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.

2000-2009: “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

2009: “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.”

2020: Return to Franciscan Roots (2011)


The beginning of this decade brought about moving all offices and day programming to the Alverno building.  Along with this change began a deliberate focus to remain rooted in our Franciscan values.  Many of the beloved symbols, stained glass, statues and the angel fountain have been incorporated throughout the building and grounds to keep us bound to the beloved Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi and our history.  Other symbols and rituals have become the fabric of our community such as the grotto, cemetery, celebration of Mass at three chapels, Founder’s Day celebrations and yearly pilgrimages to Assisi/Rome.

2020: Return to Franciscan Roots (2015/2018)


The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi’s have left behind a heritage of meeting unmet needs in the communities where they served and this still holds true today.  The Genesis program began in Jefferson in 2015 to continue educating and preparing young adults after high school for independent living, career exploration and training.   Due to the closing of sheltered workshops in Illinois and other ongoing state funding issues, the Achieve day program opened in 2018.  Later that year, a blended program of Genesis, Golden Options and Excel, with plans to provide opportunities to participate with local schools and daycare centers, opened in Brookfield, WI in 2018, known as the Brookfield Intergenerational Center.  All programs designed to fulfill unmet needs in the community.


2020: Return to Franciscan Roots (2016)


2016 Non-Profit of the Year Award

In the midst of the openings of the day progams and due to the unprecedented unemployment rates in the country, St. Coletta re-evaluated their workforce and how best to attract and retain quality employees that provide direct care services to clients.   Early in 2016, St. Coletta was at a critical turning point with many staff openings and not enough employees to fill those open hours.  An initiative called “Moonshot” was launched increased starting pay to combat the competitive job market, pay increases for experience and charting a career path encouraging individuals to make direct care at St. Coletta a career.  The “Moonshot” initiative changed the culture at St. Coletta and improved quality, safety and overall staff retention.  Other service providers have used the Moonshot model, on a National scale, and in 2019 St. Coletta received the Moving Mountains Award.