Book Report: Orphan’s Asylum

“To this day, Russ and I are best friends. We continue to get together to relive our time in St. Hedwig Orphanage,” writes local author Mike Krecioch in his memoir, Orphan’s Asylum (Xlibris, 2008). “Between us, we did not come up with a whole lot of negative experiences. We firmly believe that our time spent at St. Hedwig helped us to cope with a not-always-predictable existence in the real world. It made us what we are today.”

Krecioch’s book recounts the eight years he spent—1948 to 1956—at the St. Hedwig Orphanage in Chicago, Ill. Krecioch, along with his younger brother and sister, was sent to the orphanage not because his parents were deceased but because after his parents separated, his father was unable to care for the three children and disputes among the extended family contributed to poor living situations for the Krecioch kids. 

The book (deceptively brief at 148 pages but packed with text in self-publication style) is told in stream-of-consciousness, rather like a grandfather recounting his adventures from his armchair. There are some shining moments, but Orphan’s is meant to be more of a personal odyssey than a a work of literary artistry. Read it not for the turns of phrase as much as for the unique perspective of a young person growing up in this environment.

What’s most surprising about Orphan’s is (as the above quote demonstrates) how very un-Oliver Twist it comes off. No child labor, watery gruel or cruel beatings take place. Instead, the children of St. Hedwig seem as happy as can be expected. Under the tutelege of well-meaning nuns they’re fed, educated and schooled in household chores. As Krecioch explains upon his re-introduction to the family unit, “all three of us kids were trained by the nuns to be independent … We were taught to live life and be a productive member of society.”

Though Krecioch does flirt with his feelings toward his father—the father who, for all purposes abandoned his children—this sub-plot is mostly glossed over. In light of current news feeds about Nebraska’s Safe Haven law which allows U.S. parents to turn their children over to Nebraska state hospitals, Krecioch’s story seems especially timely.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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2 thoughts on “Book Report: Orphan’s Asylum

  1. Deepspring

    Catholic School Revisited.

    The situation struck a chord with me. I went to private catholic school and even though we didn’t live there, Krecioch managed to give that exact atmosphere through his writing. I could almost smell the weird combination of burned candle wax, the green crumbly stuff they buffed the floors with and kick balls. I think this book is going to touch a great many people who went to all forms of traditional catholic school and orphanages. Those places are eerie and normal and somehow dangerous and it is very hard to explain to an “outsider” how all of that reconciles in a child’s mind and it becomes “just life.” It’s also an odd thing that out of that crazy wash of discipline and freedom how good people come out of it, for the most part. Everyone I know that went to a parochial school are generally nice, polite, intelligent and successful people. But, no doubt, It is one odd way to raise a kid.

  2. Len Carrier

    Orphanages such as St. Hedwig are a thing of the past, and maybe that’s a good thing. There they practiced a “tough love” that would probably bring a lawsuit today. Nevertheless, they turned many a youngster into an upstanding citizen, something that many of today’s intact families have failed to do.

    Mike Krecioch has written a memorable account of “coming of age” in St. Hedwig. It is funny, sad, and altogether honest. It’s a great read.

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