Melbourne’s first Catholic orphanage, St Vincent’s was originally founded in Prahran in 1854 before moving to South Melbourne in 1857.
Melbourne’s first Catholic orphanage was established in 1854 by Father Gerald Ward. Father Ward was also responsible for establishing Victoria’s first branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
Based in a Prahran house, the orphanage offered temporary accommodation for children who were orphaned, abandoned, destitute or neglected.
By 1857, the orphanage moved to Cecil Street, South Melbourne. At the time, it was Victoria’s first purpose-built Catholic orphanage. The building still stands today, not only as one of the oldest remaining orphanage buildings in Australia but also as home to MacKillop Family Services.
In 1861, the Sisters of Mercy took over managing the orphanage. They later separated the children by gender, moving the girls to a newly built orphanage in nearby Church St (St Vincent de Paul’s Girls’ Orphanage). The Christian Brothers took over managing the boys’ orphanage in 1874.
In 1967, the orphanage changed its name to the St Vincent de Paul’s Boys’ Home. An on-site school offered students an intensive learning program to fast track their education, enabling them to move quickly towards gaining a job and eventual independent living.
Between the mid-1970s and 1980s, the home’s large living dormitories were abandoned in favour of smaller, more ‘home like’ apartments. Social workers were also employed to provide personalised support to each boy.
By the time orphanage officially closed in 1997 it had been home to over 6,000 children.