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Above: The Good Shepherd Home in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.
Below: An 1897 letter home from a young woman at the Good Shepherd Home.
Archives of the Archdiocese of Seattle.

In the heart of Wallingford is a magnificent 11-acre facility—an impressive Italianate building, surrounded by trees, lawns, and gardens—mostly hidden behind a high wall. From 1906 until 1973, this was a boarding school for girls, operated by the Good Shepherd Sisters, whose special vocation was to care for young women in crisis.

 The Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd was established in France in the wake of the French Revolution.  The founder, Marie-Euphrasie Pelletier, felt a call to reach out to young women on the margins of society. “Poor children!” she wrote.  “Beaten about in the great tempest of the world, they have known nothing but suffering; they have never experienced the sweetness and charms of virtue.” The community rapidly spread across France and then to the United States. In 1890, the Good Shepherd Sisters came to Seattle at the invitation of Bishop Aegidius Junger, and established the first Good Shepherd Home at 9th and Jefferson (just a few blocks south of the future site of St. James Cathedral). In 1906, they moved to beautiful new quarters in Wallingford.

The Home of the Good Shepherd welcomed two distinct populations. There was an orphanage for girls who had lost one or both parents. And there was what we would perhaps call a “reform school” for girls aged 13-17 who had been deemed “incorrigible” by the courts—either because they had run away from home, dropped out of school, become pregnant, or committed a variety of petty crimes. Many of them came from chaotic or abusive family situations at a time when abuse was seldom discussed. The girls came from every race and religious background, and only about a third of them were Catholic.

The Sisters were loving but strict. One student who entered the home in 1949 remembered Mother Serena and her salty language to disobedient girls: “Where you pussyfooting to, you smart Jack?” she would say, or “Don't you twitch your tail at me.” Structure and routine were key to life at Good Shepherd. There were regular high school classes, with an emphasis on vocational training, and there was plenty of work: in order to support themselves, the girls and the Sisters operated a commercial laundry with many local clients, the largest of which was the Pullman Car Company. The girls also prepared the hosts used in many parishes in the diocese, and made and sold rosaries.  In later years, they even had a beauty parlor, where they could learn the trade and have their hair done (one graduate later recalled, “one of the worst fried permanents I ever had was here”).
While there was no summer vacation for the girls at the Home, there was time for recreation. The girls had plenty of games and music, and they were allowed to watch television—at least when Bishop Fulton Sheen was on.

But there was no forgetting the bars on the windows.  “I am in jail,” one former student remembered thinking on her first night in the dormitory. But, poignantly, another student felt reassured by the bars, which she thought were there not to keep her in but to keep out the frightening experiences and people she had escaped from.
For many years, the girls’ mail was carefully reviewed before it was delivered to them, chiefly to deter them from communicating with young men or planning to run away. The letter featured in this issue of Holy Things, Holy People was written by a young inmate in January, 1897, after three years with the Sisters. “My Dear Mother,” the letter begins, “I now take the pleasure of writing these few lines to you… One thing I know while I am with the mothers I am sure of saving my soul…. I got my brothers and sisters pictures… I think he looks so much like my papa and Charlotte looks like you so much and I think they look healthy too…. I should think times would get better, they have been hard for so long a time.” At the bottom of the page, crowded in the last inch of space, is a heart-breaking plea:  “Why dont my papa write to me. He never answered my last letter I wrote to him. I think he dont like me as much as he used to…. I remain your loving daughter Lulu.”

Sixty years later, another student at Good Shepherd proudly sent home a photo of herself in her uniform. Written on the back were the words: “Dear Mom, someday you will be real proud of me. Love, Vivian.”
During its last decade of operation, the Good Shepherd Home struggled financially. The laundry, which had helped to sustain the institution, lost the bulk of its business, and the numbers of girls admitted dropped as well. The home closed in July of 1973. Today, the Good Shepherd Center is operated by Historic Seattle and houses a variety of non-profits, as well as providing residences for artists.  It is a beautiful place to visit, and a poignant reminder of the Good Shepherd Sisters and the young women they served in this place.

—Corinna Laughlin, Pastoral Assistant for Liturgy

Visit the Good Shepherd Center at 4649 Sunnyside Avenue North in Wallingford. Read more by visiting www.historylink.org and searching “Good Shepherd.”  You will find many more stories about the Home, including some fascinating oral histories.
 


 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
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