Holy Family Orphanage in Bethlehem

From 1st February 2012 St Mary’s Cathedral has linked with the Holy Family Orphanage in the Holy Land as our new charity. All the money from the bowl will go to the children. The Orphanage is attached to the Holy Family Hospital run by the daughters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul in Bethlehem. Their doors are open to all children.

If you’d like to know more, or you would like to make a donation please email us at jpstmarycathedral@gmail.com or write to the Justice & Peace Group at St Mary’s Cathedral, Dalby Way, Middlesbrough, TS8 0TW.

‘’They are all a gift from God and whom can reject such a gift’’

[button color=”orange” link=”http://middlesbroughrccathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/Holy-Family-Children-Leaflet.pdf”] Update: Our Visit to the Holy Family Children’s Home in Bethlehem[/button]



  • The Daughters of Charity / St Vincent de Paul arrived in Bethlehem over 100 years ago on a mission to care for the sick
  • The hospital they established provided general medical services and looked after sick people from all over the West Bank area.
  • In the 1980’s, due to financial constraints the hospital ceased to provide general medical care and began to specialize as a maternity hospital, but the Daughters of Charity soon found their work expanded into childcare as they began to find abandoned babies left on the hospital doorstep.
  • Thus it was that the Holy Family Children’s Home came into being – providing an orphanage for abandoned children and giving shelter and support to mothers and mothers-to-be, in times of crisis.
  • Given the level of violence and the unpredictable situation in the region, the number or children needing help, love and safe accommodation is increasing all the time.
  • In addition to the orphanage, the Holy Family Children’s Home offers a kindergarten service, whose doors are open to other children in the local community from families who are too poor to pay for kindergarten elsewhere. This allows the Orphans to mix with other local children and aids their social development greatly.
  • In addition to the Supervisor and Trainer in the home, there are four teachers working in the kindergarten, implementing an approved education program.
  • There is also a pediatrician, a child psychologist and a social worker who each add their expertise in guiding the healthy development of each child.


The Orphanage is in a good state of repair and was managed by Sister Sophie, until her recent retirement. Sister Sophie is now in charge with three other nuns, some French, some from the Lebanon.

They have a receptionist and a small guest house for Pilgrims. There are a number of people, including teachers who look after the children of whom there are two groups: 35-40 residential youngsters and approximately 35-40 day children. Ages range from birth to 7 years old. From the age of 7 they move to other institutions/families.

Sister Sophie has been a true witness for Christianity and the Catholic Church in Particular. Her example of treating all equally was well received by the vast majority of people of all faiths. She has been a great advocate for relationships between Christians and Muslims. She was never deterred in adversity. Passing through checkpoints she happily got into her ‘Mini Metro’ and got on with her business, rescuing babies, and coming to the aid of those in danger.


Below are some notes on a talk by Fr Paul Maddison, the Founder and Director of Palestine Pilgrimage, to the Justice and Peace Group (28 January 2012)


Holy Family Orphanage and Sisters

Sister Sophie, who, until recently, was in charge of the orphanage

The orphanage in Bethlehem is attached to the Holy Family Hospital ran under the auspices of the Order: Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.  Father Paul told us that it has been managed by a very special lady, Sister Sophie, the nun responsible for the project.  She was a true witness for Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular.  A great advocate for relationships between Christians and Muslims, her example of treating all equally is well received by the vast majority of people of all faiths.  There are elements of fundamental believers in both camps but she is greatly valued by all except a very small number of extremists.  She is never deterred in adversity and when others fear travelling and passing through checkpoints, she happily gets into her car and gets on with her business; Father Paul cited many examples of her daring exploits, rescuing babies, coming to the aid of those in danger, never daunted when on a mission.  Many of the soldiers, of both genders are often very young and scared; they show great respect for Sister Sophie and her “Mini Metro”.

We have just heard that Sister Sophie has retired (I understand she was well into her eighties) and Sister Elizabeth is now in charge.  Sister Elizabeth was deeply touched by our wish to link up with the orphanage.


Figures can vary but Father Paul believes at present there are three or four other nuns as well as Sister Sophie, some French, some From the Lebanon.  They have a receptionist and a small guest house for pilgrims.  The Orphanage is in a good state of repair and there can be good funding for babies together with practical support.  Groups of young people from the UK do visit short term to help out; they are billeted in the Orphanage.  One such group is a contingent of Sixth Formers from Bath.


