SMASE was established in 1968 by Sister Marijane Ryan, a registered nurse from Boston, who had come to St. Michaels to care for another Sister with cancer. Sister Marijane Ryan was known for the brown cowboy boots protruding under her white habit and for always helping those in need. One day, Sister Marijane Ryan was wheeling around a six year old Navajo boy with polio, whom she had taken to, outside the Franciscan clinic, when she caught the attention of a Navajo Medicine Man who had been riding past in his horse-drawn wagon. Using her training in rehabilitation, Sister Marijane Ryan was working with the young boy in hopes of helping him to regain his ability to walk. Each day the pair would wander outside to continue their therapy, and everyday the Navajo Medicine Man would arrive and watch the pair in silence, no matter what time of day the therapy was occurring. Sister Marijane would try talking to the Medicine Man, using the Navajo the young boy had taught her, but she could never get any reaction from him. After four months of therapy, the boy finally stood between two chairs. Seeing this feat, the Medicine Man took off in his horse and wagon. That afternoon, he came back with his grandson, a three year old with Cerebral Palsy. Within three weeks, Sister Marijane Ryan had about fifteen children. On March 18, 1970, St. Michaels Association for Special Education was incorporated with the Arizona Corporation Commission as a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit corporation. For more than 40 years, SMASE has been serving moderate to severely disabled children and adults from areas near and throughout the Navajo Nation.
To promote and provide a coordinated, accessible system of quality services for children and adults with developmental disabilities including their family.
The school believes that a child with disabilities is foremost an individual in his/her own right; that he/she can grow and develop throughout his/her life regardless of his/her disability. Each child is assisted to the fullness of this potential so that he/she can live a richer life and participate as completely as possible in his/her family and community. It is also the philosophy of the school to work with a family and not just a child.