HAMMOND | Sister Maria Giuseppe recalls crying at a party being thrown for her in the 1970s as she prepared to continue her studies in Milwaukee, Wis.
The reason was simple. She was leaving a group of boys who had taken firm hold on her heart and would retain their grip there for decades.
For a half-dozen years, the junior sister had been like a mother for scores of boys passing through the Carmelite Home for Boys in Hammond.
Boys such as Gerardo Banda never forgot the love she and others gave them during a critical point in their lives.
"I was there at age 8 till I was 13. Sister Giuseppe was my caretaker at the time," Banda said. "All my memories of my stay there are good. Sister was a great influence in my life. She loved her boys."
Banda now lives in Texas with his wife of 36 years, Christina. They raised two boys of their own and have five grandchildren.
"My grandson, who was named after me, Gerardo III, looks like me when I was a young boy. I can't wait to introduce him to Sister," Banda wrote. "He's 7 and is almost the same age I was when Sister first started to care for me. I know she will be so happy to see him in person. She's seen pictures of him and she says the memories of me come back to her."
Sister Guiseppe vividly recalls her boys
Sister Guiseppe said she remembers the boys so well that to this day she can still see Banda in her mind's eye.
"He had olive green pajamas that he wore.... I said, 'Jerry, I can remember those things about you.'
"They were some of the happiest years in my religious life," said Giuseppe as she reflected recently during a visit at St. Joseph's Carmelite Home in East Chicago.
She is now the administrator of that home, where she has been for more than 37 years, but has a special place in her heart for the Hammond home that helped so many young boys through their formative years.
Structure opened in 1915 recently razed
The Carmelite Home for Boys in Hammond opened in 1915.
A three-story building where many of those boys were housed was torn down recently as the owner of the property prepares to build a community health center at the site. The razing caused some sadness for those who once called it home, but also prompted reflection.
It was of a very joyous time for some of those involved in nurturing the boys who found themselves at the facility.
The man overseeing the recent project, Bob Krumwied, president and chief executive officer of Regional Mental Health Centers, has his own memories of the home. He recalled hosting a table during holiday dinners held for the boys by the Hammond Rotary Club.
The Carmelite facilties in East Chicago and Hammond started as orphanages before evolving into group homes. Giuseppe gave tribute to the pioneering sisters who she said did everything they could to keep the homes going in the face of much poverty -- even solicit donations door to door. In the early days, the nuns would sometimes even find babies left there and then find them new families.
Carmelite residents not all orphans
Giuseppe said while some of the children in the beginning were truly orphans, others were children with a single parent who were unable to provide for their needs.
"People got in the habit of calling us an orphanage, but technically all of the children here were not orphans," she said. Later, perhaps in the 1940s, the facilities were known as group homes. In the 1980s, both became residential treatment centers.
Giuseppe was in her early 20s and had yet to take her final vows when she started working at the Hammond home around 1971.
"I was very, very young and it was my first experience with a group of children. And I loved them and I felt that they loved me, too," she said.
'The kids were very loving, so good...'
When she came to the Carmelite Home for Boys, Giuseppe joined a group of about eight other nuns taking care of some 70 boys. The 14 to 18 children under her charge ranged in age from about 9 to 14. She took her cue from the older nuns.
"I imitated," she said. "I tried to get tips from other sisters."
They "were very loving," said Guiseppe of the nuns who gave her advice. "They would say 'do that, don't to that, try this and try that,' and kind of helped me along as far as dealing with the children.
"But the kids were so good. That is the amazing thing. They were good kids. They could have given me a very, very awful time, but they didn't. Of course, you had ups and downs, you know, but I just really had a positive experience."
Sister Immaculata Osterhaus, who took care of a group of about 13 young boys at the home from November 1964 to about 1970-71, also loved the experience. She had the advantage of coming from a family of 13 children.
"I was from a big family myself so I was right at home with the kids," recalled Osterhaus, who is now provincial superior in Wisconsin. The boys needed discipline, but you still had to be good to them, she said.
Some of the boys she helped raise write and call her to this day.
"It was so homey," Osterhaus said. "I enjoyed it so much."
Ex-residents recalls big family feeling
Eric Hoitsma remembers that type of feeling and said "it felt like a big family."
Hoitsma was at the home from 1991 to 2000 and at one time or another his three brothers also stayed there.
Giuseppe stayed in a small room called a cell between the two groups of boys under her charge. It was a room she unwillingly shared with mice that would sometimes make their way through the pipes of the old structure.
"Gregory, come here and get this mouse," she remembers yelling out to one of the small boys who slept outside her door. And the young boy would dutifully march in and empty the mouse trap before readying it for the next invader.
It was then time for breakfast before they went off to one of the nearby schools such as St. Casimir. In the evening -- after homework that tutors from Bishop Noll Institute would assist them with -- the boys might be taken to bowling or to some other activity by house fathers. She spent time with them when they would come back for a snack and to watch television before going to bed. There were weekends and holidays and outings to the nearby park and swimming pool.
Hoitsma remembers nuns taking him to Great America every summer during his years at the home. At Christmas time, the boys either returned to their families or to another family that hosted them that day.
"I learned to ride my first bike there at the age of 13 when someone donated a bunch of bikes. Every week we would do activities likegoing to the YMCA, swimming or playing outdoor soccer, going to the movies, Cubs/Sox/Bulls games, and going to the Frair Tucks arcade," he said.
It was not all fun and games. In addition to their studies, the boys performed chores around the home and attended church services. Giuseppe said there was a beautiful chapel on site.
During her time in Milwaukee, Giuseppe would come back on the weekend to spend time with her boys. She admits it was tough to see the boys who had once been her charges being taken care of by someone else. She said she was counting the hours to what she thought would be her eventual return to the home, but after graduation the Mother Superior informed her she was being sent to the girls' home in East Chicago.
"I didn's say a word," she said. "In those days, there was no discussion."
Giuseppe grew to love the girls she oversaw in East Chicago and has been happy there for more than 37 years.
"But I never forgot Hammond and I never forgot my experience," Giuseppe said.
"I just want it to be remembered as Carmelite Home for Boys," she said. "I think it influenced a lot of people's lives."