Hogar Infantil la Gloria

Hogar Infantil de Gloria

            Orphanages, unfortunately, used to be quite common in the United States.  Often run by religious organizations, they offered long-term care to children whose parents either through death or other reasons could no longer care for them.  Today in the U.S. orphanages still exist, but most of the care for these unfortunate children is through foster homes. 

            This is not the case in Mexico.  Foster care is very minimal, and most orphaned children must be cared for in institutions that are known as Hogar Infantil, Spanish for children’s home, or orphanage.  Estimates are varied, but a reasonably reliable number says that about 30,000 children in Mexico today are cared for in an orphanage, while another 100,000 or more are homeless.  It’s a desperate situation, probably not soon to be resolved. 

            One shining light in this dark situation is Hogar Infantil de Gloria, an orphanage in Tijuana patronized by the Augustinians.  Established about 40 years ago, it began badly.  In the spring of 1975, a gentleman by the name of Guillermo MacFarland was working at an apartment complex for the poor in San Ysidro that was run by the Augustinians.  Along with a Christian services group he visited the Tijuana orphanage and was appalled at what he found.  Filth, lack of hygiene, and general neglect overwhelmed them.  The group brought their case to the mayor of Tijuana, and after an investigation, the workers were dismissed.  A new administration of the orphanage was clearly needed, and the Augustinians, under the direction of Father John Blethen, assumed responsibility for the facility’s leadership.

            With volunteers the facilities were cleaned up, beds and other furnishings upgraded, and a newly qualified staff was hired.  The Augustinians, mainly under the leadership of Father Blethen, oversaw the daily administration of the grounds and its quality control.  The change was remarkable: instead of a deplorable, denigrating situation, the orphanage was as good as such a facility could be, with proper hygiene, caring staff, and more than adequate facilities.

            Hogar Infantil de Gloria cares for 30-40 children, mostly babies, but quite a few of early elementary school age and a few older children.  The Mexican government through an agency known as DIF (Desarrollo Infantil Familiar) provides training for staff, placement services, and oversight, but not financial support.  Expenses are covered by donations. 

            Some of the babies are adopted.  Adoptions can only be made by Mexican citizens.  For school children, most can attend a very good Tijuana Catholic school paid for by Tijuana benefactors.  The school is well run, and the children have a fine opportunity for quality education. 

            The facilities of Hogar Infantil de Gloria are very good.  Boys’ and girls’ dorms, a study center, a large gathering and social center, an extensive playing field, and a well-equipped kitchen are high quality.  One of the staff members is a registered nurse.

            St. Patrick’s parish has from these early days been an enthusiastic supporter of the orphanage.  Much started with the parish Youth Group under the directorship of Patty Lawrence and her husband Dan.  Youth Group members frequently visited the children and played with them and brought them smiles and hope.  Several Youth Group members would say that the children did more for them than they did for the children.  Several parish-wide projects undertaken by the Youth Group were highly successful.  One was Operation Cinderella, which provided shoes for the children at Easter time.  These weren’t cast-off, rummage sale quality, but brand-new shoes bought to perfectly fit each child whose foot size was carefully taken by Patty and her group.  Another very popular yearly act was the Christmas ornament gifts, whereby parishioners would randomly select a card from a Christmas tree in the back of the church.  Each card bore the name of a child and a desired present, anything from a soccer ball to a doll.  Those of us attending the 5:30 Sunday Mass were usually left out because the cards were all taken from the tree by parishioners at earlier Masses who were more than happy to help.  The word joy doesn’t adequately describe the children’s expressions on Christmas morning.

            St. Patrick’s had been a regular beneficiary to the orphanage through the years.  When Father Mike McFadden became pastor in 2010, he began the rather simple monthly donation program of “Change for Children.”  It, along with other special fundraisers, has made St. Patrick’s a generous contributor to the well-being of Hogar Infantil de Gloria, a most worthy cause. 

            Brother Dominic Smith, OSA, filmed a very well-made documentary about the orphanage.  To see this beautiful portrayal of the orphanage and the loving work being done there, you can search on “Augustinians International Tijuana Orphanage.”  It’ll make your day.