Writings from former children of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington, Vermont, shed new light on the horrific abuses they endured. Their stories reflect those of five million American children who have passed through the orphanage system in the 20th Century alone. Through personal narrative and poetry, these courageous individuals show their tremendous resilience and strength. Their artful renderings, in the form of poetry and non-fiction, demonstrate the way that creative writing can be a vehicle for the communication of important truths as well as an act of healing. Along with poetry and non-fiction developed over the course of a year-long writers’ workshop, the book offers a sampling of exercises for developing writing as well as illuminating conversations with the authors.
“The ordeal of children who spent time at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington, Vermont, is one of the 20th century’s darkest and least told tales. It is also one of that era’s most extraordinary stories of resilience and survival. Like children in a fairy tale, the survivors of St. Joseph were locked away in a dark fortress with often cruel and abusive adults standing between them and the rest of the world. Somehow through this, the writers of this book held on to the unique spark inside them. It may have taken time to understand the fallout of their time in an orphanage, but with immense strength, courage and creativity, they came together to support each other and tell their story in their own words. Everyone who cares about history and truth should read this book.”
—Christine Kenneally, prize-winning journalist and author of the 2018 Buzzfeed article “We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage”
“When thinking about facilitated creativity that is focused on trauma, I see the forces of nature: rivers and volcanoes. As traumatic memories are brought to the surface, the experience can be overwhelming. Individuals who have undergone childhood abuse, in the act of remembering, have reported sensations of drowning, of being flooded. Through the process of creative writing in a structured workshop setting, that intensity and pain is channeled into an enactment of meaning.”
—Alisa Del Tufo, Founder, Threshold Collaborative
“The writers’ group has been an amazing opportunity for The Voices of St. Joseph’s. Trauma is an experience of mind, body and soul. Writing, as a collective experience, is one of the most valuable tools for survivors, one that helps them to reflect upon their experiences with new eyes, and to access memories that might otherwise have remained buried. These writers have engaged fully in this therapeutic activity. With courage and strength, they have chosen to share their work with others in order to create change and engender understanding.”
—Kate Brayton, LICSW, Victim Services Director, Vermont State Police, Major Crime Unit
“ Reading the stories of those who lived at St. Joseph’s Orphanage allowed my heart and mind to exist for a moment with them as children in that place. To witness. To stand with. We need to hear these stories, as their telling is a gift, a burden, and a challenge to us to remember with them that which should not ever occur again. My thanks for their sharing.”
—Jim Forbes, MPA, LICSW, Burlington, Vermont
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Carol Adinolfi: Carol has been a working writer and a teacher for over twenty-five years. She has always been dedicated to providing high quality arts education to underserved communities. As Writing Consultant for the Brooklyn Public Library Literacy and Prison Services Program, she led creative writing workshops at the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men. She has served as a consultant and staff developer for the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project. In that role she worked with faculty and administrators of New York’s inner-city public schools to make creative writing central to the literacy curriculum. She founded and directed a six-year project as part of Bennington College’s Quantum Leap program for at-risk youth in public schools. In 2018, along with art therapist Christine Randolph, Carol founded Dovetail Arts, an organization focused on making creative writing and visual art, working in tandem, accessible to people from all walks of life. Chris and Carol are currently developing a project designed for working with incarcerated individuals, and for collaborating with existing prison education and community reentry programs.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Gene Clark (1952)
Gene and his three siblings lived at St. Joseph’s Orphanage from 1964 through 1965. They were raised by a single mother. “She made sure we felt love and kindness. Once we were placed at the orphanage our whole lives changed. We went from a loving home to a place of shame, with sexual and physical abuse being part of our daily lives. After having survived St Joseph’s, I went on with my life, trying to fix all the damage that was done in that sinful place. My love for music seemed to be my only refuge.” Music also led to Gene’s discovery of his talent for lyric-making and composing. “I found songwriting intensely healing and therapeutic.” His love for music led him to build a recording studio. “I built Geno’s Music Studio to insure I’d be able to work with music for the rest of my life. No one can ever take that away from me, for music is an important part of who I am. I now have the freedom to work with music whenever I want to, day or night. That’s happiness!” Gene lives with his wife Nancy in Essex Junction, Vermont. They have five children and fourteen grandchildren.
DEBI GEVRY-ELLSWORTH (1962)
Debi’s love for writing and reading began early in life. In fifth grade, she started keeping a diary and has yet to stop. At the age of two, along with her sister and brother, Debi was placed at St. Joseph’s Orphanage. It would be ten years before Debi re-entered society. “After I left the orphanage I did not know how to live outside of an institution. I was like a scared, feral cat, always watching my back, always ready to run. There were three women who entered my life and each of them, in their special way, showed me how to live. If not for them, I haven’t a clue where I’d be today. I am forever grateful to them all. In high school I started writing poetry. I knew nothing about sentence structure or composition; I just enjoyed writing and it helped clear my mind. Sometimes, if the opportunity arose, I would take a writers’ workshop, but for the most part I just wrote on my own until we started the S.J.O.R.I. writers’ group.” Today Debi lives on a 174-acre farm in Connecticut with her husband, Jim, and their two dogs. They enjoy spending time with their joined family of six children and five grandchildren.
