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Former Orphanage Resident Says Building Should be Used as a School 

click to enlarge Coralyn Guidry - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Coralyn Guidry

“I am a survivor of abandonment, too many times to count. I survived molestation by six different people, one being a priest. I survived beatings and torture in an orphanage. I survived being raped as a teenager. I survived my brother's incarceration and death. I survived working in a little store and being held up at gunpoint - twice.”

— Coralyn Guidry, from her 2007 book, I Want To Know My Mother’s Story

Coralyn Guidry's goal was never to get money from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington All she ever wanted was her family's story to be told. For many years starting in 1993, Guidry was a regular fixture outside the Diocese's headquarters on North Avenue in Burlington. She'd stand in front of the building for hours in silent vigil with a large sign that read, "We are survivors of this orphanage."

In the 1960s, Guidry and five of her siblings lived in what was then the St. Joseph's orphanage. There, she claims, she and her siblings were subjected to repeated physical and sexual abuse by their purported caregivers. Two of Guidry's sisters later received cash settlements in a class-action suit against the Diocese.

Over the years, Guidry's sign grew larger and larger, as did the number of former orphanage residents, and their family members, who approached her with revelations of their own about the place.

"People kept on coming up to me and telling me their stories," Guidry recalls. "It just got so overwhelming and so much bigger than I thought."

Years later, Guidry put her family's story down in print in a 2007 self-published bookI Want to Know My Mother's Story. In it, she chronicles how her alcoholic father and prostitute mother abandoned six of their children to what, Guidry later learned, was the same orphanage where her mother had lived many years earlier and had, she claims, suffered similar mistreatment.

In light of this week's news in the Burlington Free Press that the Catholic Diocese of Burlington is preparing to sell the building, the 30-acre property, and a 26-acre camp on Mallets Bay in Colchester to settle its financial debts to numerous victims of priest sex abuse, Guidry, now  58, is hoping to pull together a group of investors willing to buy that building and put it to good use.

Exactly what that "good use" would be, Guidry can't say for sure, though she hopes it would take the form of a school or family center for children and adults who've experienced abuse and neglect.

Needless to say, any such effort would require investors with very deep pockets, as that lake-view property is some of the most prime, undeveloped real estate in Burlington. Nevertheless, Guidry seems undeterred, despite her own modest financial means. (During the warm weather, she lives in the Lone Pines Campground in Colchester and housesits for friends during the winter.)

When asked what it would require to put such a bold plan into action, Guidry had a one-word answer: "Faith."

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

About the Artist

Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen was a photographer for Seven Days 1995-2018. Read all about his life and work here.

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