Home to the Orphanage

A memoir by author Ron Clancy

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Author Ron Clancy’s memoir Home to the Orphanage covers the first fifteen years of his life. Now seventy-nine years old, Ron tells his story from a young boy’s perspective. He begins by revisiting a Catholic orphanage, surveys the old grounds, and reflects on the lost conversations of nuns and hundreds of other boys. With dismay, he notes the weathering of the years, familiar buildings gone without a trace, and the dilapidated condition of what was once a vibrant schoolhouse

He then sketches those years, mostly a comfortable and desired experience with the Sisters of Saint Joseph. However, the author’s world collapses when his mother unexpectedly takes his brother and him out of the orphanage. 

The following thirty-month aberration meant the constant uprooting from poor or Italian neighborhoods because of unpaid rent and utility bills. On one occasion, the two brothers had to steal street construction lanterns because the family apartment lacked electricity. Too often, little food was on the table, causing the hungry twosome to stalk the local food markets and their neighbors’ pre-dawn home stoops for food. 

These inadequacies were minor compared to adult criminal activity, predatory sexual conduct, imprisonments of stepfathers, premature death of twins at birth, alcohol and physical abuse, and underage teenage pregnancy. Because the author was psychologically unsuited to withstand that surreal existence, he often despaired and felt dead inside. Eventually, at age ten, he ran away from home. The road to hell ended when a Family Court magistrate granted Ron’s wish to return to the orphanage.

For the next five years, the Sisters of St. Joseph nourished Ron, reinvigorating his Catholic belief that all things are possible under God. The renewal of lost boyhood friendships brought further happiness, and in its glow, Ron developed a keener appreciation of the women who served him so well. Inherently shy and reflective, he imagined his protectors as once eighteen and nineteen year-old girls who, during their lifetime, gave up the romances of their youth for thousands of other boys like him.

Living with the Sisters of Saint Joseph allowed Ron to observe them in a far different light than Hollywood caricatures. He deftly humanizes his teachers and supervisors, accepting their peculiar personalities, especially those prone to humor, but less so when a nun’s cruelty inflicted on his observation. At such a moment, the author admits to succoring hate and questioning the reflexive love for his teacher. But he never lets that human frailty sink him below the waves.

The memoir is also a young boy’s tribute to the Sisters of St. Joseph. The closing scene describes the author visiting Mount St. Joseph Memorial Cemetery and Gardens and, later, St. Joseph’s Villa Cemetery in Flourtown, where the earthly remains of Sisters Clare Genevieve and the other orphanage teachers and supervisors lay at rest in the earth’s bosom. Destiny, the author believes, brings him there. He then searches for their graves and, once found, communes with their spirits. Whispering prayerfully, Ron thanks his protectors for saving him from a once hellish life before imagining them ascending, like Jesus, beyond the mountains to the sun-lit heavens.