Little Sisters of the Poor

Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged

797 Bushwick Avenue
Between DeKalb Avenue and Stockholm Street
Block 3242, Lot 1

797 Bushwick Avenue; Photo Credit: Laurel Albrecht, 2011

Year Built: 1870-1872, North Wing burned and rebuilt in 1876
Building Type: Institutional
Architect: 1879: A. Wanner; 1888: Parffit Brothers; 1936: Henry V. Murphy
Builder: Unknown
Original Owner: The Little Sisters of the Poor
Proposed District: N/A

History and Analysis

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a sisterhood of the Roman Catholic Church committed to the care of elderly people without financial support. The order was founded in 1842 in St. Servan, France and quickly spread throughout France and Europe. In 1868, the first American house was founded on De Kalb Avenue near Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, occupying three small two -story houses. They quickly outgrew the location and moved to a large two-story frame house with seventeen adjoining lots on the present location on Bushwick Avenue between De Kalb Avenue and Stockholm Street. Construction started quickly on a new, much larger four-story brick building and the western wing was completed and occupied by 1870. Called the St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged, the central portion of the building, including a chapel, and the eastern wing was completed between 1871 and 1872, for a total building cost of $50,000.

The center section held a chapel on the ground floor and each wing contained sitting rooms, dining rooms, offices and bed rooms to house two hundred inmates. Female inmates were housed in the western wing and male in the eastern wing. On March 8, 1876, the eastern wing suffered a devastating fire that caused the death of eighteen male inmates and completely destroyed the wing. The structure was rebuilt within a year.

The Little Sisters of the Poor held daily Catholic services in the chapel but did not require any religious affiliation from their inmates. The sisters invited residents to consult with clergy of any faith. The only requirements for admission to the house was that the inmates be over sixty years old and of “good moral character.”

An 1938 alteration was performed on the building by the architect H. Murphy. Photos of this construction are included in the slide show below.

Changes in building requirements for public housing during the late 1960s forced the Little Sisters of the Poor to close St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged in 1970. The organization signed a one year lease with the New York Department of Education with an option to purchase the property at the close of the lease. In 1971, the Department of Education bought the property for $650,000 and opened P.S. 386 in the buildings. Today, the buildings house Bushwick Leaders’ High School for Academic Excellence.