Bringing the church to those with disabilities
Bishop's Appeal helps parishes and parents to include all believers
Third in a Bishop's Appeal series
By Joanne Flemming
|SIGNING MASS: Fr. Don Zerkel of the Milwaukee Archdiocese signs Sunday Mass at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, Green Bay. Susan Perrault, diocesan consultant for ministry to persons with disabilities, helps parishes arrange such services. (Rick Evans photo)
A child was preparing for First Communion. But there was a challenge. The child was tube-fed.
What to do?
Call Susan Perrault. The diocesan consultant for ministry to persons with disabilities worked with the parish and the family to prepare the child for Communion. During the process
the parents indicated that the child could swallow if the Eucharist was placed on the back of his tongue.
Perrault suggested the parish order one of the long-handled spoons used for Communion in Eastern Rites and "Father practiced taking a bit of the cup" and giving it to the child, she said.
The parish gave the child the spoon as a First Communion present. When his mother brings him for weekly Eucharist, she gives the spoon to the Communion minister.
"It's perfectly OK not to do things the same way everyone else does," Perrault said, who describes her job as assisting "Catholic parishes, schools and programs in the appropriate inclusion of persons with disabilities."
She helps on a case by case basis, usually beginning with a call from a family asking for assistance in involving a child or adult with disabilities in faith formation and worship.
The calls are as diverse as the individuals making them, she said. "It's a matter of being open to doing things differently. When that happens, we make way for the Spirit to do his
Once doors are open, Perrault said she has a "wonderful, informal network of resources and referrals" to help her.
One way Perrault's office helps persons with disabilities is with Lifelong Faith Formation. She has worked on developing individual religious education plans or IREPs, similar to the IEPs or individual education plans public schools use for children with special needs.
Because of the similarity, parents are familiar with how religious education directors can design religious education programs for their children.
Perrault said she advocates for faith formation opportunities for developmentally disabled adults. There are several throughout the diocese. A coalition of parishes may sponsor these. Most are led by volunteers; a few receive small stipends from sponsoring parishes.
Such programs meet at St. Joseph Parish in Appleton, Holy Spirit in Kimberly, St. Josephat in Oshkosh, Holy Family in Brillion, St. Peter the Fisherman in Two Rivers and St. Joseph in Wautoma.
Perrault also is working with the lifelong faith formation committee for the new city-wide parish in Manitowoc on developing programs for persons with special needs.
The diocese sponsors day-long retreats for adults with development disabilities. The retreat team of Mary Eckert and Dcn. Bill Burkel, both of Prince of Peace Parish, Green Bay, led five retreats in 2004 in Marinette, Brillion, Oshkosh, Menasha and Green Bay.
They are willing to lead more, she said, but host sites are needed. A parish contact handles on-site logistics and hospitality.
Perrault also helps parishes locate professional interpreters for the Deaf Community. Seven parishes use interpreters for weekend liturgies, religious education and sacrament
On March 5, the diocese will sponsor a workshop for professional interpreters who want to hone their skills in interpreting liturgical rites.
Perrault said part of her ministry is assuring that "vulnerable adults" have safe environments.
She said Bp. Robert Banks committed the diocese to providing safe environments for the population when he signed the U.S. Bishops' charter in 2003 which calls for safety for children. Bp. David Zubik is carrying on that commitment.
Safe Environment facilitators, who train parish staff and volunteers to recognize the potential warning signs of predator behaviors, have supplemental materials related to vulnerable adults. Care Ministers are trained to look for these signs when visiting adults
in nursing and group homes and assisted living facilities, she said.
Besides receiving such awareness training, Care Ministers undergo criminal background checks and other screenings, Perrault said.
For more information on ministry with persons with disabilities, phone Perrault at 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8306, or (920)272-8306 or by e-mail at [email protected].