One of the annual Christmas traditions that has been part of the Archdiocese of Washington for decades is the holiday celebration at St. Ann’s, now St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families in Hyattsville. 

St. Ann’s was founded in 1860 under the patronage of Father Charles Ignatius White to care for orphaned children and protect indigent pregnant women. Father White – the pastor of the Church of St. Matthew the Apostle (the future cathedral parish of Washington) and editor of the Catholic Mirror, then the Catholic newspaper for the Archdiocese of Baltimore – invited the Daughters of Charity into his parish, encouraged the founding of the orphanage and shepherded the institution through its incorporation process.  

It is important to note that St Ann’s did not just take care of Catholic children but all those who needed their help.  An 1894 article in the Washington Post stated that, “No worthy application for admission to the asylum has been refused. Children of all nations and creeds, white and colored, are cared for.” A quick check of the newspapers in the city of Washington will turn up numerous references to children being placed at St Ann’s by civil authorities but also references to children being left there for safe harbor. The sisters of St Ann’s took all of them in, cared for them and loved each child. 

Daughters of Charity and children from St. Ann's visit then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House in an undated photo. Eisenhower served as president from January 1953 to January 1961. (Photo from the Archives of the Archdiocese of Washington)

The annual Christmas party was one of their major fundraisers for the year. It was also a time when the children received visitors and many presents. The children would assist in decorating their home for the party. Christmas trees would be placed in every play room and another in their large hall. After then-Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle was installed as the first resident archbishop of Washington in 1948, the archbishop of Washington and often the Vatican’s representative to the United States attended St. Ann’s Christmas party every year. 

Many others in Washington would attend and bring presents for the children and money to help support the home. Santa Claus also would come, and the children would put on a Christmas play and sing for the visitors. The party was a large, happy affair that would last all day as people came and went and was one of the highlights of the year for the children and staff. 

St. Ann’s annual Christmas party continues to this day (although it looked different this year in the pandemic) with decorations, gifts, cookies, a visit by the archbishop of Washington and most importantly, a visit from St. Nick for the children.  

In a photo from the 1950s, children of St Ann’s decorate their home for Christmas with magnolia branches.  St. Ann’s was located in Washington then, and now the St. Ann's Center for Children, Youth and Families is in Hyattsville, Maryland. (Photo from the Archives of the Archdiocese of Washington)

St. Ann’s still exists today, although not as an orphanage.  Its mission has adapted as needs have changed. Today as many as 30 homeless mothers and their children are provided housing and given the support they need to be independent. St. Ann’s not only  provides education and GED classes, employment assistance, and affordable child care services to women and children in need, but the Daughters of Charity and the staff at St. Ann’s reflect their faith in Christ as they provide a home to all of the women and children who live there. 

To find out more about St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families please see their website:  https://www.stanns.org/