The History of St. Coletta of Wisconsin

1904: “The Story”

Mother Thecla Thren
  • A Family in Need
  • Lack of Facilities who cared for Youth with Disabilities
  • Lack of Training for these Children to Reach Full Potential
  • On September 10, 1904… St. Coletta of Wisconsin opened with 5 students as a school that incorporated faith.

1910-1919 ``The Franciscan Mission``

Holy Communion Celebration
  • 17 students are prepared for their First Holy Communion.
  • First time in United States, people with disabilities are allowed to receive the Sacrament.


1915: “Initial Growth”

  • Over 70 children are enrolled, and the community is growing.
  • Program remains largely custodial.

1920-29: “Innovative Training”

Class of St. Coletta School Students
  • Two Sisters attend the Vineland Training School and learn innovative techniques in special education like the Stanford-Binet Scale for testing IQs.
  • A school curriculum is developed.
  • Children now “go to school”.
  • School-only building is constructed in 1927.

1930-39: “Exceptional Children”

Students at St. Coletta School
  • After children were 15, they were sent to home state institutions as space remained an issue.
  • Mindset changed with leadership.
  • Focuses include: operational/agricultural growth, fundraising, and religious development of students.
  • Operational growth = need for long-range care.

1940-49: “Intensifying our Mission”

Rosemary Kennedy
  • Two additional St. Coletta-affiliated schools open, in IL and MA.
  • First independent “community” home.
  • The Psychological Institute opens, in collaboration with Cardinal Stritch University.
  • Six-week summer program, lasting 30 years.
  • Rosemary Kennedy joins the St. Coletta community.

1950-59: “Growing in Faith”

Sister Mary Theodore

  • 500 enrolled, with 103 Sisters.
  • A newly-expanded chapel is complete.
  • Published a curriculum series for children in need of special education.
  • Includes: art education, music education, crafts, religion, arithmetic, reading, physical education, science, social studies, language arts, listening skills, oral communication, handwriting, spelling.
  • “The Challenge of the Retarded Child” is published as a resource for families with a child with a disability.

1960-69: “40% of Wisconsin’s special education teachers studied here”

Sr. Mary Theodore meeting Pres. Johnson
  • Kennedy Foundation Service Award.
  • Sister invited to White House.
  • Sister completed doctoral studies and asked to attend the White House Conference on Children & Youth to discuss problems for children nationwide.
  • The Habilitation Program is established.
  • Services needed for young adults to succeed in their community, like: vocational counseling, work training, and job placement.

1970: Inclusion

Job Training
  • 1970-79: “Community Integration”
  • ReCreation Program is established.
  • Public Law 94.142 is passed to guarantee a free, appropriate education, non-discriminatory assessment, and individualized special education plan for all students.
  • “Mainstreams” special education in public school settings.

1980-89: “Community Integration”

Golden Options Program
  • Licensure received as a Community Based Residential Facility.
  • HUD funds 30 units of community housing.
  • The Golden Options Adult Day Program is established.
  • Focuses on: maintaining independence for aging adults, with our without a disability.

1990: Education Era Ends

Last Graduating Class at the St. Coletta School
  • 1990-99: “Chapter Closes, Another Opens”
  • St. Coletta School Program graduates its last students, marking success in equal access to education in the public school system.
  • Other programs rise.
  • “Best Buddies” began with students from UW-Whitewater.
  • Transportation Department established.
  • First residential home in Waukesha.

2000-09: “Successful Century”

Home Expansion
  • Residential service expands to Illinois, growing to 10 total homes.
  • Wisconsin legislature approves residential funding for people served in Jefferson County.
  • For first time!
  • Alverno Building becomes repurposed.

2010-19: “Moving Ahead”

Reflecting on Past
  • Alverno repurposed into main campus.
  • Long-term care with individuals with disabilities continues to thrive.
  • Genesis Project is created.
  • Achieve Program in Illinois is established.
  • Golden Options and Excel Programs specialize.
  • Dementia Unit
  • Autism Sensory

2010-19: “Looking Ahead”


  • 344 Individuals Served
  • 90+ Special Olympians
  • 5 Day Programs
  • 49 Residential Homes
  • 3 Chapels

“St. Coletta of Wisconsin will be the premier provider of support services for adults with developmental disabilities and other challenges throughout their lifespan. Through dynamic partnerships, exceptional customer service, a demonstrated commitment to quality and spirituality, we will work with persons receiving services to achieve their best life possible.”