Nick Colarelli, Fostering Hope founder, dies Oct. 15 at age 93
Linda Oppelt
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Nick Colarelli, Fostering Hope founder, dies Oct. 15 at age 93

COLORADO SPRINGS. Dr. Nicholas J. Colarelli, an accomplished psychologist and devoted family man who spent his life championing the idea that love and belonging are fundamental to human flourishing, died Oct. 15 at age 93. Holy Cross Father Bob Epping celebrated a Mass of Christian Burial on Nov. 3 at Sacred Heart Church in Colorado Springs.

Colarelli grew up in the coal mining town of Brookside, Colorado, the son of Italian immigrants. Although he experienced many hardships in his youth, he always had, in his words, “a lap to sit on and someone to tell him it’s all going to be okay.” This simple concept would evolve into a theme that would shape his life’s purpose, both professionally and personally.    

Colarelli taught in a one-room public schoolhouse before moving to St. Louis to study psychology at St. Louis University. It was there that he met the love of his life, Margaret Ann, (nee Brewer) to whom he was married for 60 years.

After earning his doctorate in clinical psychology at Northwestern University, he joined the Menninger School of Psychiatry in Topeka, Kansas, where he designed and carried out a groundbreaking experiment. Rooted in his belief in the primacy of human connection, he convinced his colleagues to turn over their professional treatment of patients to the ward’s aides, who were closest to them. In a matter of months, this locked-down ward was able to be unlocked. This radical method was published in the book “Ward H.”

The family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he and Margaret raised five children, with an emphasis on the responsibility that comes with the privileges of a strong, loving family. Colarelli was a professor of psychology at St. Louis University, then started his own business in the emerging field of organizational psychology. He built his business by applying these same leadership principles to large systems and institutions, working with religious groups, family businesses, and some of the largest corporations of the day.

He enjoyed reading and discussing all manner of topics, from ancient philosophers to economics to the physics of space and time. His favorite was theology, and he had a knack for stringing together facts and observations into brilliant insights.

He was happiest sharing an evening cocktail with his wife, puttering on a home project, seeing the family canasta trophy evolve into ridiculous proportions, or solving world problems with his grandchildren and friends.

In 1997, he and Margaret sold the business and moved to Colorado Springs, where they would meet wonderful friends. It was here that he and his family started a nonprofit known as Fostering Hope. This was an opportunity to apply all he had learned and lived by to those who needed it the most — children in foster care. He developed a model by which they could experience the kind of extended family and community he had relied on and advocated for all those years.

Colarelli is preceded in death by his wife, Margaret and survived by his children: Gina (Pat) O’Connor; Angela (David) Carron; Nick (Karen) Colarelli; Vince (Janet) Colarelli; and Kate (Chris) Beatty. He is also survived by 13 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

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