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Raised by the Church: Growing up in New York City's Catholic Orphanages
Fordham University Press / 2011 / Hardcover
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In 1946 Edward Rohs was left by his unwed parents at the Angel Guardian Home to be raised by the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters hoped that the parents would one day return for him. In time they married and had other children, but Ed's parents never came back for him. And they never signed the legal papers so he could be adopted by another family.
Raised by the Church chronicles the extraordinary life of Ed Rohs, a bright, mischievous boy who was raised in five institutions of the Catholic orphanage system in postwar Brooklyn, New York, from infancy in 1946 until he was discharged as an adult in 1965.
Rohs was one of thousands of children taken in by Catholic institutions during the tumultuous post-WWII years: out-of-wedlock infants, children whose fathers had been killed in the war, and children of parents in crisis. Ed gives a brief history of each institution before describing that world--the Sisters and Brothers who raised him, the food, his companions, and the Catholic community that provided social and emotional support.
When Ed finally leaves the institution after nineteen years he has a difficult time adjusting. He slowly assimilates into "normal" life and determinedly rises above his origins, achieving an advanced degree and career success, working for years in child welfare and as volunteer strength coach for the Fordham University basketball team. He hides his upbringing out of shame and fear of others' pity. But as he begins to reflect on his own story and to talk to the people who raised him, Ed begins to see a larger story intertwined with his own.
With original research based on interviews with clergymen and nuns, archival data from the New York Archdiocese, and government records, Raised by the Church tells the social history of an era when hundreds of thousands of baby boomers passed through the orphanage system.
Through the story of one man, this book gives us a much-needed historical perspective on an American society that understood and acknowledged the community's need for a safe haven.
Edward Rohs coordinates mental health service for the New York City Field Office of the New York State Office of Mental Health. He is a former psychotherapist and social worker for abused and abandoned children and their families. Ed's skill at interacting with people of all ages across cultures, combined with his irreverent sense of humor, has made him a much-loved role model and mentor to generations of children and their families.
Judith Estrine is a writer. She lives in New York City.
"A fascinating and riveting story of how a boy grew into manhood despite family
alienation and the perils of institutional life."-William Seraile, Professor Emeritus, Lehman College, City University of New York
"I so enjoyed Ed's book. Having begun my career in social services, our paths have crossed for decades. Ed's touching and often humorous story offers a refreshingly positive look at the many truly good people in New York City's Catholic Church - people who are doing the good work in our society for no other reason than the fact that it's the right thing to do. Ed is the living result of these good intentions and, with his chosen career path, he is keeping the cycle of the good work going."-Jim McCann, Founder of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and Celebrations.com
"Edward Rohs' life journey takes him through the gamut of emotions--abandonment, confusion, loneliness, fear, discovery, appreciation, justice, and love. To his credit, he was determined not to let the circumstances of his life control his life and he succeeded."-Fr. Paul Landolfi, SM, St. John's Home for Boys
"I have known Edward Rohs for over 25 years and I have never met a more compassionate man. Ed has helped hundreds of under privileged people survive and thrive despite all of the odds that they face. His story is compelling and motivational and a must read for anyone who has obstacles to overcome. That means anyone with a heart beat! Ed has overcome all odds in his fight to survive and if we are judged by the size of our deeds then Ed Rohs is the wealthiest man in the world."-Tom Penders, author of Dead Coach Walking
"Rohs describes how institutionalized life defined him. . .[His] tale is also that of New York City in his growing up years. He describes life in shifting city neighborhoods, as street gangs terrorized the orphan boys in what is now highly gentrified Brooklyn, and the wonders of life on the beach in Rockaway, Queens."-National Catholic Reporter
"[Rohs] couples a moving first-person account of coping with a system that separated orphans by age and gender with a historical perspective on child care in the 19th and 20th centuries."-Sam Roberts, New York Times
". . .A real triumph-over adversity story."-New York Post
"'Raised by the Church' is a dedicated memoir about the struggles of growing up an outcast, even under the kindness of charity, much recommended." -Midwest Book Review
"The story of this one man supplies needed historical perspective on an American society that understood and acknowledge the community's need for a safe haven." -American Catholic Studies Newsletter
"Raised by the Church is the story of Brooklyn's post-war Catholic orphanage system. The book reminds us that every generation is challenged to find ways to take care of children whose parents cannot do so."-Catholic News Service
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