MCD Partners

Daily Memphian
Madonna Learning Center celebrates its 50th anniversary
January 10, 2019
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

“Ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.”
~ Desmond Tutu

Robert (Bob) Winfield loved his son and wanted what all parents want for their children; a school that would help him meet his full potential, and people who would believe he could.

But it was 1969, and his son was hearing and vision impaired, and intellectually disabled. His options for an education, or even for the idea that his could learn, were severely lacking. Bob’s hope, however, that he would find a way burned brightly.

Winfield met with church leaders in the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, which at that time included West Tennessee. They directed him to contact the Benedictine Sisters, a Religious Order from Ferdinand, Indiana, who operated a school for children with disabilities, a ground-breaking idea in those days.

Bob, along with a few other families with children with disabilities went to talk to the Sisters about their hopes for their children.

They talked about having a school in Memphis that would provide a faith-based learning environment where the cognitive, social, emotional, spiritual, physical, and developmental needs of children with disabilities would be met.

It was in these ordinary acts of love and hope of the families, and the Sisters, that Madonna Day School was founded. In 1969, supported by the founding families, and committed friends, three Sisters came to Memphis to open the school; Sr. Mary Mark, Sr. Beata, and Sr. Ruth Ann, joined a year later by Sr. Judy.

The school started with love, hope, and 21 students. It was never easy. The Sisters made all the educational material needed for special needs students since special education materials were lacking then.

Madonna Day School, now Madonna Learning Center, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It is a private, independent, faith-based school for children and young adults with disabilities, governed by a Board of Directors.

Its mission has been woven into the hearts of the entire community. The broad-based support provided by individuals, community organizations, schools, churches, universities, businesses, and foundations enable the vision that every human life has immeasurable value to continue, and to grow.

The school, located in Germantown, serves 75 students ages four through adults with disabilities including Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and rare genetic disorders. Educational services are individualized to maximize strengths and address challenges.

The families are vital and respected partners in creating unique programs that encourage the students’ independence.

Executive Director Jo Gilbert knows from personal experience about the hope and love Madonna Learning Center instills. Her brother, Jack, was one of the first students at Madonna the year it opened.

“It is an amazing place full of very dedicated teachers and faculty members. Each one has a passion to see our students reach new milestones and become productive citizens in our community” she told me on a recent visit to the Center. “Dreams are being realized for both the students and their families.”

MLC’s goal of developing their students so they may be able to live independently and be valuable contributors to their community may be ordinary for them. But their meeting it every day for the past fifty years through those acts of love and hope is extraordinary.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

Leaders in Educational Consulting and Models for Success
© 2018 MCD Partners