Stritch in Time: Literacy Center celebrates 75 years

The Reading Clinic, Reading Laboratory, Reading/Learning Center, Literacy Center, Urban Literacy Center…during the past 75 years, it’s been called many names, but its core mission remains the same: offering innovative individualized instruction to students of all ages.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi established one of the Midwest’s first dedicated reading clinics in 1943 and now more than 20,000 students represent the legacy of a place that humbly started in a single room on Stritch’s south-side Milwaukee campus. Sitting across the table from the clinic’s students, hundreds of reading clinicians, graduate students and literacy specialists carried on that legacy as they practiced the art of customizing lessons and learned innovative instructional methods at the clinics and centers, and then returned to their own classrooms in places near and far to implement them.

For decades after establishing the Reading Clinic, Stritch served as a pioneer in research and methods, led for years by Director Sister Julitta Fisch, OSF, a nationally recognized expert in the field who served as the first president of the Wisconsin State Reading Association. The clinic’s reputation grew as it hosted annual reading conferences and as Stritch introduced one of the nation’s first graduate degrees in reading education. Many other Sisters joined in leading these efforts and devoted countless hours to this ministry.

“The reading program at [Stritch] would never have been the success it was had it not been for the large number of our Sisters who gave their precious Saturdays and late afternoons during the school year and in summer to teach in our reading clinic,” Sister Julitta wrote in “Our Stories: A Franciscan Heritage.”

Today, under the direction of Dr. Jane Radaj, ’13, the Literacy Center offers comprehensive reading/literacy and math assessment and tutoring services on campus and also in customized formats at partner sites throughout the Milwaukee area. Reading instruction follows an intervention model designed in 2007 by Dr. JoAnne Caldwell, ’75, professor emerita and former associate dean of the College of Education and Leadership and former chair of the Reading Language Arts Department, and Dr. Molly Shiffler, ’04, professor emerita and former director of the Urban Literacy Center, that continues Stritch’s long tradition of providing innovative and individualized instruction to struggling readers.

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Read more about the history of the Literacy Center as captured in a 25th anniversary archival document written in 1968 (see photo gallery below) and in a detailed historical account published in the Winter 2000 issue of Stritch Magazine.

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Photos courtesy of the University Archives