1960 – Bishop Mark Carroll requested the help of the Sisters of St. Joseph in starting a school for children with developmental disabilities. Sister Veronice Born was chosen as the school’s director. To prepare for working with students with disabilities, Sister Veronice spent the summer at St. Coletta Residential School for students with disabilities in Madison, Wisconsin. On October 10, 1960, in a classroom offered by St. Anthony Parish, 5 students arrived for the first day of school. By the end of the term, 12 students between the ages of 6 and 10 were enrolled. Sister Veronice was the only teacher.
1962 – At the invitation of Msgr. Thomas Glynn, Rector of the Cathedral, the program was moved to the Cathedral grounds, where the Chancery now stands. The program was named St. Mary’s Special School.
1963 - Sister Catherine Switlik, CSJ, joined the effort, and a second classroom was added for an enrollment of 22 students. Dedicated volunteers helped the school cope when the numbers jumped to 36 students that school year.
1965 – The growing needs of the bustling school were met when the Diocese purchased a building on Maize Road. Following the renovation of the building, the program, renamed the Holy Family Center, was dedicated on August 29, 1965 by Bishop Leo Byrne. Classes began in September of that year with 71 students ranging in age from 6 to 17. The staff was increased to meet the students’ needs. During this time of increasing enrollment, the staff encouraged and supported each other. The Knights of Columbus came to the aid of the Center’s many needs. They operated bingo in the gym, sold Tootsie Rolls, peddled Christmas trees and sponsored dinners, all to help keep the Center operating.
1968 – The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation sponsored the first International Special Olympics Games in Chicago. Six students from Holy Family Center participated. They were accompanied by Sister Veronice and Bob Powers, the physical education instructor.
1969 – Father Eugene Gerber served as Chaplain of Holy Family Center and was a valued member of the governing board. During his time on the board, a Memorial Shrine was established to remember deceased members of family and friends. To this day, a Mass in their memory is offered monthly.
1970 – Father Ronald Gilmore joined Sister Veronice to help her address the many complicated challenges facing the Holy Family Center as it grew. Contracts were drawn up between Holy Family Center, public school districts and special education cooperatives to accept students with more severe behavioral, emotional, and learning problems. The Center was licensed as a Day Hospital Treatment Center, making it the only organization in Kansas with dual certification. Enrollment continued to increase and services were added, such as a Medical Director and Behavioral Psychologists, who provided treatment in the school environment which was comfortable and familiar to the students. Speech, music, art, recreational, and physical education therapists were also added. In addition to all these services, Bible studies, days of retreat, and a residential summer camp were established. A ministry with the blind and visually impaired was initiated, along with a ministry with the deaf and hard of hearing. The ministry with the deaf was blessed in 1991 with a signing priest, Father Ken VanHaverbeke, who continues to serve the spiritual needs of the deaf community to the present day.
1985 – In the midst of all these changes, Holy Family Center celebrated its 25th Anniversary. During this year, special education services began to change in the state. New laws required that children with disabilities be served by the public school systems. The Catholic identity of Holy Family Center raised
History of the Holy Family Special Needs Foundation
questions and problems for the contracting state agencies. Eventually, the staff was informed that all religious symbols had to be removed and no form of religion could be taught. Bishop Gerber, Father Gilmore, Sister Veronice and board members decided this was unacceptable. The very difficult decision was made to close the program. The staff worked with the parents and the schools to make sure every child had a place to go in the fall of the next school year. This was a very trying time for everyone.
1986 – Holy Family Center formally closed in the spring of 1986. Bishop Gerber wanted the work with persons with disabilities to continue. He requested the development of a Diocesan Ministry to work with parishes and their pastors to insure their churches and services were accessible for everyone, including the elderly and those persons with special needs. The Ministry with Persons with Disabilities was initiated, with Sister Veronice serving as the Ministry’s first director. The Ministry continues on to this day.
2003 –The Holy Family Special Needs Foundation was established. Funds from the Holy Family Center were transferred to the Foundation for two purposes:
• Inclusion Grants to Catholic Schools – Using a grant process, the Foundation awards dollars to Catholic schools to assist with the cost of special education teachers, paraprofessionals, tutors and resources in order for them to educate children with disabilities alongside their peers.
• Ministry with Persons with Disabilities – The Foundation funds the work of this ministry. The mission of the ministry is to help each parish keep all parishioners actively involved in parish life regardless of type, severity or age of onset of a disability.
2013 – The Memorial Shrine was placed in storage in 2003. The new Holy Family Memorial was blessed by Father John Lanzrath on April 7, 2013.
Holy Family Special Needs Foundation