Kearns-Saint Ann Orphanage boarder visits his childhood home during historical presentation

Friday, Jun. 27, 2014
Kearns-Saint Ann Orphanage boarder visits his childhood home during historical presentation + Enlarge
David Handrahan displays photos of himself and his two sisters when they were boarders at the Kearns-Saint Ann Orphanage. IC photo/Christine Young

SALT LAKE CITY — David Handrahan reminisced about his childhood growing up as a boarder in the Kearns-Saint Ann Orphanage as he toured Kearns-Saint Ann School with the Utah Heritage Foundation June 19. 
Handrahan is a member of the foundation and serves as a docent; Kearns-St. Ann School is listed among the organization’s historical or architectural properties. The June 19 tour was the first that the members have had of the school. 
The Kearns-Saint Ann Orphanage opened in 1900; a $50,000 donation from Jennie Kearns helped in large part to pay for the construction of the building on 2100 South where Kearns-St. Ann School is today. The orphanage was run by the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who withdrew in 1953. 
At that time, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word took over and began a two-year period of transition of the facility from an orphanage to a school with kindergarten through fourth grade. A grade was added each year so that by 1959, eight grades were taught.
Handrahan became a boarder in 1951 at the age of 3 and stayed until 1955 when his father remarried; his mother died when he was 6 months old. Handrahan’s two older sisters were already residents of the orphanage when he moved in; he had to be toilet trained before he could become a resident. His father wasn’t able to care for the children because he traveled with his job, said Handrahan.
“I didn’t interact much with my sisters; they kept the boys and the girls separated,” he said, recalling that in the fourth-floor dormitory the beds were lined up with a small dresser between them. 
The building’s exterior has not been renovated, but the interior was remodeled to accommodate the school.
“I was too young and didn’t actually know where St. Ann’s was; I remembered it being out in the country,” Handrahan said. “Then one day when I was about 40 I was driving east on 2100 South and I saw it. I was just amazed and I pulled over immediately and wandered around the building and all those memories came flowing back. I’ve been by it several times since. It holds good memories for me.”
Among Handrahan’s memories is putting on a program for parents and friends in the school’s basement. When it came time for him to recite a poem, lightening struck a pine tree outside next to the room they were in, which frightened him so badly he leaped into his father’s lap – “about 18 feet,” he said. 
He also remembers tipping over on his tricycle and breaking the handle bars while playing in the yard, he said. When he went crying to one of the nuns, she told him to take the broken handle bars to the root cellar. 
The only part of the root cellar above the ground was a covered walkway. 
Handrahan peered in, seeing only steep stairs and darkness, he said. 
“Then I saw some flashes of light, some sparks, and I thought, ‘This isn’t good,’ but I was brave and went down the stairs. Five steps down, there was a being with a welding mask on, and he heard me and turned and looked at me and I thought I had descended into hell. I threw the handle bars in the air and ran out screaming. The nuns calmed me down.”
Despite that frightening experience, he enjoyed his time at the orphanage, and thought it was normal to grow up with a lot of brothers and sisters, he said. 
Hearing Handrahan reminisce about his time at Kearns-St. Ann Orphanage, and learning that it was very special, was touching, said Katherine Nielsen, Utah Heritage Foundation volunteer director. “My favorite story was when he took his toy duck on a tour around the building foundation to make sure it was safe, which meant he felt safe within these walls. It gives me goose bumps thinking about it; to have a docent that has lived here and enjoyed it is wonderful.” 

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