By Neil Harvey | The Roanoke Times
Any monument holds some part of the thing it honors, even if the fragment exists only in spirit.
But a memorial dedicated Sunday afternoon to the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys consists of whole pieces of the building to which it pays tribute.
The new structure, which sits on a circle just beside St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, is built in part with bricks from the orphanage. The Celtic cross that tops it, a heavy cornerstone, three bas-relief fixtures and the concrete sign that bears the orphanage’s name also came from the building, which opened in early 1893, became the Achievement Center from 1975 until 2003 and was demolished in 2008.
John Wagner, who is pictured as a child on a bronze plaque that designates the monument, said that during the orphanage’s years of operations, hundreds and hundreds of young men stayed there and were supervised by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
“The needs of almost a thousand boys were guided and met by the sisters,” Wagner said. “Without their love, most of us might not have made it.”
Wagner was not an orphan, but he lived at the school on weekdays from age 3 to 9, between 1941 and 1947, while his mother worked.
“For me, living there … was an idyllic time,” he recalled, and said he and the other boys shared “an uncommon brotherhood.”
A number of the orphanage’s wards, and five of the sisters, were on hand for Sunday’s dedication.
“I think all of us … will continue to keep you and all the boys deep in our hearts and in our prayers,” said Sister Joan Wilson, speaking on behalf of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
Chris Hoeser used to coach St. Vincent’s boys football during the 1940s, when Wagner played. At the time, Hoeser was a teen with a railroad job, an apprentice position, and he used to walk to St. Vincent’s after work.
The grassy expanse that lies adjacent to the monument “used to be just a field of dirt,” he recalled Sunday.
“A lot has changed since then,” he added.
When the building was demolished in 2008, to make room for a $400,000 parking lot expansion, crews uncovered a time capsule hidden away in a cornerstone since the days of the Great Depression. It contained a booklet about the orphanage, a typed list of the names of the nearly three dozen boys who lived there, and a 1931 copy of The Roanoke Times.
As S&L Masonry constructed the monument earlier this year, it left room for a new time capsule, which included a 2008 Times’ story about the earlier capsule, a St. Andrew’s church bulletin from April 18, the original list of the orphanage’s guests, a Christmas tree ornament and one of the sister’s rosaries.