Nazareth: Orphans, Ghosts and a Saint

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Students prepare for a bus trip from the Nazareth Catholic Orphanage, 1931. Click for a larger version. Image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

On May 3, 1900, Sister Mary Agnes Price became the postmaster of the newest post office in the Raleigh area.  The post office was called “Nazareth,” named for the Catholic orphanage located near Bilyeu Street and Western Boulevard.  Sister Mary Agnes’ brother, Father Thomas Frederick Price, founded the orphanage two years earlier.

Thomas Frederick Price was the first native North Carolinian to be ordained a Catholic priest in 1886.  As a priest, he was known to be energetic and full of zeal, even continuing his sermon and cracking jokes after being pelted with vegetables.  It was Father Price’s idea to start an orphanage and seminary, and he was granted permission by Bishop Haid, the Vicar of the Apostolic Church of North Carolina.

The Nazareth Orphanage started to shelter Catholic and Protestant boys in 1898, and the seminary followed 1902.  Boys at the Nazareth Orphanage worked on the 600 acres farming, bookbinding and publishing.  Father Thomas Price published two Catholic magazines from the orphanage, Truth and Our Lady’s Orphan Boy.  It was the large volume of mail generated by those magazines that necessitated the opening of a new post office.

Nazareth Orphanage was the home to as may as 100 children at a time, and eventually accepted girls as well.  Local Raleigh businesses and residents donated items like food and books to help the orphanage.  At the Nazareth seminary, students came from across the U.S. to study to become Catholic home missionaries in the “Regina Apostolorum” building.


A child prays at his bed in the orphanage, 1931. Click for a larger version. Image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

Nazareth experienced several fires, starting in 1905, that led to gruesome ghost stories that persist even today.  Legend has it that the orphanage burned to the ground, taking the lives of many innocent children with it.  If you go there at night, you will hear the screams of children and smell smoke in the air.  That road is now referred to as “Cry Baby Lane”.

What happened, in fact, is that a fire in 1905 consumed the priest’s living quarters.  One priest was crippled after jumping from a third story window to escape the flames, and another, John Gladdish, was killed in the same manner after helping a number of his fellow priests to safety.


The orphanage school's athletic group. Image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

A fire in 1912 burned the stables, but no one was injured.  A 1961 fire, started by a priest who was attempting to burn wasps’ nests, burned the rectory to the ground, but again, no one was injured.

Father Price left Nazareth in 1911 to begin an international mission, and died suddenly in China in 1919 after his appendix burst.  That year, Catholic supporters began to call for his canonization, an effort that continues to this day.

Nazareth began to sell off some of its 600 acres, donating a portion of land where the original orphanage had stood to Cardinal Gibbons High School in 1962.  This private Catholic high school was one of the first institutions in the nation to integrate in 1953, a year before the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. In 1975, the remaining orphanage building became the home of Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, and it is still standing today.

Despite the ghostly legends, my favorite story about Nazareth Orphanage comes from one of its young residents in the 1950s.  Harry Stewart recalled yearly trips to Morehead City during summers at the orphanage.  Since they had to milk cows everyday, they took the cows with them on the train.  The orphans led about 10 cows from a spot near what is now Mission Valley through Raleigh to the train depot at the corner of Jones and West Streets.