Lafon Home for Boys (1935)
The Fire of 1933
It all began on the morning of December 23, 1933. At 6:30 a.m. the younger boys were asleep, the older ones were in morning prayers, and the nuns were attending chapel services. Suddenly, Clifton Parker, a 14 year old orphan at the Lafon Home for Boys on Gentilly Road in New Orleans, rushed to the chapel. He ran to warn Sister Angelica that a fire had just broken out in the pantry.
Realizing how quickly the fire could spread through the three wooden buildings, Sister Angelica immediately rushed to the dormitory where the younger boys were sound asleep. Along with the assistance of eight other nuns, Sister Angelica wrapped the boys in blankets and carried them out in their night clothes. Older boys rushed to the aid of a crippled friend and proceeded to carry him out while others assisted a blind companion to safety. It was through the quick actions taken by Sister Angelica and the other Sisters of the Holy Family that the lives of all 67 young boys were saved.
The boys ranged in ages from three to eighteen. The younger residents were sent to St. John Berchman’s Home on Gentilly Road while the older ones took shelter at the Lafon Old Folks’ Home.
Once the boys were all safely removed, the nuns managed to save candles and a chalice from the chapel. Sister Angelica soon returned to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament, but all clothings were left behind.
Unfortunately, the blaze sprayed to all three buildings. Firemen from Chemical Company #2 rushed to the scene but were able to save only the newly built barn and a cottage.
Mother Elizabeth, head of the order, soon realized there was not enough insurance money to rebuild the boys’ home since the buildings were only insured for $19,000 and its contents for $5,000. Efforts would have to be made to seek money from the public.
The Rebuilding Campaign (1934)
A very important meeting was held on Sunday, January 28, 1934 at the Lafon Old Folks’ Home. Coming together were various influential groups from the community. Members of churches, society and social clubs, citizens, the St. John Berchman Willing Workers, and Community Chest representatives gathered and agreed to appeal to the general public for aid.
The Dedication Ceremony (1935)
On 28 May 1935, just one year and four months after its destruction, a new home was built and the dedication was held. The home, which was again owned and operated by the Sisters of the Holy Family for the care of Indigent Boys, was now ready for occupancy.
As shown in the photo above, it was a two-story, concrete and brick, fire-proof structure of Colonial style. It included four spacious classrooms, two large dormitories, nursery, offices, a chapel, and several other rooms; an investment well worth over $95,000.
Situated in Gentilly, seven miles below Canal Street, the Lafon Home now housed fifty-six boys but could accommodate up to one hundred. Sister Angelica was put in charge.
Sisters of the Holy Family
At the dedication ceremony, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel praised the Sisters of the Holy Family for their untiring work in caring for orphans and the aged. He blessed the building inside and out as thousands of Catholic laymen, clerics, nuns, altar boys and civic workers looked on.
Reverend Edward Murphy (president of Xavier University and pastor of St. John of Arc Church) was master of ceremony. Allison B. Randolph spoke and was vigorously applauded for his hard work and dedication to the sisters. Finally, Rev. J.J. Furlong, chaplain of Lafon Home for Boys and Lafon Old Folks’ Home, outlined its history.
He told the story of the home that was founded in 1893 by Thomy Lafon who (at the time of his death) left the Sisters of the Holy Family a building on St. Peter Street, specifically for this purpose. In 1906, the sisters bought a piece of property on Chef Menteur. They remodeled the private home that stood there and relocated the boys’ orphanage to the site.
Despite the devastating destruction brought on by the storm of 1915 and the fire of 1933, the Lafon Home for Boys continued to exist and to give shelter and hope to countless young men. This is just one example of the Sisters of the Holy Family fulfilling their mission of bringing healing comfort to children, the elderly, the poor and the powerless, especially those of African descent.
Note: Through further research, I have discovered that The Lafon Home for Boys closed just prior to 1968. The building reopened as the Lafon Day Care Center on August 25, 1969. The center, located at 7024 Chef Menteur Highway, accepted children from the ages of two to four at a fee of $15.00 per week. It continued to be run by the Sisters of the Holy Family.
Sources: The Louisiana Weekly, December 30, 1933 pages 1 and 4 + February 3, 1934 page 1 + May 25, 1935 p.1 + June 1, 1935 + The Times Picayune, June 12, 1969 page 18.
Lolita Villavasso Cherrie