There are two social workers, one a graduate of Bethlehem University.  The lead social worker is called Skander, who is brilliant at his job.  He shows guest around and is an excellent organiser, responsible for communications, leaving Sister Sophie to carry out her tasks.  It is he why will probably be our point of contact.


The Children

Some of the younger members of the community

There are a number of people, including teachers, who look after the children – of whom there are two groups: 35- 40 residential youngsters and approximately 35- 40 day children.  Ages range from birth to 7 years old.  From7 they move to other institutions/families.  The majority of the children are Muslim – the number of Christians has significantly reduced as a result of the political and dangerous situation – so the local community is very welcoming of someone like Sister Sophie who accepts children of all beliefs and creeds.  Muslim and Christian feast days are celebrated.  A small number would like her to leave, believing, wrongly, secret Christian baptisms are performed on Muslim children.


In this part of the world, adoption as a way forward is not accepted by Muslims.  This approach to adoption means a lark of legal status and security for those in institutions and/or taken in by families, creating further problems regarding documentation.


The outcome for children after 7 years varies; some go on to other institutions up to the age of 18, others with families, others not so fortunate.  There is no state provision; the church provides much needed support.  It is a matter of luck for those post 18 years, many of the youngsters selling beads, fakirs, living a day today existence.  Their position is tenuous as without legal papers they cannot marry or leave the country.


Physical contact is important for the children who live in the orphanage

The children are all clean and well-cared for, well-dressed and well-behaved and polite.  During one of Father Paul’s visits a number of “cuddly toys” were taken out and each child invited to pick one; Father Paul was concerned there would be chaos but Sister Sophie told him to “Have Faith” and he saw how the children in an orderly manner selected just one toy each, but some took two, and he pointed this out to Sister who again told him to “Have Faith” and he saw that the children who had taken two placed one in the cribs of the babies.  The children are loved very much by the staff.


Other Facilities

Do you think these suit me?

The day-care facility caters for children whose parents are at work or who cannot attend school or indeed from families who have no money to feed them.  Where parents have no work and therefore no source of income, the orphanage provides for their children’s needs during the day.

The project has an outreach facility, setting up clothing/baby items/toys exchange.  This is organised by social workers and trainee social workers and includes visiting villages, running post-natal classes and those on hygiene, childcare etc.

Many of the children have medical problems and are disabled with learning difficulties and physical problems form birth.  There is a major Jewish hospital but doctors and nurses treating their patients have to be quite realistic about the extent of the help available and often treat them free of charge.  Children and adults with mental health problems are at a great disadvantage, often being seriously disabled both mentally and physically.  This maybe from lack of oxygen at birth, Down’s syndrome etc.  From time to time individual children are assisted by different Country regions/parishes.  Italy and France have intervened and helped.  One child had a major liver problem and was taken to Italy and necessary operations funded by one of the diocese.



Students from a UK Catholic school

Father Paul did not feel qualified to say what the specific contemporary needs of the Orphanage were as these changes on a daily basis.  He gave examples of good deeds overtaking needs when the charity received a consignment of over 1,000,000 paracetamol tablets – much needed for pain relief – but lack of antibiotics was a greater issue.  Thus the importance for regular and close liaison was essential if assistance was to be maximised.  It was important that any project we undertook was sustainable and could grow.  Offers to help build a hospital or school were gestures that were not always viable and raised false hopes.  Smaller efforts were described by Father Paul: knitting projects seeing fruition when visitors saw the children wearing the items made etc.  Often it is equipment that is vital, incubators, oximeters – hospitals have adult versions hut these cannot meet children’s needs.  It could be items of clothing, play or education equipment or money to fund outreach projects.  Money and equipment is in short supply so constant feedback and rapport will give insight into present day to day needs.


Father Paul felt giving some information about us as a community would be “fantastic”, for example recorded DVDs showing the local groups at work, calendars with local views, information/cards from the local school children, parish liturgy group.  He could take a large envelope of such items on his visits to the Orphanage planned in April and June of this year.  With the Middlesbrough Diocesan Pilgrimage planned for 2013, Father Paul reminded the group that visits to the Orphanage would be part of the itinerary and we would be able see the work of Sister Sophie and her colleagues first hand.  He encouraged as many as possible to make the trip.


We will keep you informed of developments and regular updates from Sister Sophie and Sister Elizabeth.

Sister Sophie speaking about the conditions she faces in carrying out work