Originally built by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1960, St. Louis Center is administered by the Servants of Charity Congregation of Catholic missionary priests and brothers who have dedicated their lives to caring for the “poorest of the poor” of the world, especially persons with developmental disabilities. Saint Louis Guanella founded the Servants of Charity Congregation in 1908 in Como, Italy.
Before acquiring the property in Chelsea, MI to build a boarding school for “mentally retarded” boys in 1958, the late Edward Cardinal Mooney contacted the Servants of Charity Congregation in Italy and asked them to come to Michigan to run a new boarding school. By the time it began operations in 1960, Cardinal Mooney had passed, and the late John Cardinal Dearden was present for our grand opening. The school was named for the Founder of the Servants of Charity, Fr. Guanella, who would become beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
The four original members of the Servants of Charity who came to run the program were Fr. Joseph Legnani, Fr. Umberto Mellare, Fr. Germano Pegoraro, & Fr. Fausto Sarpieri. They began their mission with four Holy Family sisters, one cook, five special education teachers, and sixty eager young boys. Thirty boys each lived in a dormitory setting on each side of the center corridor in the main building
The 70’s were a time of change and transition, as society began to move away from larger open facilities, to more individualized settings. Under the direction of Administrator Fr. Louis Frangi, Fr. Germano Pegoraro, Fr. Umberto Mellare, and Fr. Fortunato Turati, St. Louis Center added on to the back of the original building and created new individualized dorm rooms, living rooms, and the chapel.
The 80’s were marked with continuous change, as St. Louis Center took on the challenges of mainstreaming in the public schools, and developed a plan for their residents who were growing into adulthood. Fr. Joseph Rinaldo was now the Administrator of St. Louis Center, and our growth continued with the building of St. Joseph Hall for our adult male population, and Fr. Guanella Hall for residents needing more customized care.
The 90’s marked a slowdown of growth in our facilities, as Fr. Enzo Addari took over as Administrator. Reductions in funding for non-profits and reduced student residential placements began to take their toll on programs like St. Louis Center, and we entered into an aggressive era of fundraising, where many community groups rose up to help St. Louis Center stay afloat financially. The Michigan Knights of Columbus have been particularly helpful, and many of these fundraisers are still going strong today.
Knights of Columbus Hall saw the development of two special programs in 2001. A “Snoezelen” Therapy room for autistic children was built, along with a “Privacy Zone” designed to care for residents who could not care for their personal hygiene needs. Additionally, when the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence ended their women’s program in nearby Northville, Michigan, St. Louis Center created a new home for ten adult women with disabilities, converting a section of Fr. Guanella Hall into “Our Lady of Providence” program for adult women. Fr. Joseph Rinaldo returned as Administrator of the program until July 2008, when Fr. Enzo Addari stepped back into the role. St. Louis Center has also added Fr. Satheesh Caniton Alphonse from their seminary program in India, and Fr. David Stawasz who returned from an extended assignment in the Philippines.