Archives of the Mayor's Press Office

Date: February 12, 1997

Release #081-97

Contact: Colleen Roche (212) 788-2958 or Dwight Williams (212) 788-2972


Remarks by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani at Public Hearing on Local Laws

The second bill before me, Introductory Number 876, sponsored by Council Members Duane, Abel, Foster, Fisher, Linares and five of their colleagues, would add, through the posting of an additional sign, the name "Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon Corner," on the southeast corner of the intersection of Avenue of the Americas and West 17th Street, Manhattan.

Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon was born in Kensington, England on May 12, 1823. Nine years after her birth, her parents immigrated to New York City. She was educated in a parochial school and decided to become a nun in the order of Sisters of Charity. Mary Irene Fitzgibbon was received into this religious order on January 15, 1850 and was sent as a novice to work in St. Peter's Parochial School on Barclay Street in Manhattan. She manifested such extraordinary administrative and executive skills that five years later, she was appointed its Superior.

In the 1860's in New York City, there was no adequate provision for the care of abandoned children and the Sisters of Charity were approached by then Archbishop, later Cardinal, McCloskey to deal with this problem. The religious order asked Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon and two other sisters in 1869 to establish a home for the foundlings of the City, so Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon went and studied asylums in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Since the order gave her just five dollars to begin the work, she was aided by the formation of a society of charitable women whose mission was to raise money for the home. The society rented a house at 17 East 12th Street and opened the New York Foundling Hospital on October 11, 1869, in response to New York's need at a time when children were being abandoned on city streets. The first night one child was left at the door and within a month there were 45 children in the house. Many people promoted charitable activities to support the hospital and within a year the institution moved to larger quarters on Washington Square.

A few years later, the block from Lexington to Third Avenues between 68th and 69th Streets was purchased and a large hospital was constructed on this site in 1873. Beside private funding sources, the New York State Legislature enacted a statute in 1874 which mandated that the City of New York pay the hospital 38 cents a day for the support of each child.

Under the direction of Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon, who became a prominent leader in the field of child abuse and neglect, the Foundling Hospital added a second dimension to its work. Children were now placed with foster families who would care for and raise them and the hospital began providing adoption services.

Eventually, under Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon's leadership, a separate maternity hospital was built and completed in 1881 so that poor mothers could give birth to their children in healthy surroundings. One of the last major achievements of Sister Fitzgibbon's life was the construction of the Foundling Hospital at Spuyten Duyvil for convalescing children, and the establishment of Seton Hospital for Incurables at the same location.

Sister Irene Mary Fitzgibbon died on August 14, 1896 from heart disease. The work which she was so instrumental in starting continues today where the Foundling Hospital cares for about 9,000 children and families per year.

Given the many years of service that Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon provided for the care of poor and abandoned children of New York City, it is fitting that the southeast corner of the intersection of Avenue of the Americas and West 17th Street, the present site of the New York Foundling Hospital, be called "Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon Corner."

I will first turn to the bill's sponsors and then to any other elected official who wishes to be heard with regard to this bill.

Is there anyone in the general audience who wishes to speak in opposition of this bill?

Is there anyone in the general audience who wishes to speak in favor?

There being no other speakers, and for the reasons set forth previously, I will now sign this bill.

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