'This is the life': Denver sister has fostered more than 100 children

December 15, 2023

Sr. Michael Delores Allegri, SCL, of Denver has served as a foster parent to more than 100 children since 1999. Sr. Allegri, 81, says the children need safety and consistency and she tries to provide that in her home.


With a toddler playing nearby on the floor and occasionally crawling onto her lap, Sr. Michael Delores Allegri, SCL, calmly recalls how she has cared for dozens of foster children in the last 26 years. At this point, she's not sure exactly how many. This toddler might be number 106. Or maybe 108.

"Every time I count, I get a different number," says Sr. Allegri.

Known to her community and foster children as Sr. Michael, since 1999 the 81-year-old has been a stalwart of the Mount Saint Vincent Foster Care Program in Denver, which until about six years ago was run by Catholic Charities of Denver.

Mount Saint Vincent marks 140 years of operation this year. It is among the facilities and programs that were part of SCL Health until that system merged with Intermountain Health last year. The Mount Saint Vincent staff and volunteers support children and families through an early learning center, outpatient therapy, in-home therapy, day treatment, and foster care program.

Sr. Allegri says when it comes to caring for foster children, "You just do what you need to do."

"I'm sure I've made mistakes along the way," she adds. "But the need is there for these kids to be able to have a safe, nurturing, hopefully loving home. And so once you get into the routine and rhythm of it, it just happens."

Bri Berens manages the staff that runs the foster care program at Mount Saint Vincent and oversees about 28 licensed foster homes. There usually are about 30 children in the program, though that number fluctuates.

"One of the things that I see in Sr. Michael that I value so highly is just her ability to provide unconditional, nonjudgmental care to a child who needs it, whether that's an 18-month-old or a 13-year-old or an 18-year-old and beyond," Berens says. "She's just not rattled. She is steady and consistent."

Living her dream
Sr. Allegri knew from a young age she wanted to care for children. As a Girl Scout in her hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, she recalls how her troop made stuffed toys for a nearby "baby home" and spent Saturday mornings playing with the children. "I thought, when I grow up, I'm going to own my own orphanage because all I'd have to do is play with kids," she says. "I just thought, this is the life."

She entered the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in 1962, choosing the order partly because it ran orphanages. But within a few years, foster care had become a government-funded program, with orphanages closing and more children living in foster homes.

Sr. Allegri taught various subjects in high school in Kansas City for more than 20 years, but she always thought about caring for younger children. One summer in the early 1980s, she visited a friend who worked at Mount Saint Vincent, which was then a residential treatment center for children with severe emotional and behavioral challenges. The next year, she came back and took a position as a unit manager, staying four years.

She loved taking care of the children but missed her family and community in Kansas City, so in 1990 she moved back. She became an elementary school principal and lived with two sisters in her order who took in foster children.

The lure of Mount Saint Vincent remained, so in 1997 Sr. Allegri returned to a job supervising the kitchen and housekeeping staffs. A couple years later, she and a Mount Saint Vincent therapist became foster parents in the same home. When the therapist moved, Sr. Allegri knew she had to stay with the five children and see them through the system. She's kept her door open ever since and she has no plans to close it.

"If the need is there, and I can meet that need," she says, "then that's what I want to do."

Consistent and loving
When foster children come to stay with her, Sr. Allegri knows the goal is to provide a stable home until they return to their families, go to an adoptive home, or start a life on their own as an adult.

"The main thing that I think my kids need is consistency, and to know that they're safe," she says. "The days are very structured, but not regimented."

The children go to school or day care, where they may get therapy. Sr. Allegri makes sure they get to appointments and to visits with their parents. "We have dinner together every night, so they get a sense that we're a family, and, you know, this is what families do," she says.

The shortest period a child has stayed with her is 24 hours and the longest is five years. Sometimes she cares for siblings. She says it can be easier when there are more children in her home so they can help and play with one another. She usually has between one and four children in her care at a time. She gets support in the form of babysitting and clothes from other foster care providers and from parishioners at Spirit of Christ Catholic Community in Arvada, Colorado.

About 10 years ago, a couple offered to hold a baby during Mass while Sr. Allegri was dealing with three other children. "We can sit by you anytime in church," they told her. They have been sitting by her every Sunday since and have become unofficial foster grandparents to the children.

A normal life
Jesse Floyd, 29, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, first stayed with Sr. Allegri when he was 6 and lived with her for about a year and a half. He had been bounced from foster home to foster home until finding stability and solace with Sr. Allegri. He stayed with her a second time when he was about 8 for about three years, until his uncle adopted him. He and Sr. Allegri still stay in touch.

"It was nice actually being in a foster home where the foster parent would actually go out of the way to try to make you feel human," he says.

Sr. Allegri would throw birthday parties, arrange gatherings with friends, make sure everyone ate dinner together, and take the children on road trips to places like Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico or Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, he says. "I guess the best way to put it is it was stable and compassionate," he recalls. "She set an example of how life should be if it were normal for these kids."

Floyd now lives on his own and manages a bar kitchen. He says his life would not be as stable without the strong foundation Sr. Allegri laid. He credits her for his love of travel and for making him a more compassionate person. "Being able to take a step back and trying to be a little bit more compassionate is always something that I hold dear," he says.

Maintaining strength
It can be frustrating navigating the foster care system and heartbreaking learning about what some of the children have endured, Sr. Allegri says. But she believes the system can help heal families that may have suffered generational trauma.

"Our kids deserve the best that we can give to them," she says. "And it's not their fault, you know? They didn't ask to be born into a situation that was not anything except as perfect as any family can be. And some people just need help."

Sr. Allegri has stayed in touch with many of her foster children. When they leave her care, she often sends them off with a scrapbook or collection of photos.

She knows many of the children were too young to have memories of her. "They don't necessarily remember me," she says. "They just hopefully remember that they were loved and cared for."


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