Plaque marks important role of Devereux orphanage in Natchez’s history

Published 3:27 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

With Wednesday’s dedication of a historic plaque at the site of the former Devereux Hall orphanage, a chapter comes full circle for James Shaidnagle.

Shaidnagle, a lifelong teacher, was a resident at Devereux Hall Orphan Asylum in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

“I lived there for six-and-a-half years,” he said this week. “And I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t been there … the Brothers (of the Sacred Heart) taught me everything, from work ethic to what’s important in life.”

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Four Shaidnagle boys were residents at the orphanage, which was run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart: James, Donnie, Billy and Paul. “All of us have our master’s degree,” Shaidnagle said, adding proudly that they also turned to teaching and military service as professions.

“At the time I was there, like any kid, I didn’t appreciate … but I sure do now,” he said. Shaidnagle entered the orphanage in 1955 and graduated from Cathedral School in 1962. His teaching career took him to Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois and Vidalia before returning to Cathedral School, where he taught for more than seven years before retiring in 2022.

Since then, he has turned his focus to memorializing the orphanage that was so integral in the history of Natchez.

Cathedral School grew from the orphanage started by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1861 after William St. John Elliot had willed his mansion, Devereux Hall, to the Catholic Church for the purpose of opening a boys’ orphanage. In order to keep the home in the family, his widow Anna Elliot purchased the estate from the church and the proceeds were used to purchase 35 acres for the creation of the orphanage. The Brothers raised and educated more than 1,500 young men before the orphanage closed in 1966.

“I can’t see something that played that big of a part in the lives of those 1,500-plus boys’ lives go without recognition,” Shaidnagle said. “I don’t want to see the memory of it die.”

Working with Carter Burns at the Historic Natchez Foundation and with other officials, Shaidnagle has shepherded the establishment of a historic plaque at the site of the original orphanage, the hill behind the current campus of Cathedral School, 701 Martin Luther King Jr. St.

At 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the historic plaque will be dedicated with the Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz attending.