SHEILA GRISARD (1955)
Sheila was born in Enosburg Falls, Vermont, the seventh of nine children. “My parents were poor and uneducated and went through many hardships. They were forced to place me and five of my siblings at St. Joseph’s in 1961. In 1968, at the age of 14, I left the orphanage and was placed in three foster homes over a period of several years. One year later, I met a social worker who told me I could do whatever I wanted and live anywhere I liked as long as I did well in school. This motivated me to excel in academics, and I graduated one year early. I received a Tyrrell scholarship and attended Johnson State College, majoring in social work. I took a creative writing class in college and it was a lot of fun. This inspired me to keep journals, a practice I’ve continued throughout my life.” Sheila later attended nursing school and has worked for many years at the University of Utah Hospital. In 2001, she lost her partner in a skiing accident, an avalanche. “It was really from that time that I dove into humanitarian work. In 2014, I met my match, an orthotist who shares my passion for humanitarian work, and together we’ve traveled all over the world.” Sheila lives in Utah with her husband. They have two children and four grandchildren who also live in Utah. Sheila continues her work as a nurse. “But my real passion in life is my humanitarian work around the world. I have documented that part of my life in journals, detailing the cases we’ve worked on and writing about different cultures and people.”
KATELIN HOFFMAN (1957)
Katelin wrote her first poem as a child, during her time at the orphanage, and throughout her life she’s continued to write poetry.
“In college, I wrote a lot of research papers, but I really never wrote my stories until later. I really enjoy writing personal narratives. It’s kind of an exploration, where I get a sense of who I am and who I was, and how to relay that to other people. When I write about my experiences, it’s a kind of therapy. I’ve learned through this work a lot about my emotions, and about what’s important to me.”
“I lived at the orphanage from 1970 to 1972, and then at the Elizabeth Lund home for three years. I was able to leave when I graduated early from high school. I’ve spent most of my life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I’ve never married and never had a real home. But I’ve had five fur-baby children, three of whom are deceased.”
Katelin studied social work at the University of Vermont for a little over three years. She finished her degree at Burlington College with a degree in psychology and human services. “Ever since I was in third grade, I’ve admired Dr. Spock. I’ve tried to emulate him in his ability to not feel and to be logical. That’s what makes the writing hard. But I love using my imagination in figuring out how to describe my past. Through this process, my goal is to make my experiences real for the reader.”
Katelin lives in Burlington, Vermont, with a dachshund named Samantha Amber Rose and a cat named Oliver Liberty Blue. Sam is twelve and a half years old, and Oliver is three and a half.
MICHAEL RYAN (1964)
Michael entered St. Joseph’s in 1973, at the age of nine, and he would remain at the orphanage for seven years. “I began reading at a very early age, kindergarten and even before. I would sit on my father’s lap and he’d read to me, and that’s how I learned. It has been an integral part of my life ever since.” When Michael got out of the orphanage, he joined the navy. After the institutionalization of St. Joseph’s and the abusive behaviors of authority figures there, he found that the military was “not a good fit.”
“My travels have brought me from coast to coast, from the Mojave Desert to the infamous grapevines on the West Coast, to seeing the Statue of Liberty from the cab of my truck! I’ve been snow-blind in blizzards so heavy I could barely see the taillights of the truck in front of me, in fog so deep coming off Afton mountain in Virginia I could not continue.
“I was a commercial fisherman in Alaska. I sold flooring in Virginia, and I was a cross-country truck driver for many years. Wherever I was, you could always find me with a book in my hand. The Prophet is one of my favorites. Then, of course, there’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. I’ve chosen these examples because they’re both about love and the possibilities of love. I’ve always written a little bit here and there, but the S.J.O.R.I. writers’ group is the first series of workshops I’ve ever taken. The only thing I enjoy more than writing is reading. I know how a story is supposed to go together, because I’ve read enough stories.”
Michael lives with his wife, Laura, in Buckingham, Virginia. In his spare time, he likes to cook and compete in cook-offs. Chili is his specialty. He’s been in the top five regionally on two separate occasions.
NONFICTION & POETRY
82 pages; Softcover
5.5 x 8.5, $16.95
Publication Date: September 2021
Distributor: IPG/Chicago, Ingram.
Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights & PR: Dede Cummings, email@example.com
Keywords: Nature, Poetry, Aging, Grief, COVID-19, Jewish, Racism, Vermont
Distributor: IPG; also available through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and other wholesalers.
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