A Source of Strength

A Source of Strength

Heartfelt leadership and social justice guide St. Kate's nationally renowned Occupational Therapy programs

By Melissa F. Kaelin
Illustrations by Jenna Freimuth

Palm trees are swaying, ocean waves are swelling and trolleys are whizzing by. Excitement is running high for St. Kate's occupational therapy programs. It's April, and faculty, students and alumnae are gathered in the heart of San Diego for the national conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

The incoming president of the association is St. Catherine University alumna Ginny Stoffel SP'77, Ph.D., OT, who inspires her audience with a talk on a leadership style she calls "heartfelt." As she describes her own path to becoming a leader, Stoffel references her professors at St. Kate's and the mentoring spirit of Penelope Moyers, Ed.D., OT &mdash dean of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health &mdash who has worked alongside Stoffel in the national association.

Just hours after the conference's inaugural address, Moyers is called on stage, where she receives the AOTA's highest honor, the Award of Merit. The award recognizes Moyers, who also heads the Graduate College at St. Kate's, as an innovator, scholar and leader in the field.

Moyers' national acclaim and warm acceptance speech captivates the audience. Stoffel's speech, focusing on sustainable leadership and compassionate care, wins her accolades. Both women have a shared source of strength & — one that has been inspiring caregivers for over 60 years & — and that is the national and even international reach of St. Kate's occupational therapy (OT) program.

This year, U.S. News and World Report ranked the University's OT graduate programs 28th nationally & — significantly ahead of others in the region. The global influence of St. Kate's OT curriculum extends as far as Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.

On a mission

Many St. Catherine faculty and alumnae stepped onto the national stage at the occupational therapy conference, embodying social justice and exemplifying transformational leadership at every turn.

Moyers and Assistant Professor John Fleming, Ed.D., OTR/L, presented on an interprofessional project they conducted at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, in collaboration with students of occupational therapy and other healthcare disciplines. The project put St. Catherine students at the table with clinicians and faculty, researching chronic pain management in an acute-care setting.

Therese Dlugosch SP '92, MAOT '13 participated in the North Memorial research project as a graduate student. She was so inspired by the research opportunities that she decided to incorporate the initiative into her capstone project for her Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy degree.

"The more I got involved, the more excited I got," Dlugosch recalls. "It's one thing to work and create opportunities in the classroom, but to be involved in the ground level of research in a real clinical setting and to be surrounded by these amazing research professors took it to a whole different level."

Working across healthcare professions can be a challenge, but Dlugosch went into the experience knowing that everyone on the team had the same goal &mdash providing ethical solutions to chronic pain. Put simply: better patient care.

This goal is in line with the far-reaching educational mission of St. Kate's, says Moyers. "The mission is so important to our work that it helps us go beyond what a university normally is and does," she explains. "At the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health, projects like this create an opportunity to mold students to create change in healthcare delivery, to create better patient outcomes, and to create successful and healthy living."

Several occupational therapy students fostered these ideals in a new partnership between the School of Health and Carondelet Village, a senior housing facility that adjoins the St. Paul campus and is a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Associate Professor Karen Sames, OTD, MBA, OTR/L, FAOTA & — in collaboration with Rebecca McGill M'79, MAOL'94, an RN and associate dean of the School of Health & — led a course in the Carondelet Village space that prepares students to reach across professions to provide the best patient care.

St. Kate's occupational therapy programs are also reaching beyond national boundaries. Associate Professor Kate Barrett, OTD, OTR/L, director of the occupational therapy doctorate program, joined forces with Tamara Kittelson-Aldred '75, MS, OTR/L, ATP, director and co-founder of Eleanore's Project, a foundation that provides personalized wheelchairs to medically fragile children. Because Eleanore's Project serves children in Peru, the department now sends about five St. Kate's students to Peru every spring to assist the foundation.

OT students also travel each year to Ecuador, where they conduct occupational therapy work and learn how culture, economics and politics shape the healthcare landscape in other countries. Barrett was among the students and professors on a due diligence trip to Brazil last year as part of the University's hosting of the Opus Prize, an international humanitarian award.

