Institutions for the care of abandoned infants.
Unnatural parents, especially unmarried mothers, refusing to face the responsibility of rearing their children, often abandon them.
This practise has been sufficiently common in all times and places to give rise to a special work of charity in caring for helpless infants.
There were asylums under Christian auspices in the 6th century, and the Second Council of Nicaea, 787, ordered that one such institution be maintained in every city.
Modern work for children is traced to Saint Vincent de Paul, who made the care of foundlings a prominent part of his work, to be carried on by his foundation of the Sisters of Charity.
In the United States, the first orphan asylum was founded in New Orleans, 1129, by the Ursuline Sisters.
The foundling asylum of the Sisters of Charity in New York City is one of the first insituations dedicated to this special work, and dates from 1869.
The great objection to such institutions has been the high infant death rate, and the imperfect education given children who remain in the institution until maturity.
Modern social science seeks to prevent abandonment, by removing causes that lead parents to take this step.
This failing, the asylum is used for emergency care, but every effort is made to find a proper foster home for the child, that it may grow up in a normal family atmosphere.
New Catholic Dictionary