A Child Shall Lead…


In 1900, children born with mental and physical disabilities were often delivered to mental hospitals and institutions that were devoid of the gentle care and treatment suited to their ages, abilities and growth. A few decades earlier, state and private schools that were dedicated to the teaching and care of children termed “idiotic,” “backward,” and “feeble-minded” had just begun to be formed throughout the United States.

One of these schools, St. Coletta, was founded in 1904, and staffed by Franciscan nuns in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where the nuns had formed their convent in 1864. The original campus, comprised of dormitories, classrooms, kitchens, a chapel, and several outbuildings, covered 174 acres, although this grew to 650 acres throughout the Jefferson area. Children from all over the country came to St. Coletta’s, originally called The St. Coletta Institute for Backward Youth.

In 1931, they incorporated under the name St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children, out of respect for the residents and their families. Their website mentions that one of their students had said, “We don’t walk backward!”

Over the years, hundreds of residents passed through St. Coletta, which became nationally known for its dedication to advocating for the rights of people with disabilities to be included in all aspects of life and treated with the dignity they deserved. For some residents, this was the only home and family they would know, but as society’s understanding of these disabilities evolved, many residents were able to receive the training to live, eventually, in group homes or with family members, and some in their own apartments, holding jobs that honored their gifts and differing aptitudes for independence.

Decades ago, St. Coletta began to adapt to the changing needs of its students, who no longer required on-site dormitories, since children with special needs were acclimated into school systems that allowed them to live with their families, and St. Coletta’s adult residents transitioned to supervised group homes. Acreage was sold off and then buildings were emptied and possessions sold, although St. Coletta’s remains active in training and assisting people with special needs.

A few years ago, there was a weekend-long sale of furniture and household items and we went to explore the grounds and honor the history of St. Coletta’s exceptional children. I discovered two old wooden sleds leaning against a wall, covered with dust and neglect. One of the people assisting with the sale said we could take them for $10.00, more as a donation to St. Coletta’s operating costs than because they were of any value.

During Phillip’s Christmas break, we decided to restore the oak sleds as best as we could. I’d washed them over and over at the end of the summer, and cut away the disintegrated, filthy ropes. Phillip sanded (and sanded), then primed and painted the steel runners. I refreshed the logo on one of the sleds, and then we used coats of tongue oil to seal the wood. Phillip still wants to add a layer or two of spar varnish to them, and we’ll lace new rope through the holes.

They’re still not worth anything, monetarily, but I can see the worn places where little hands and feet gripped the sleds, and I can imagine the laughter and joy of children who had found a place they could call home, where they were loved and schooled, and encouraged to play…and it touches my heart. The sleds are worth nothing, yet they are treasures.

They remind me that we can evolve in our understanding of each other; we can change and grow meaningfully towards greater love and make deeper invitations to each other’s highest self. We can stop defining each other with labels that denigrate and cease judging each other’s worth. There is such great need and such discouraging behavior on the part of those we look to for leadership presented to us every day…As the New Year offers fresh pages to fill and wide-open paths towards better dreams, it is good for me to look upon these humble sleds and allow the sweet, brave spirits of exceptional children to restore my hope. We can change. We can grow. We can listen and learn. We can evolve, together.


A former resident of St. Coletta’s created this lovely tribute to his childhood home. (I had to use the enlarged version to read his words.)

One of St. Coletta’s more famous residents was Rosemary Kennedy, whose sad story is retold here.


© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

Yin Yang and Spirit

I’ve been communing with a virus this week and listening for what it’s come to tell me. Resting, reading, sleeping, watching the birds and snowfalls, lying with the 4-leggeds, going about my life s-l-o-w-l-y and quieting the voices that tell me I’m “not being productive,” because I’m doing exactly what I should be doing: tending my health and balancing my body’s and spirit’s needs.

This afternoon, I feel rested and healed, ready for a walk down our snowy trail, and I am grateful. And I am more aware than ever that many people do not feel rested, and are unable to connect their situations with gratitude.

Almost one in five Americans was diagnosed as suffering from “mental illness” in 2010; most of those were women and young adults. This sad news was published yesterday (http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/people-suffered-mental-illness-year-report-article-1.1008928), and as is so often the case, it is not really news at all, but its elevation to prominence is reason for hope that discovering and naming our illnesses may lead to their healing.

Imagine the suffering those numbers represent.

Perhaps a starting place is to consider that those so labeled are the truly healthy, responding to a society so deeply diseased that it sees the world through a funhouse mirror and justifies the revealed and rotting distortions by labeling the well sick, and medicating them until they agree. Or until they commit suicide, an alternative 8.7 million adults in this study admitted they had considered.

Let us consider, too, that a society that denies its inherent grounding in Spirit has severed connections that are life-giving, and that must be re-integrated for health to be restored. We are—each of us, in unique combinations—anima and animus/feminine and masculine, left and right-brained, artist and intellect, leader and follower, creator and participant, body and spirit, requiring motion and stillness to be balanced and whole.

Is this reflected in the society and world we have created?

Watch and read the “news” carefully, from any source: how many stories are about men and/or feature men as the “interpreters?” How often are the images, the photos and footage, of men? Scan the editorial page: who are the authors? Who are the CEO’s we read so much about these days? Who are our politicians? What percentage of our taxes are allocated to education and how much to the military? How well do our television programs and books reflect a balanced life or integrate a respect for spirit? Is more energy given to protecting the earth or exploiting her?