"When it comes to social justice, our students live it and breathe it all the time," Moyers says. "The students leave here well aware of the University's mission, Catholic social teaching and social justice. You can hear it in the way they talk."

Servant leadership

Alumna and incoming AOTA President Ginny Stoffel credits her success in occupational therapy to many of her past professors at St. Kate's: Genevieve Cummings, CSJ, SP'49, OTR; Azel Gohl Giese SP'59, OTR, who chaired St. Kate's occupational therapy department in the 1970s; and Sally Ryan, a professor emerita and the first certified occupational therapy assistant to receive the AOTA Award of Excellence.

"In my mind, they were the role models who signaled to their students what leadership should be," Stoffel says.

Moyers, too, is a model of transformational leadership. Her tenure as president of the American Occupational Therapy Association, from 2007 to 2010, coincided with the nation's prolonged economic downturn, forcing Moyers to make tough choices on program funding and other financial matters.

She asked the association's members to be more engaged and take on more leadership roles in the organization. At her urging, occupational therapy practitioners across the country came forward in greater numbers to assume leadership positions and participate in leadership development programs.

Stoffel and others at the national conference praised Moyers' qualities of heartfelt servant leadership, saying she led with character and lifted up others during her tenure at the AOTA's helm. "To me, a heartfelt leader is someone who offers her authentic self," Stoffel says, "grounded in an emotional connection that engenders trust, commitment and engagement."

Though Moyers didn't join St. Catherine till summer 2010, her selfless leadership style harkens back to the University's founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who founded and developed the occupational therapy department in the 1940s, putting the needs of others above their own.

A Source of Strength

Legacy of the CSJs

The profession of occupational therapy began expanding rapidly in the United States after World War II. Waves of wounded soldiers were returning from Europe's battlefields, and veterans needed interventions to continue to live meaningful lives. Many St. Kate's alumnae had served in military hospitals during the war, and the then-College was poised to respond to the nation's need.

In 1944, Roxa Henderson, an occupational therapist from the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Hospital, made an influential presentation on campus that galvanized interest in starting an occupational therapy program. Later that year, Antonius Kennelly, CSJ, SP'22, Ph.D., then president of St. Kate's, sent Jean Marie Bonnett CSJ, SP '17, Ph.D., OTR, to the East Coast to study occupational therapy.

Sister Jean Marie enrolled in the Boston School of Occupational Therapy program (now Tufts University), which was founded in 1918 at the request of the surgeon general of the U.S. Army. During her studies, she worked with the faculty at Boston and New York University to develop a program that she could take back to St. Paul. Sister Jean Marie finished her fieldwork in 1945, then returned to St. Kate's to develop the baccalaureate program in occupational therapy.

By 1946, St. Kate's produced its first occupational therapy graduate; a year later, the University's OT program became the first to be accredited in Minnesota.

Sister Jean Marie worked tirelessly to expand the program and develop new partnerships with clinical sites. Her work led to the development of occupational therapy departments in local hospitals. Alumnae led these new departments at St. Mary's Hospital, Anoka State Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul, to name a few.

In 1960, Genevieve Cummings, CSJ, stepped into the position of department chair. Like Moyers years later, Cummings exemplified the qualities of a servant leader, empowering both her students and colleagues to rise to leadership roles.

In her time as chair, Sister Genevieve helped to design an OT curriculum that became recognized as a national model within the profession. She was also active at the national level, and her leadership in the AOTA produced standards for ethical practice that continue to be reflected as a foundation for today's practice.

After establishing the department, Sister Genevieve served as the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph and chaired the faculty assembly for St. Catherine. In honor of her contributions, the occupational therapy department now holds the annual Sister Genevieve Cummings Lectureship, bringing a major scholar to the University every year.

The Sisters of St. Joseph aided the expansion of the occupational therapy programs over time. In 1964, they opened St. Mary's Junior College offering associate degrees in healthcare, including the first occupational therapy assistant program in the state.

