165 Years of Compassion and Caring

SaintA’s rich history dates back to Milwaukee’s earliest days, beginning in 1850 as two separate orphanages. As children’s needs evolved over the years, orphanage life was replaced by foster care and therapy services. Now, in 2015, SaintA is celebrating 165 years of caring for children and families, using what is known as trauma informed care in all our services. We are a nationally recognized leader in this practice, which applies what neuroscience has taught us about the stages in which the brain develops, functions and recovers from adverse experiences and toxic stress to help children overcome those experiences and thrive.

Dr. Bruce Perry
Dr. Bruce Perry

For many years, SaintA has had a close relationship with Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert in trauma and what it takes to heal those who have experienced it. He will be the guest speaker at our 165th anniversary celebration on Nov. 10. In 2011, the agency became certified in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT). A creation of Dr. Perry and the Houston-based ChildTrauma Academy, NMT is a biologically informed way to assess when trauma occurred in a child’s development and create ways to mitigate its effects. In 2014, we became one of a select group of organizations worldwide with NMT Flagship status. To date, we have trained more than 20,000 individuals from all segments of society in trauma informed care and how it can help to create not only stable individuals but also a healthier community.

St. Aemilian’s Orphan Asylum

The adversity we work with in our clients can include abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, divorce, alcohol and/or drug abuse of a parent, incarceration of and mental illness in a parent. A key element in buffering anyone from adversity, and helping to overcome it, is a caring person in that individual’s life. Dr. Perry’s research strongly backs this tenet.

And it has a been critical component of care throughout the history of SaintA.

In 1849, a woman dying of cholera asked Diocesan priest Martin Kundig to take care of her seven sons. He took them into his own home and looked over them with the help of his two sisters. This act of charity alerted Milwaukee’s bishop, John Martin Henni, to the plight of children orphaned by the city’s cholera epidemic. In late 1849, Bishop Henni founded St. Aemilian’s Orphan Asylum, named for St. Jerome Aemilian, “patron saint of orphans and neglected boyhood.” It was incorporated on Oct. 31, 1850, to support and educate orphan boys. In 1854, it moved to the grounds of St. Francis Seminary south of the city, under the care of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.

Milwaukee Orphans’ Asylum

Around the same time, a group of Milwaukee’s wealthiest and best educated Protestant women became concerned about the city’s rising number of orphans. In 1849, they organized the Ladies’ Benevolent Society to collect and distribute money and goods to the poor. In 1850, they opened the Milwaukee Orphans’ Asylum on the city’s east side.

The two orphan asylums functioned for more than 100 years, with several relocations, fires and re-builds. In 1943, the Milwaukee Orphans’ Asylum was officially renamed Lakeside. Between 1930 and 1965, the nation’s number of orphans dropped from 500,000 to 50,000, and the nature of children needing residential care also had radically changed. By the early 1960s, most children in both centers were moderately or severely emotionally disturbed. Gradually, therapeutic treatment for emotionally disturbed children began to take precedence over custodial care. In 1963, both agencies became residential treatment centers.

St. Aemilian’s was run by the Milwaukee Archdiocese until 1969, when it was re-incorporated as St. Aemilian Child Care Center Inc., a non-profit, non-sectarian residential and day treatment center. The two original parent organizations merged in 1989 as St. Aemilian-Lakeside, Inc., producing one of Wisconsin’s largest and most successful non-profit, non-sectarian human service agencies. In 1994, the Lakeside campus was closed and services consolidated, remaining at the St. Aemilian-Lakeside location at 89th and Capitol.

St. Aemilian-Lakeside continued to grow into a multi-service agency, providing caring and compassionate day treatment, foster care, services to young adults post-foster care, and other community-based outreach programs. In 2004, the agency applied its experience in helping children succeed educationally by creating Capitol West Academy, a public charter school.

In 2009, Integrated Family Services (IFS) was created as a subsidiary to provide ongoing case management and in-home safety services to children in the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. Within three years, St. Aemilian-Lakeside secured half of all the child welfare services in Milwaukee County and added adoption licensing and services.

As issues affecting children and families became more complex, St. Aemilian-Lakeside continued to develop more specialized and varied treatment services and merged with IFS in 2014 to create SaintA.

Always evolving, SaintA now provides foster care, education and mental health services for 5,000 people every day. Innovation and excellence are key to all that we do. And we serve each and every individual with an adherence to integrity, plus the compassion that led to the formation of those two orphanages 165 years ago.


Please join us Nov. 10 and hear Dr. Perry talk about on the translation of emerging findings about the human brain and child development into practical implications for the ways we nurture, protect, enrich, educate and heal children.

Register now: sainta165.eventbrite.com

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