A Legacy of Love5 min read

In early 1873, a group of Lutheran pastors chaired by the Rev. J.A. Huegli met at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit to discuss the formation of an orphanage. On March 31, 1873, they signed articles of incorporation forming “The German Evangelical Lutheran Orphan’s Assistance Society.” The group started a building project and issued a call to the Rev. G. Speckhardt of Sebewaing, Mich., to serve as superintendent. Pastor Speckhardt brought with him to Detroit two deaf pupils from Frankenmuth to live in the orphanage. Over time, Speckhardt’s reputation as a teacher of students with hearing impairments grew and more families sought out his tutelage for their children. Within a year, 17 of the 27 orphans housed at the facility were deaf.

By 1874, synodical leaders recognized the value of this unique ministry and resolved unanimously that the Detroit orphanage would serve hearing-impaired students exclusively, and the Lutheran School for the Deaf was born.

For the next 100 years, the Lutheran School for the Deaf operated a boarding school designed to provide hearing-impaired children the opportunity to live, study, and worship in an environment that allowed them to thrive. Over the years, the school saw several building campaigns designed to prevent a lack of space from being the reason that a child would be denied a Christian education. Thanks to the leadership of the school along with the people who generously supported its mission, hundreds of children came to learn about the love of God and the world He created on Nevada Street in the city of Detroit.


In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act brought sweeping changes to the educational landscape of our country. Schools were required to provide services for students with hearing impairments, meaning a residential school for the deaf was no longer a necessity. However, instead of closing the doors and celebrating a long and successful run, the board decided to shift the ministry’s focus from a single building in one city to serve in multiple schools across the state. We continued to help students with hearing impairments, but this decision allowed us to support a wider range of students whose learning differences made it difficult for them to succeed in the classroom. In 1979, the first school partnership was established with Holy Cross Lutheran School in Detroit. By 1990, we were partnering with Christian schools from coast to coast as Lutheran Special Education Ministries. We had a new name, served in new locations, and faced new challenges, but through it all, we kept our focus on serving our great God, who led us every step of the way during those critical years of transition.

Unique Partnerships

Today, Lutheran Special Education Ministries continues to serve God’s children through our unique ministry partnerships. LSEM works to make academic support services available to any Christian school that desires them. We provide our schools with qualified resource room teachers on both a full-time and part-time schedule based on the school’s need. Additionally, we equip our teachers with resources, assessment tools, manipulatives, training, professional development, and access to our network of special education directors and coordinators who are available to answer questions and support the ministry work of our programs.

Outside of the classroom, LSEM works with our schools and LCMS districts to provide professional development for classroom teachers at conferences or in individual school settings. 4 of the 16 LCMS districts in which we serve (Michigan, Ohio, North Wisconsin, and Central Illinois) have partnered with LSEM to provide consultative services to the schools within their district at no cost to the school. LSEM’s Director of Special Education Dr. Kara Bratton is also a regular contributor to print and online resources provided to LCMS teachers by the LCMS School Ministry Office and Lutheran Education Association. LSEM also partners with Lutheran churches in Detroit and Pontiac to provide after-school tutoring services for children in the congregation and community.

God has truly blessed the work of LSEM. We currently have 122 partnerships, the most in our 150-year history! Those schools are found in 16 states from Michigan to Texas to Florida to Alaska. We are also blessed to partner with Concordia International School in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is inspiring to see how God has chosen to use LSEM to serve His kingdom, and we are excited to see where He leads us into the future.


On June 15, 2023, Lutheran Special Education Ministries will be formally celebrating this ministry milestone by hosting our 150th Anniversary Celebration and Banquet. The event will take place at Detroit’s historic Gem Theatre. The evening will include many interesting and unique opportunities for attendees to congratulate our teachers (most of whom will be in attendance) as well as support the work of LSEM as we continue to serve some of God’s most precious children. As part of the evening’s program, we will be welcoming former University of Michigan Men’s Basketball Coach John Beilein as our keynote speaker. Ticket and sponsorship information can be found on our website:

Thank you to all who have supported LSEM over the years with your gifts, partnerships, and prayers. The challenges that face our students and our schools are great and seem to increase year after year. Thankfully, our God is greater than any challenge we face. It is our prayer that, with His guidance and your support, LSEM will continue to build brighter futures for its students for many years to come!

Be sure to listen to this podcast with LSEM’s CEO, Stacy McGhee.

Group photos courtesy of LSEM; photos of teachers in action by Elisa Schulz/Michigan District, LCMS.

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About the Author

Richard Schumacher is the Senior Director of Operations for Lutheran Special Education Ministries.

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