A Thanksgiving Story: Father Dunne’s Boys and Hugh Campbell

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Father Dunne and some of his boys”

Father Dunne’s News­boys’ Home and Pro­tec­torate, as an orga­ni­za­tion, will be 108 years old this com­ing Feb­ru­ary. Back in 1931, dur­ing the 25th anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat rec­ol­lected that, “A mys­te­ri­ous ‘Friend of the Home,’ who has never per­mit­ted his name to be known, began his min­is­tra­tions at [at the Home on] Selby Place, send­ing every now and then a wag­onload of pro­vi­sions and leav­ing with Father Dunne, gifts of money, always anony­mously. In those early days it is prob­a­ble the home could not have existed but for this friend. Suf­fice it to say that his inter­est has never abated. A boun­ti­ful Thanks­giv­ing din­ner every year since then is one of his out­stand­ing bene­fac­tions.” This is the story of who that anony­mous bene­fac­tor was.

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Fr. Peter Joseph Dunne

The future Father Peter Joseph Dunne was born June 29, 1870 in Chicago.  His father was a car­pen­ter, but both his par­ents did not enjoy good health, and the fam­ily moved to a small farm in Kansas in 1873 to get away from “the sti­fling city streets.” Nev­er­the­less, Peter Dunne’s mother died in 1879 and his father took Peter and his four sib­lings to reside in Kansas City, Mis­souri, where Peter’s father died three years later.  An orphan at the age of 12, Peter was employed in a print­ery, but later found work at the Catholic Orphans’ Home for Girls in Kansas City where his sis­ters resided.  Work­ing var­i­ous odd jobs and appren­tice­ships through age 24, Peter moved to St. Louis in the win­ter of 1891, where he first was a team­ster, then, after panic of 1893, became night watch­man at Saint Louis University.

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Though poorly edu­cated, the Jesuits put him on the path to priest­hood. He spent four years at St. Benedict’s Col­lege in Atchi­son, Kansas, then entered Ken­rick Sem­i­nary in 1898.  At age 32, Peter Joseph Dunne was ordained a priest on June 13, 1903. His first assign­ment was at St. Columbkille’s Church in Caron­delet, then, in May 1905 to St. Rose’s Catholic Church.  No doubt always alert to the prob­lems of par­ent­less boys and the need for edu­ca­tion, on Sep­tem­ber 10, 1905 he preached a ser­mon claim­ing the edu­ca­tion of boys in St. Louis, as in the rest of the nation, was neglected in favor of girls. “Girls are not inclined by nature to be as bad as the boys,” thought Father Dunne. “Boys are not nat­u­rally bad, but they must be prop­erly trained.” The St. Louis Repub­lic news­pa­per reported, “The attack on the sys­tem of the instruc­tion of youths as con­ducted by the Catholic Church is said to be the first pub­lic utter­ance of its kind.”

Untitled-1Per­haps in reac­tion to Father Dunne’s ser­mon, or per­haps it was already part of the plan, on Decem­ber 6, 1905, Arch­bishop John Glen­non announced the estab­lish­ment of a “home for poor boys and girls” in St. Louis, most of whom worked menial jobs, such as sell­ing news­pa­pers or shin­ing shoes, to sur­vive on the streets. He appointed Father P. J. Dunne as direc­tor to “devise ways and means for its cre­ation and main­te­nance.” The home was to be located on Six­teenth or Sev­en­teenth Street, between Wash­ing­ton Avenue and O’Fallon Street (“the con­gested dis­trict east of Jef­fer­son Avenue.”) Accord­ing to Father Dunne, they would start with the boys:  “News­boys, boot­blacks and all home­less boys who are too old to find a shel­ter at orphan­ages will be cared for free of charge.” In addi­tion, the home would pro­vide “a refuge for boys who are arrested and taken before the juve­nile court.”  Father Dunne would solicit funds from local busi­ness­men: “Sev­eral promi­nent St. Louis phil­an­thropists have already sig­ni­fied their will­ing­ness to do all within their power to pro­mote the enterprise.”

IMG_6234But funds were slow in com­ing in. In early Feb­ru­ary 1906 Father Dunnes’ News­boys’ Home opened at 1013 Selby Place (in north St. Louis, just across from today’s Carr Park). Three boys were the first res­i­dents. The first night there was no fur­ni­ture, but a neigh­bor­ing mer­chant loaned him blan­kets and com­forts for the night.  Sev­en­teen years later, at the annual Thanks­giv­ing din­ner, Father Dunne recalled how sev­eral days later “This kind man came to the house and I was not at home. He asked the cook if there was any­thing to eat in the house for the boys. She told him there was very lit­tle – one-half a loaf of bread and two dough­nuts. The gen­tle­man went to a whole­sale house and sent up a two-horse load of gro­ceries and pro­vi­sions that lasted us many months.”

Per Father Dunne’s rec­ol­lec­tion, this same “unknown bene­fac­tor” would visit the Home as fre­quently as twice a week to check on things. By May 1906 the num­ber of home­less boys had increased to 35. With the help of friends, includ­ing the anony­mous gift-giver, Father Dunne rented a larger house at 2737 Locust Street.  It was here that the newsboys’

"That Feller", Mr. Hugh Campbell

That Feller”, Mr. Hugh Campbell

cel­e­brated their first Thanks­giv­ing. The St. Louis Repub­lic head­line read “Prince of Mys­tery Stuffs News­boys,” and described “that feller” – as the news­boys referred to the donor – as a “distinguished-looking, hand­some and a thor­ough aris­to­crat in his bear­ing” who watched as the 56 res­i­dents ate turkey, dress­ing, rolls, fruit, nuts, pie, cake, and ice cream, all served by wait­ers “who looked as if they might have stepped out of the Ara­bian Nights.”  At each boy’s plate were a dol­lar bill, a box of Busy Bee candy, and a toy turkey.  The anony­mous bene­fac­tor would go on to spend approx­i­mately $1,000 every Thanks­giv­ing for the next 25 years to pro­vide a sim­i­lar feast. It was only after the donor’s death in 1931 that Father Dunne offi­cially iden­ti­fied the spon­sor as Hugh Camp­bell, Jr., the mil­lion­aire son of Robert Campbell.

