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St. Coletta’s of Illinois reunites teachers with former students

Jul 2, 2024

Hosts get-together for 25-year reunion, marking transition from St. Francis School

Twenty-five years ago, 33 children with special needs faced a significant upheaval in their young lives when the St. Francis School for Exceptional Children closed its doors. The children, along with their dedicated teachers, were separated, marking the end of an era filled with care and learning.

From Freeport, the children made their 100-mile journey east to St. Coletta’s of Illinois, where they were warmly welcomed and began anew in supportive group homes, continuing their developmental journeys in a nurturing environment.

They never forgot their teachers from St. Francis School, however, and the teachers never forgot them.

On June 21, 17 of the students -- now young adults – were reunited with some of their former teachers at a get-together hosted by St. Coletta’s of Illinois.

“It was a really sweet reunion,” said Karen Bartmann, vice president of community and employment services for St. Coletta’s of Illinois. “Everyone was genuinely excited and happy to see one another again, and the joy was unmistakable.”

 “The bond between the students and staff of St. Francis School is incredibly special,” added St. Coletta’s CEO Heather Benedick, “and we were honored to provide a space for them to reconnect and celebrate their shared history.”

The reunion came about when a former St. Francis School nurse reached out to St. Coletta’s and said she and some of her former colleagues were planning a staff reunion in Freeport on June 22. They wondered if it would be possible to reunite with some of their former students while in the area.

St. Coletta’s eagerly agreed to host a mini-reunion at its Tinley Park campus a day before the big event, making the heartfelt gathering possible for the guests who traveled in from Arizona, Florida and Texas.

The 17 young adults and three former teachers reminisced over cupcakes and brownies prepared by St. Coletta’s culinary arts students.

Despite the passage of time, many of the former students and teachers recognized each another instantly. Their faces lit up with joy as they rekindled memories and celebrated their enduring connections.

“They were so little, so young (when they came to St. Coletta’s),” said Social Services Director Kim Cappelletti.

But they still recognized many of the teachers and many of the teachers recognized them, said Bartmann.

“It was amazing to see how much the students have grown, yet still be so familiar to their old teachers,” she added.

Based in Tinley Park, St. Coletta’s of Illinois has been serving children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities since 1949.

Its therapeutic day school, the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. School for Exceptional Children, serves developmentally delayed students ages 3-22 while its community Day Services program works with adults, helping them building adaptive learning skills, improve economic self-sufficiency and become more independent.

To learn more about the nonprofit social service agency or how you can support its mission, please visit or call 708-342-5200.

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