Ahles, Sister Assumpta, In the Shadows of His Wings, St. Paul, MN: North Central Publishing Co., 1977, p. 278.
2. Ibid., p. 279.
3. Ibid, p. 281.
4. Ibid., p. 280.
5. Ibid., p. 282.
6. Ibid., p. 282.
7. Ibid., p. 283.

This article originally appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 30, No. 3, 2017.

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