Ban­quets occurred year after year, seem­ingly grow­ing in excess (and cer­tainly in the num­ber of res­i­dent boys) over time. On Novem­ber 10, 1907, just before the occa­sion of the sec­ond Thanks­giv­ing ban­quet, Father Dunne’s News­boys’ Home and Pro­tec­torate moved to brand new and even larger quar­ters at 3010 Wash­ing­ton Avenue, at the cor­ner of Wash­ing­ton & Gar­ri­son avenues.  This was the result of dona­tions from 30 local busi­ness­men, with Hugh IMG_6230Camp­bell allegedly pro­vid­ing the bulk of the funds.  The Home could now pro­vide for at least 125 boys, and more over time. By 1909, news reports recorded not only the sump­tu­ous feast (always catered), but accom­pa­nied by a stringed orches­tra (most often De Martini’s), that would enter­tain the boys with patri­otic Amer­i­can or lively Irish music.  Each meal began with a prayer of thanks for the unknown bene­fac­tor, who seemed to attend in the early years, but less fre­quently as the years passed.  At its’ height, the Thanks­giv­ing ban­quet pro­vided no less than 600 pounds of turkey to feed upwards of 200 boys.

FrDunneHC2 (1)The news­boys referred to the stranger who pro­vided the din­ners as “that feller” or “Mr. Mur­phy.”  Hugh Camp­bell report­edly told Father Dunne that his dona­tions were to remain anony­mous, and if his name ever got out, the News­boys’ Home “would never get another nickel.” He also told the priest, “You had bet­ter take what you can while I’m liv­ing because my will is made and you will get noth­ing when I die.”  It was only after his death on August 9, 1931 that the extent of his gen­eros­ity to the News­boys’ Home was made known.

Dur­ing one of the Camp­bell estate law­suits, in 1933, Father Dunne tes­ti­fied that Hugh Camp­bell first came to the Selby Place res­i­dence in 1906 after read­ing about the new home in the news­pa­per.  We know now that Hugh has always had an inter­est in these types of char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions, hav­ing donated to the cre­ation of a “Street Boys’ Home” in St. Louis in 1877.  Hugh also gave Father Dunne money, in addi­tion to the cart full of food, and con­tin­ued to pro­vide for the home and spe­cific boy’s in par­tic­u­lar through the years.  Besides the Thanks­giv­ing ban­quets, start­ing in 1906, Hugh donated the money for con­struc­tion of the Wash­ing­ton Avenue build­ing in 1907. In 1908 he donated por­traits to the Home of Father Dunne, Car­di­nal Glen­non, and the “orig­i­nal news­boy” Jimmy Flem­ing, in addi­tion to funds for the mar­ble altar in the chapel.  In 1909 he pro­vided the money for the facil­ity swim­ming pool.  Hugh also sent sev­eral of the boys through the Ranken School of Mechan­i­cal Trades, bought one boy an arti­fi­cial leg, sent “fruit enough for six months” with the Thanks­giv­ing day din­ners, and fur­nished the Home’s 75 piece band with uniforms.

After Hugh’s death another “unknown bene­fac­tor” pro­vided the Thanks­giv­ing meal in 1931.  The ban­quets con­tin­ued in the ensu­ing years, but news reports never again empha­sized the extrav­a­gance of the feast.  Father Dunne died in March photo (6)1939.  In 1948, RKO pic­tures released a movie “Fight­ing Father Dunne” star­ring Pat O’Brien as Father Dunne, a fic­tion­al­ized low bud­get response to 1938’s MGM pro­duc­tion of “Boy’s Town.” This despite the fact that Father Dunne’s News­boys Home and Pro­tec­torate had pre­ceded Father Flanagan’s orig­i­nal home for home­less boys by 10 years and Boys’ Town by 14.

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Father Dunne and boys with newly designed build­ing at 3010 Wash­ing­ton Avenue

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For­mer Dunne’s News­boys’ Home build­ing at 3010 Wash­ing­ton Avenue in the cur­rent day

The News­boys’ Home and Pro­tec­torate con­tin­ued through the years.  It remained at 3010 Wash­ing­ton Avenue, but in 1947 was reor­ga­nized and placed under the Catholic Char­i­ties depart­ment of chil­dren.  In 1956 the home cel­e­brated its 50th anniver­sary at the Wash­ing­ton Avenue loca­tion.  In July 1970 the build­ing at 3010 Wash­ing­ton Ave was sold to the Sal­va­tion Army and Father Dunne’s News­boys’ Home moved to 4253 Clarence Ave (the build­ing at 3010 Wash­ing­ton Avenue still stands today and was vacated in May 2013 by the Sal­va­tion Army). The con­cept of the home­less news­boys had changed over time, and ser­vices were pro­vided for trou­bled and emo­tion­ally dis­turbed youth. In 1988, the News­boys’ Home moved to 853 Dunn Rd (on the cam­pus of the for­mer Aquinas High School).  In 2006, “Father Dunne’s Old News­boys’ Home,” a Catholic Char­i­ties’ agency pro­vid­ing res­i­den­tial ser­vices for boys in fos­ter care, ages 12–21, was one of five agen­cies that merged to form Good Shep­herd Chil­dren & Fam­ily Services.

**Spe­cial thanks to CHM Senior Research Tom Gron­ski for guest-writing this blog post.