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Letter: Precious memories of Belvedere

Firefighters work to contain the fire at the former Belvedere Orphanage in St. John's, April 7.
Firefighters work to contain the fire at the former Belvedere Orphanage in St. John's, April 7.

When I heard about the fire at Belvedere, I was moved to tears. Then I remembered the good times enjoyed while living there. No fire can steal my memories of my childhood in Belvedere Orphanage.

I was one of many children who lived in Belvedere — my mother died when I was four years old, so my four sisters and I were taken to the orphanage as my father was unable to care for us. Due to the difficult situations of those days, many families struggled to care for their children, but were unable to manage. Some children were left on the orphanage doorstep like milk bottles.

We were known as “the Belvedere Orphans,” cared for by the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters became our parents, our teachers and our friends — our total caregivers. At times there were as many as 200 children at Belvedere. We had the best of education all through school, including religious teachings, music, dance and singing lessons. Home economics included cooking and sewing classes. We also enjoyed a swimming pool donated to the orphanage by a kind benefactor.

Our nurse, Sister Mary Bernard, (she had the image and kindness of Mother Teresa) taught us etiquette class as well as caring for our medical problems. Sister Claire took care of the “babies” — it was how we were grouped, and the younger children were called “the babies.” Sister Claire made sure clothes for everyone were clean and ready for changes. Sister would take clothing that required mending to the sewing room to Miss Brown who came in to help at the orphanage. Miss Brown had a small, old radio and somehow, I would find myself sitting on the floor in the sewing room listening to that radio, while Miss Brown’s foot steadily worked the pedal of the sewing machine. To this day I love music, especially the songs from my childhood.

Sister Mary Hugh, our cook — another heart-held memory. We were fed well with good,
nutritious food, but children are always hungry. Once I climbed up to her kitchen window and told her I was hungry. She searched around and came back with “a small piece of bread with molasses on it.” Sister Mary Hugh’s hands were worn from hard work, and her face red from the heat of the stove.

The teachings we received from the Sisters of Mercy opened many doors to education for all the children. Many of the Sisters from Belvedere have passed, though some are still with us. To all the Sisters of Mercy, I would like to say thank you, from my heart. We were blessed to have fallen into your care. You gave your life to God, and to “the Belvedere Orphans.”

Good memories are “fireproof,” protected forever in the heart.
I was hungry — you gave me food. Thirsty — you gave me to drink. Homeless — you gave me shelter.

 

Marion (Pike) Biasutti
Dundas, Ont.

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