It was a dark and unhappy time for Professor Marietta Dantonio-Fryer, but it was also a highly formative time as well. Having little other choice, her mother was forced to place Marietta, her two older brothers and younger sister in the Dante Orphanage after their parents separated and her mother struggled to make a better life for her family and one day remove them from the Dante Orphanage facility. The years spent at Dante were years filled with the indignities suffered through abuse and harsh punishment
but they were also the years that formed Marietta's compassion and drive to help those less fortunate. That compassion and drive is what led her to do so many healing arts, art therapy, community
Marietta Dantonio-Fryer interviewed by the Concord Township Preservation Society about her time spent at the Dante Orphanage in Concordville, Pennsylvania
Story and photos by Steve L. Madsen, Vice President of Dantonio Art Center, Inc.
The former Dante Orphanage now the municipal center for Concord Township located just west of Philadelphia PA.
outreach and mental health programs both in her own back yard of Delaware and Pennsylvania
as well as around the world.
The entrance to the boys side of Dante Orphanage The boys dormatory area of the old Dante Orphanage
On a sunny but brisk day in early November Marietta gave the third and final part of her interview with Pennie Scott of the Concord Township Preservation Society while walking through the former Dante Orphanage turned municipal center now under renovation. The newly remodeled areas cover what is a dark and often unspoken about past when the orphanage was operating on these grounds. Stories of beatings and abuse are not often talked about as it is a painful reminder of what took place here so many years ago.
The room that used to be the girls classroom when Dante Orphanage was operating.
Professor Dantonio-Fryer points to the closet that an abusive teacher used to keep candy to tempt the girls with.
This interview came about pretty much by accident. The Preservation Society was contacted by
Leslye Abbey of Snowflake Video Productions in New York asking if they had any pictures related to the old
Dante Orphange for a feature documentary entitled "You Are Not Alone" being made about Marietta Dantonio-Fryer and her work. When they found out that Marietta had been in Dante during the early 1960's and still lived in the area, they immediately requested contact information for Professor
Entering the girls dormatory of the former Dante Orphanage. Bathrooms and sleeping areas were all "common" areas with no privacy of any kind
Dantonio-Fryer and requested the interview.
The interview began with Ms. Scott unlocking the door that separates the renovated area that is now the Concord Township Municipal Center from the antiquated and crumbling remains of the Dante Orphanage and the church that proceeded the orphanage after it was finally shut down in 1968. Some renovation work has begun in the old orphanage area - new windows and fire code compliant staircases - but most of the interior is just as it was left when the building was abandoned. Many of the ceilings have been removed or simply fell down on their own, graffiti adorns the walls and the floors are all bare concrete. Going back to Dante might not have been so bad except that there are still so many reminders that remain of the orphanage that bring back the terrible memories of what took place here during Marietta's years at Dante. Yet despite the painful memories, Marietta is still grateful that she emerged on the other side of a bad
situation to become the person she is today.
Marietta shows where daily prayers were done in the girls dormatory area
Each room they walked through brought back to life another story, each corridor another memory of her time at Dante, some good and others not so good. Walking into the old girls dormatory area Marietta remembers and then describes for Pennie how the girls were assembled each day in the dorm. area and they all said prayers before a Cross mounted on the wall between two windows.
Professor Dantonio-Fryer looks out the window above where her bed used to be when she lived at the Dante Orphanage.
Amid the chaos that was then her childhood life, Marietta did find things to be happy about and grateful for. Staring out the window beside her bed, she would watch the other children playing on swings and see-saws. She would stare out at the trees and sprawling landscape outside that window and grew to truly appreciate and enjoy nature in all its wonderous beauty.
Marietta points out the window while describing what she used to stare out at on the orphanage grounds
Marietta describes a piece of artwork that was housed in this "off limits" to children room on the third floor.
She was the only child allowed in because she was made to clean all the works stored there.
Finally making their way to the third floor, Marietta walks into a room surrounded by windows on three sides that used to house an extensive art collection, known then as "The Blue Room". The nuns told her that none of the other children were allowed in the room but she had to go in there and clean the entire room regularly. This didn't bother her too terribly because even at that young age Marietta already had a growing appreciation for art. She walked into the room and immediately began to describe an exquisite piece of intricate artwork that was on the right wall. Her memory of the art was so detailed and her description so precise that you would
have thought she had just seen it yesterday!
Pennie Scott(left) discusses the buildings layout during the walking interview with Professor Dantonio-Fryer
Standing inside the front door to the now Concord Township Municipal Center
Outside view of the window(top right) Marietta used to stare out of watching the other children playing outside
Standing beside the pipes of the outdoor shower that still remain even after the exterior renovation.
It was quite surprising but when Marietta described an outside shower mounted on the side of the building that the girls had to use, she was told that no such shower fixture existed and that if it did it must have been removed years ago but as they walked around to the left side of the massive stone building there it was! Or at least most of it. The hot and cold water valves were gone as was the shower head but
there it was, the old galvanized steel pipes still mounted on the wall just the way Marietta
had described it only moments before.
A view of the front of the renovated building that used to be the Dante Orphanage
The interview concluded outside at the front doors where design ideas for the articles eventual
release - both in print and on the internet - were discussed and some adjustments to what was
already written in rough draft form were noted for correction for the sake of accuracy.
Professor Dantonio-Fryer in front of the entryway to the now Concord Township Municipal Center - the
same entryway she walked through 50 years ago that began her nightmare stay at Dante Orphanage
The watercolor painting above was done by Marietta Dantonio-Fryer when she was 12 years old. It is the house she and her brohers and sister moved into after their mother rescued them from Dante Orphanage. It took their mother 5 long years after getting her children out of Dante to finally have the facility closed. With the help of a caring priest named Father Duffy, Dante was closed forever and the cycle of abuses ended.
In describing the picture, Marietta said it was so cold the day she painted it that she had to
add salt to her watercolor paints to keep them from freezing!