Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback


Treatment of institutions devoted to the care of particular kinds of individuals

Click to enlarge

Homes. —This term, when used in an eleemosynary sense, covers all institutions that afford the general comforts of domestic life to persons who are defective and dependent. Homes differ from hospitals, inasmuch as the primary object of the latter is medical treatment of the sick; and from hotels, because these do not, as a rule, aim at being a substitute in all respects for a natural home, and because the majority of their patrons are neither dependent nor defective. As here used, the word home has about the same general signification as asylum, except that the latter term still retains something of its original meaning of refuge, and the asylum sometimes includes, as an important part of its provisions, medical treatment of its inmates. Thus we speak of insane asylums and insane hospitals, but rarely of homes for the insane. Nevertheless, the term homes is extended to a great variety of institutions. There are homes for the blind, the deaf, the aged, the incurable, the fallen, soldiers, sailors, orphans, foundlings, and paupers. They may be permanent or temporary, according to the period of time that the inmates are permitted to spend in them; but the general character of all the persons to whom they give shelter is defectiveness and, as a rule, inability to pay for their own support. A working-girls’ home, or a workingmen’s home, is a misnomer, since these places are merely a special kind of hotel or boarding-house.

The first homes of which we have any knowledge were included in the xenodochia, or hospitals, that arose under the auspices of the Church during the reign of Constantine the Great. These institutions gave shelter not only to the sick, strangers, and travelers, but to widows, foundlings, and the homeless generally. Within a short time after their origin, there was at least one hospital in every episcopal city, and they were not unknown in the smaller towns and even in the country places. The monastic hospitals had departments for the care of the blind, the deaf, and the insane. It was not until the twelfth century that distinct homes for defectives became of any importance. The first of these were the leper-houses. (See Leprosy.) For a long time after that date the majority of homeless defectives were still cared for in some department of or in connection with the hospitals. Indeed, the monastic hospitals and the municipal hospitals were the centers for the relief of all forms of distress during the later Middle Ages and down to the time of the Reformation. Their rich endowments formed the principal means of carrying on so many forms of charitable activity that are now taken care of by many different agencies. Among the decrees of the Council of Trent for the regulation and reformation of the system of poor-relief, we find several with special application to hospitals. In France no separate homes for defectives came into existence until the time of Louis XIV. This monarch founded several institutions in Paris and in some of the other large cities of his kingdom for the special care of the poor, foundlings, and other helpless classes. The magnificent work of St. Vincent de Paul naturally comes to mind here. In Germany defectives continued generally to be cared for in connection with the hospitals until the middle of the eighteenth century. The same general condition prevailed long after the Reformation in Italy and Spain. At present there are homes under Catholic auspices for the care of all kinds of defectives in every country of Christendom. Most of them are in charge of religious communities, chiefly communities of women. The Little Sisters of the Poor and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd are merely two conspicuous examples of religious communities that manage institutional homes. In the United States, and in most of the countries of Europe, are to be found homes for the various forms of dependency, under the management of the public authorities. The system of almshouses, or workhouses, in the British Isles and in Germany affords typical instances. According to the volume of the United States Census on “Benevolent Institutions”, the total number of homes (excluding insane asylums) in that country at the end of the year 1904 was 2392, of which 254 were public, 1264 private, and 874 ecclesiastical. The whole number of inmates was 212,782.

The question of the precise value of homes is so complex that it easily gives rise to a great variety of opinion. Extremists condemn them utterly or approve the principle of them without qualification. Probably the truth lies somewhere near the middle. An institutional home is obviously of great benefit to all persons who cannot obtain proper care elsewhere. It can supply all the purely physical comforts of the natural home, and thus meet the basic human needs. If it is properly managed it is capable of providing some resemblance to the conditions of family life, by fostering a bond of affection and a consciousness of community of interests. Obviously, however) this basis can never fully take the place of community of blood. Most of the varied and rich relationships of the natural home and the natural family are impossible even in the ideally managed institution. The very size of the group in the latter is a serious obstacle to anything like the care and affection that is within the reach of the individual in a family. Moreover, the physical and mental inconveniences of following a uniform routine of daily life can rarely become a matter of indifference to the individual, and not infrequently will more than offset the more fundamental material comforts. Then there is always a lack of opportunity for that individual self-direction which is an essential part of normal education and self-development. This criticism applies more particularly to homes for children. On the other hand, life in an institutional home is often preferable to life in a family on the boarding-out plan. This is due to the absence of even that imitation of the paternal or maternal attitude which the former aims to provide. The person who is boarding a defective fellow-being is under a strong temptation to see in their mutual relationship only a business arrangement. Finally, it must be noted that institutional homes in charge of religious communities ought to be, and usually are, better substitutes on their human side for the natural home than those which are under the direction of secular persons. The directors of the latter cannot have, as a rule, the motive or the capacity for an equal. degree of personal kindness and affection. Unfortunately, however, our Catholic homes are not infrequently inferior in the matter of material equipments and comforts. (See Foundling Asylums; Sisters of the Good Shepherd; Orphans and Orphanages; Little Sisters of the Poor.)


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!