Local News

Cathedral sits on former site of Catholic orphanage

Posted July 26

— The Catholic Orphanage at Nazareth once stood on hundreds of acres southwest of Raleigh, caring for generations of children whose parents either died or were too poor or too sick to care for them.

The site now is home to Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, which pleases many of the children who grew up in the orphanage and their families.

"I could feel the presence of the orphanage here," said Debbie Dunbar Ferket, whose father, Roger Dunbar, moved into the orphanage at the end of the Great Depression, when he was 5.

"My father had wonderful memories here. He plowed the land, he worked the land," Ferket said, noting that Dunbar would tell stories of stories of school, the football team and the teamwork at the orphanage.

Father Thomas Price, the first native North Carolinian ordained a Catholic priest, bought the land off what is now Western Boulevard in the 1890s and built a Catholic chapel there. During his travels around the state, he noticed the many children suffering because of their families' poverty, so he and his sister, a nun, opened the orphanage in 1899.

During the Depression, as many as 250 children lived there.

Frank Prevo said he and his two sisters moved to the orphanage in 1945, when he was 5, because they could no longer live with their mother and father in Charlotte.

"The three of us were put on a bus and came to Raleigh," Prevo said. "My parents had a very difficult time. ... Each family has a different story."

For Mary DeMolli, it was illness. When she was 11, her mother died of cancer, and her father had to leave North Carolina to find work.

"If it had not been for the nuns and the priests, when our families were going through hard times, there's no telling where we'd be today," DeMolli said.

Prevo lived at the orphanage until he was 17.

"The best thing that could have happened to us was coming here," he said. "I loved this place."

With the onset of foster care, the need for the orphanage faded, and it closed in the early 1970s. The property was eventually torn down, but former Bishop Michael Burbidge read a letter at Wednesday's dedication Mass for the cathedral from a man who once lived at the orphanage who said he and his fellow residents will always feel part of the cathedral because of their ties to the site.

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