St. Coletta Celebrates 110th Anniversary and DSP Recognition Week!
Posted On: September 10, 2014

This week, St. Coletta of Wisconsin proudly celebrates 110 year of service to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Southeast Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. In addition, they will spend the week celebrating their caregivers for National Direct Support Professionals Week.
Founded in 1904, by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, these dedicated and passionate women forged the way for people with developmental disabilities all over the nation. Approached by a young couple in 1904 requesting assistance to care for their daughter with disabilities, the women welcomed the child with open arms, in addition to four others, thus beginning the ‘Institute for Backward Youth’ in Jefferson County.
Over the years, St. Coletta has experienced multiple growth spurts since its inception. Just a short time later in 1915, the school’s participation numbers jumped from just a few to over 70.  In the 1920’s, a school building was constructed and the children started to attend school. The curriculum focused on the values of cleanliness, respect, courtesy, obedience and cheerfulness.
By the 1940’s the word began to spread of a school in a rural town in Wisconsin that offered students with disabilities the opportunity to flourish in a structured and supported environment that was run by women of faith.  The school’s admissions increased significantly, including the admit of Rosemary Kennedy, the sister of United States President, John F. Kennedy. As enrollment continued to grow, so did the campus. New buildings were erected to include two barns, a hog and poultry building, a garden house with cellar and the Serra House; which provided hospitality for guests of the residents.  Growth was upon the organization and the Sisters continued to forge ahead.
If we fast forward to the swinging 60’s, life on campus was in overdrive. Over 500 children ages 4 and older were enrolled in what had come to be known as the “School of Exceptional Children”. At this point, the school’s reputation had gained Presidential recognition. Sister Mary Theodore, the superintendent at that time, flew to Washington D.C. to accept a pen from President Lyndon Johnson that he used to sign the HR6430 bill, extending the legislative movement for the benefit of people with developmental disabilities. As the campus life flourished, the Sisters began to experience a new challenge. In 1967, working at St. Coletta was 98 Sisters, a decrease from the maximum number of 104 in 1963. The aging Sisters contributed to a significant increase in lay staff; 55 in 1967 compared to 13 in 1963.  By the time 1971 rolled around, the first lay administrative person was hired to serve as the Assistant Administrator marking a new era for St. Coletta. Along with the aging Sister, students were also growing older, and it was around this time, the shift to serving adults in the community began. The 70’s were a time of innovation that provided individuals the opportunity of employment. St. Coletta created partnerships with a number of local businesses, including with the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson, which still exists today. Currently, the Access employment program at St. Coletta works with many businesses to match the person served with a job that is appropriate to his or her skills and capabilities.
In the 1980’s, under the supervision of Sr. Elaine Weber and Sr. Sheila Haskett, a movement towards building community-based home escalated and students began to transition off the main campus. This shift not only enhanced quality of life but gave students the opportunity to live the most independent life possible. At the same time, a day program was developed that could support the growing needs of aging individuals both with and without developmentally disabilities.  Golden Options day program opened their doors in 1986 and the program continues today. Participants enjoy health and wellness, cognitive, social and community-based activities all the while getting the necessary health related services.
The 1990’s marked an end of an era. Individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities became mainstreamed into public schools and the last class of the St. Coletta school program graduated in 1995. And by the 2000’s, with the majority of its services provided in a community –based settings, the historic campus property in Jefferson was sold. In 2011, St. Coletta of Wisconsin renovated the building formerly known as Alverno, on the corner of Hwy 18 and Hwy Y, and transitioned employees and day programs to their new headquarters.
“We look back to our history with a great admiration for the religious and lay people who dedicated their lives to shaping St. Coletta of Wisconsin into an organization full of compassion, dignity and respect. Our 110 year commitment to people with developmental disabilities is a wonderful testament to the mission established by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi and it continues through the commitment of family members, benefactors and especially the staff”, says Tony LoDuca, President and CEO of St. Coletta. “The week of September 7th – 13th has been declared National Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) Week, and as the Sisters did for so many years before us, direct support professionals work tirelessly to provide supports and opportunities for people with disabilities to live their best life possible,” continues LoDuca. “We thank everyone who has been a part of our 110 year history and look forward to continuing our mission long into the future.”