St. Mary’s Opened to the Public 67 Years Ago Today

Concerned about the growing number of abandoned and orphaned children in Norfolk during World War II, the Rev. Paul V. Heller had an idea: Create a home for them.

A century-old downtown building that once had been a school was renovated and opened its doors as St. Mary’s Infant Home with a public ceremony on Dec. 8, 1944. The first dozen children arrived at the Home two weeks later.

St. Mary’s evolved over the years and today, St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children cares for Virginia children and young adults, up to age 21, who have severe intellectual and physical disabilities.

We’re also building a wing with 12 private rooms so that in about a year, we can offer care to adults 22 and over. Supporters have contributed $2.6 million of the $3 million needed to build The Albero House for adults. The goal is to end the Embrace capital campaign by Dec. 31, 2011. If you would like to be a part of this important mission, you can donate now on our website. Or, contact Allison Bough, campaign coordinator, at (757) 622-2208 or

For information about how St. Mary’s Home could help your family, contact Melanie Perez-Lopez, director of social work, at (757) 622-2208 ext. 321 or

St. Mary’s Home Chosen as Charity for 2010 Fall Homearama

TBA President Bill Halprin and Fall Homearama Charity House builder Scott Crumley at the
65th anniversary dinner for St. Mary’s Home.
About 300 people who gathered Wednesday evening to celebrate St. Mary’s 65 years of comfort and caring were the first to hear the news. Bill Halprin, president of Tidewaters Builders Association, officially announced that St. Mary’s Home will benefit from proceeds from the 2010 Fall Homearama Charity House in Norfolk’s East Beach Community.

“We are proud that our Fall Homearama Charity House will help some of our most vulnerable children by giving them a place to call home, where their families can feel secure in knowing their medical and emotional needs will be addressed,” Halprin said.

Also on hand for the announcement was Scott Crumley, president of The Crumley Group, Inc., who has volunteered to build the Charity House. The company will need contributions of materials and services to the home.

Click here to read a news release about the announcement.

Celebrating 65 Years of Caring for Children in Need

 St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children has been caring for Virginia children in need for 65 years. In recognition of this history, we will present an anniversary dinner on Wednesday, March 24, at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and dinner starting at 6:30 p.m.

More than 260 friends, supporters, trustees, current and former staff and current and former families, as well as people who were adopted from the old St. Mary’s Infant Home, are expected to attend. Keynote speaker Fern Kupfer (that’s her in the photo) will talk about raising a child with disabilities, as captured in her poignant memoir, Before and After Zachariah (book signing to follow). There also will be a special announcement.

If you’d like to join us, contact Mary Helen Hilton, or check our website for more details. We’d love to see you there.

"New" St. Mary’s Home Turns 5 Today

While St. Mary’s Home is celebrating its 65th anniversary throughout this year, we’re celebrating another milestone today: The five-year anniversary of the move into our current building. Our dream Home, if you will.

St. Mary’s Home had been in downtown Norfolk for 60 years, first opening in a century-old building in December of 1944 and then moving into a new building in the 1960s. By 2005, a new Home was sorely needed.

“What a blessing the new Home has been to our children, their families and our staff,” said CEO William C. Giermak. At 88,000 square feet, the new Home offers twice the room of the previous building. Since moving to the new Home, the children have spent 25 percent fewer days out at the hospital. The excellent care and caring they receive at St. Mary’s is key, but the bright and beautiful building with more space and the latest systems also contributes to that care, Giermak said.

Preparations for the move into the state-of-the-art building near Sentara Leigh Hospital began months before the big day. Staff talked with the children and young adults of St. Mary’s, sharing photos, reading stories about moving and involving the children in packing their belongings.

On Feb. 11, 2005, the first children were ready to move at 6 a.m. Two paramedic crews from Norfolk moved 10 of the children, while other children moved in vans and school buses. A welcoming committe cheered, clapped and called each child by name as he or she entered the new Home.

The new Home was formally dedicated on March 18, 2005, with then-Gov. Mark R. Warner giving the keynote speech.

65 Years of Comfort & Caring

Sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom feed children during an evening meal. (1946 file photo)

The world was at war when a downtown Norfolk building that already had served children for more than a century as a school for girls was re-dedicated on Dec. 8, 1944, for a new purpose. “St. Mary’s Infant Home will provide shelter for the little boys and girls who cannot find it elsewhere,” Bishop Peter I. Ireton, co-adjutor bishop of Richmond, said during the ceremony, according to news accounts.

At first, St. Mary’s was a home for young children with no homes of their own or who needed a temporary place to stay while their mothers worked in war plants. The Daughters of Wisdom arrived at the Home to begin taking care of the children in 1946.

Over the years, the Home evolved into a home for children and young adults with severe disabilities, changing its name and moving into a new facility in the 1960s and then into its current, state-of-the-art building in 2005. Starting in December 2009 and continuing throughout 2010, St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children will be celebrating its 65th anniversary in a number of ways, including vintage-themed holiday decorations, displays of historical items, billboard advertisements in the Norfolk area and an anniversary dinner on March 24, 2010. Be sure to keep checking our website and our newsletter, Guardian, for details – and thank you for supporting the children and young adults who call St. Mary’s “home.”