St. Mary's Junior College, later merged to become the Minneapolis campus of St. Kate's, where students can still pursue the occupational therapy assistant degree.

The OT programs became even more comprehensive in 2012. Under Barrett's leadership, the University added the occupational therapy doctorate. St. Catherine University is now the only occupational therapy program in Minnesota to offer such a degree, and it is the only university in the state to offer OT degrees at the associate, baccalaureate and graduate degree levels.

Looking back, looking forward

Assistant Professor Fleming understands the history of occupational therapy at St. Catherine perhaps better than anyone. A history buff, he has done extensive research on the legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph as it connects to healthcare, especially occupational therapy.

He authored a chapter for the book Liberating Sanctuary: 100 Years of Women's Education at the College of St. Catherine, published in 2012, and he developed a new historical course, "Evolution of Ideas in Occupational Therapy," that is being offered in the master's program for the first time this summer.

In 2012, Fleming was recognized as Minnesota Occupational Therapist of the Year. Through the work of Fleming and many others, the occupational therapy programs continue to involve the Sisters of St. Joseph through fieldwork and partnerships with CSJ ministries.

St. Kate's occupational therapy professors rarely venture out into the Twin Cities for fieldwork or practice without encountering an occupational therapy alumna. Faculty and alumnae serve on regional, state and national committees. They are contributing to the profession's research, public awareness and healthcare advocacy.

"Our faculty are very engaged in the profession," says MAOT Program Director and chair of the Occupational Therapy Department Kathleen Matuska, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA who last year received the Bonnie Jean and Joan Kelly Award of Excellence, St. Kate's highest faculty honor.

Matuska says faculty members often contribute to textbooks, publish research, pre-sent at regional, state and national levels, and edit journals or other publications to further the work of the profession. Matuska herself is the current editor of the Occupational Therapy Journal of Research.

Faculty have influenced many areas of occupational therapy work, she adds, including mental health, aging, work-life balance and interprofessional education, as well as interventions dealing with specific conditions such as stroke and brain injury, lupus and autism spectrum disorder.

The University has become a driving force in occupational therapy, graduating exceptional students at all degree levels, influencing occupational therapy policy and practice, and building on a profession that makes it possible for patients to succeed in their daily lives.

Says Moyers: "We are all united behind St. Catherine University's mission and united behind this desire to really change healthcare."

What Is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists help people of all ages succeed in their daily lives, despite injuries, illnesses or disabilities. They might teach a patient how to use a wheelchair, demonstrate exercises that can help relieve chronic pain or lead an autistic child in play activities. The profession is expanding to include ergonomics, driver rehabilitation and home modifications for healthy living.

St. Kate's OT Fellows

Being appointed a Fellow by the American Occupational Therapy Association requires significant contributions to OT education and the profession, whether through advocacy, research or other avenues.

Below are OT faculty who have earned the distinction of being named to the AOTA Roster of Fellows:

  • Jyothi Gupta in 2013
  • Kristine Haertl in 2012
  • Kathleen Matuska in 2011
  • Karen Sames in 2008
  • Marianne Christiansen in 2004 (retired, May 2013)
  • Julie Bass Haugen in 2001
  • Penelope Moyers in 1997 (dean of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health)


Jean Marie Bonnett CSJ, SP '17, Ph.D., OTR, takes courses at the Boston School of Occupational Therapy (now part of Tufts University). She also works with New York University to develop an OT program for St. Kate's.


Roxa Henderson, an OT from the Veterans Administration Hospital in Minneapolis, makes an influential presentation on campus that galvanizes interest in starting an occupational therapy program.


St. Kate's OT program is the first to be accredited in Minnesota.


Dolores Zumwalde is the first student to graduate from the baccalaureate-level OT program; she becomes director of the Minnesota Tuberculosis Sanitarium.

Fun at AOTA

See photos of St. Kate's faculty, staff and students at the 2012 American Occupational Therapy Association conference.