Parishioner with cerebral palsy uses voice to grow in faith and confidence

By Jaye Alderson | For The Compass | March 9, 2016

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]OSHKOSH — Rick Vicker, 64, has lived with cerebral palsy all his life. He enjoys being as independent as possible and is able to take care of himself while living on his own in an apartment in Omro.

He attends St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh, where his sister, Lynn Gibson, also is a member.

Rick Vicker of Omro arrives for Mass at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Oshkosh on Feb. 27. Vicker has managed his cerebral palsy for a lifetime, making the best of each day. (Jeannette Merten | For The)
Rick Vicker of Omro arrives for Mass at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Oshkosh on Feb. 27. Vicker has managed his cerebral palsy for a lifetime, making the best of each day. (Jeannette Merten | For The)

Vicker said he has gotten special encouragement and grown in his faith by attending classes with SERV (Special Education Religion Voice) on Monday evenings at the former St. Josaphat parish site.

SERV is one of three programs offered in the Diocese of Green Bay to serve the unique learning needs of people with disabilities. SERV is ecumenical and welcoming of all religions and emphasizes student participation. It serves the communities of Oshkosh, Omro and Winneconne.

Vicker said he doesn’t like to be the center of attention, but unlike some people with his disability, he said, “I have a good, plain voice. I’m not such a reader, but I took a class and somehow I got up enough nerve and confidence to walk up there by myself and read Scripture for Mass.”

He said he was able to walk to the ambo “on my own without anybody helping me or standing behind me trying to produce words for me.”

“It made me feel great. I started to feel God save my voice for a reason — to do something like that and talk for people,” he added. “That’s something I never thought I could do in my life.”

Vicker recalled that his sister was impressed, saying she could “never do it.”

“Since I took that class, it made me feel more confident in myself and being able to take care of my disability,” he said.

Vicker grew up in Waukesha with his brother and sister. He was raised Catholic and attended religious education classes. When his parents retired and moved to his mother’s childhood home on a farm in Pound, he went with them and lived there for another 18 years. When his parents passed away, he moved to the Oshkosh area to be near his sister.

But he prefers to live in the smaller town of Omro because it reminds him of the atmosphere and friendliness of the smaller town of Pound.

Vicker enjoys attending St. Raphael’s, he said, because it allows him to feel closer to the faith and memories of relatives who have passed on — his parents, his brother, aunts and uncles.

“That’s one of the reasons I go to church — in their honor,” he said. “It helps me cope with them being gone. God has ways of making you handle it. When I read Scripture at those Masses, every time I read I could feel them fly around me like they were angels. They enjoy me getting up there and reading Scripture. That’s what gave me the courage to do it.”

Vicker said he has been facing many changes lately. While he has been a reader at the special Masses for many years, there are now many newer people in the program whom he feels should have the same chances he had. He now encourages them, showing them the way.

“It gives them the confidence to do it, so I feel like am helping there, too,” he said. “I’m giving them a chance.”

For the past few months, Vicker has had to use a wheelchair outside of his apartment, and that has shaken his own confidence again.

At St. Raphael’s, they asked him to be a greeter, but he didn’t feel confident enough to do that. “I almost got the nerve to see if I could try to be a reader,” he said, but he’s still working on that. “It all takes nerve,” he said.

He’s determined to get there because he believes in trying new things and keeping active, no matter what his age. He said many people have told him he looks younger than his age.

He still helps out at the special Masses, and at the end of the Mass recites, “May the Lord be with you” for the parish to respond to. “You should hear the people respond after that,” he said with enthusiasm. “They must have really been listening (to me).”

“With my cerebral palsy, I keep wanting to do more,” he said. “I still keep trying. I walk with my walker around my apartment yet. I am able to take care of myself. I’m so determined.”

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March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

To learn more about outreach ministry to people with disabilities in the Green Bay Diocese, contact Mary Armbrust, [email protected], pastoral care and ministry coordinator, Stewardship & Pastoral Services Department, or visit www.gbdioc.org/disabilities.

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