St. Coletta Feeble-Minded School

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St. Coletta Feeble-Minded School
Established 1904
Opened 1904
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Single Building
Location Jefferson, WI and various off sites
Architecture Style Georgian Revival
Alternate Names
  • The St. Coletta Institute for Backward Youth
  • St. Coletta's of Wisconsin
  • St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children
  • Serra Home


St. Coletta Institute for Backward Youth, a medical, residential, and educational institution for the developmentally disabled, was organized by the sisters of St. Francis Assisi in 1904 at the behest of Father George Meyer of St. Lawrence Catholic Church, who accepted four families’ requests to care for their mentally disabled children. Property immediately east of the City of Jefferson was purchased because of the existing convent and school for girls operated by Franciscan nuns at the church. By the early twentieth century, a large campus of residence halls, chapels, an infirmary, administration building, classrooms, and natatorium occupied the southeast corner of Highway 18 and County Road Y in the Town of Jefferson, which was recently annexed into the City of Jefferson.

During the 1930s the institution’s name was changed to St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children. St. Coletta became the largest, oldest, and most influential Catholic school in the United States specializing in the care and training of the mentally disadvantaged while encouraging views of various mental conditions to change at a national level.

Service has expanded over the years and moved from an institutional based housing program to greater community oriented services for people of varying functional levels. Still currently an active facility, St. Coletta's has expanded from a single facility in Jefferson to serve people of many functional levels across the greater Wisconsin and Northern Illinois areas. Offices are also held on the grounds of the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater with field placements offered through their Excel Peer Mentor Program.

In 2009 the Alverno building, run by St. Coletta's closed and the last of the patients there were transitioned to community based housing developments. The Alverno building is set to house St. Coletta's administrative offices and patients were moved to the Downer Home Clare County Estates.

Redevelopment of much of the original Jefferson campus is slated for the near future, with various designs centered on the reuse some historic buildings, creating of condos, and single family homes being negotiated by the current property holders.

Rosemary Kennedy

The sister of John & Robert Kennedy underwent a lobotomy in 1941 due to her "behavior problems." Unfortunately the procedure was not successful. Kennedy's mental capacity diminished to that of a two-year-old child. She could not walk or speak intelligibly and was considered incontinent. Rosemary was moved to a private psychiatric hospital north of New York City. 1949 she was moved to the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children, where she lived until she died in 2005.