I’ve always thought it odd how much of the half-hour devoted to our “local” news is given to sports and to “political” reports, while no attention is routinely (i.e., daily) dedicated to community-building efforts that are surely occurring, or to the arts.

Why sports and not the arts? Why violence and divisiveness rather than cooperation and co-creation? The messages, from childhood on, seem to reinforce that power, competition, domination, and conflict (an exaggeration of our inherent masculine traits) are worthy of our attention; their opposites (our feminine qualities) are not.

Rather than a condemnation of the male sex, this is offered as an invitation to see how dramatically skewed our society is, how grotesquely crippled and half-blinded we are to the fullness of the earth and of ourselves and our potential to co-create lives that are rich and meaningfully balanced. We deny the feminine within and project this denial outward, creating institutions, careers, lifestyles, and options that are barren of creativity, nurturing, hope, justice, and balance…and then we expect sanity? Instead, such imbalance creates mental, physical, and spiritual illness. I would posit, too, that such imbalance gives rise to the “–isms” that plague us: sexism, racism, militarism…

This disparity between the feminine and masculine or the body and spirit, was evidenced at both the hospital and hospice where I worked as a chaplain and provided spiritual care for those struggling with illness and/or end-of-life. Ostensibly, they (management and the allopathically-trained staff) supported the work of spiritual caregivers. Regulatory standards call for the provision of spiritual care, at some level, and many healthcare providers rely solely upon already over-burdened local clergy, who have different training, largely confined to their religious orientation; at least these institutions where I was employed hired trained, professional chaplains to comply with regulations. But although we were clinically trained, and part of the “healthcare team,” there was deep mistrust, disregard, confusion, discomfort, and often contempt towards our contributions to holistic care from the rest of the clinical staff. That this was so often coupled with an unwillingness to learn about our training and discipline and the ways it could integrate with the care provided by medical staff, was continually discouraging, as was the reduction of our potential to “Could you come to Room 908 and say a prayer?”

To put it plainly, they were focused on “fixing” and we were focused on “being with” and “exploring,” which seemed to irritate many of the medical staff further, although both may lead to the healing and peace of the patient. Holistic, “both/and” ways of being with illness and dying are not truly embraced by our healthcare system, which is both a disservice to the patients and their families, and the denial of gift and true health to the healthcare providers as well. (It was fascinating and sad to me how many healthcare workers were overweight, as though the “heaviness” of this body-spirit imbalance became, in time, manifested physically.)

We’re all, always, on paths of healing; pretending otherwise allows the disease of a life lived ungrounded in Spirit to progress. And the cure is right here, within us, and has been, all the time. Simplistically, our healthcare model, like our culture, is ill because it’s far too inured in the masculine orientations of control/fixing/authority, and resists “incorporating” the feminine and healing gifts of listening, feeling, touching, intuiting, and co-creating. Imbalance is created by, and perpetuates, a culture of fear. When shadows are denied, light has no value.

We aren’t educated, at this time in history, to explore meaning, identify archetypes, observe dreams, live with questions, or honor mystery. Little time is allotted for stillness, reflection, or contemplation. From childhood on, we’re asked to do, solve, find answers, deduce, and reduce all of life to the concrete and factual (and, increasingly, to elevate and focus our gifts and energies upon what will financially and materially profit our existence), or dismiss it as irrelevant. Review this article and ponder the connection between the allocation of our precious time and the rise in mental illness. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/speedup-americans-working-harder-charts

There is also our lack of engagement with the natural world that contributes to our disconnection from mystery/Spirit. We’re now given digitalized screens of one kind or another to occupy our time, rob us of imagination, leech our independent thought and creativity, and corral our allegiance and loyalties without question. Children are no longer urged to “go outside” and discover the world of trees, insects, rivers, and sky. They’ve never watched the interactions of predator and prey, a colony of bees or ants working together, birds building their nests, or clouds forming and moving across the sky. They are frighteningly, like many of their parents, ignorant of the connections between a food’s source and what they eat; indeed, often what is presented and ingested as edible is unrecognizable in its relationship to any naturally occurring source (i.e., a “fruit roll-up”).

This alienation from our world and its natural processes further crushes the spirit and twists our worldview. It damages our children and devalues the environment they need to know and love in order to protect it. http://www.education.com/topic/nature-deficit-disorder/

Neither are children encouraged to “go inside” and be still. Mindfulness meditation can be used effectively in classrooms and teach a life-long, simple form of self-care that can ensure mental health.

When we value only part of ourselves and deny the rest, our be-ing is out of balance; our spirits deflate; our light dims, and our relationships and health suffer.

But, dum spiro, spero: While I live, I hope. If I can link to these articles, they’ve been written, and I know others are also recognizing these deficits and imbalances and using their gifts to address them. I trust that our compassion and our intelligence will respond; our masculine gifts for organization and delegation, and our feminine gifts for empathy and creativity will be welcomed, and we’ll create a healthy family, community, country, and world that celebrates hospitality towards all of our gifts, promotes wholeness, values balance, and is grounded in Spirit.



© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.