At St. Mary’s, we believe that all of our children and young adults, whatever their developmental disability, have a right to love, security, and happiness. We are committed to giving each person the opportunity to develop to his or her full potential, physically, mentally, vocationally, spiritually, and socially. We accomplish our mission by providing evidence-based, comprehensive, and individualized programs and services that promote personal growth, independence, and social skills in an environment that is filled with loving care and respect.
When World War I broke out, Charles P. Greco, studying for the priesthood in Belgium, found himself unable to get home to America. He spent one summer in Como, Italy at a villa that was home to people with developmental disabilities. He fell in love with the people and dreamed of opening a school/home for children with developmental disabilities in America. His dream became a reality on September 15, 1954.
When St. Mary’s opened in Clarks, Louisiana, with seven children housed in a renovated hotel, Charles Greco had become Bishop Greco. In less than a year, St. Mary’s was home to over 200 children and adolescents. Due to the tremendous growth and requests from parents to help their children, Bishop Greco began a national campaign to raise funds for the building of a state-of-the-art campus that would meet the special needs of each child.
On May 6, 1974, Bishop Greco welcomed the children of St. Mary’s to a new campus in Alexandria that has since served as the nucleus for continued growth. St. Mary’s has become one of the nation’s premier facilities for serving individuals who have a dual diagnosis of mental retardation and autism. Part of St. Mary’s success for effectively treating children with severe autism is through our Applied Behavior Analysis program (ABA). This research based program is extremely successful for children with autism and has also proven to be effective for other spectrum disorders. ABA provides one-on-one training with every training goal being broken down into small segments. This program uses positive reinforcement and is utilized to teach daily living, communication and socialization skills. The ABA program is utilized in St. Mary’s Autism Center and is currently being introduced throughout the main campus and our group home.
Today, St. Mary’s is home to 188 children from nine states and a place of hope for their families. The buildings on our 55-acre campus, from dorms to group homes to school to clinic and gym, are comfortable, welcoming and functional. The setting itself is spacious and peaceful.
The nature of the children we serve has changed over the 50-year history of St. Mary’s. This change has been even more
dramatic in recent years than in the past, compelling the St. Mary’s Board of Directors to reconsider how to best meet the needs of these children in years to come. The following numbers help to illustrate the need.
- While all of our children and young adults are mentally retarded, 50% are also diagnosed with autism;
- 71% function in the severe or profound range of mental retardation: 28% are severely retarded with a mental age of two to three years;
- 43% are profoundly retarded with a mental age of approximately 18 months;
- 42% of our children and young adults suffer from seizures;
- 37% require daily medical care;
- and 67% have behavioral disorders, with 31% being self-injurious and 36% having aggressive behavior.
In December 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that autism now affects one in every eighty children, making it the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States and the world. The current list of children whose families have requested admission of their child to St. Mary’s clearly demonstrates that our future lies in helping children with multiple, complex and profound disabilities.
Through the years, St. Mary’s has retained a strong and abiding commitment to keep the dream of Bishop Greco alive through our training, programs and activities and above all through the reciprocal love of our children, families, and staff. Our history demonstrates our continuous striving to improve services, expand opportunities and to provide an enhanced quality of life for the children and families whose trust we have earned and whose love is our greatest reward.