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Overcoming Obstacles

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A child celebrating their Confirmation Mass is a memory they’ll treasure forever. It’s not only confirming their relationship with God and the Church, but it’s a monumental occasion that is usually celebrated with family and friends. To ensure students at St. Rita School for the Deaf were not missing out on this sacrament, school leaders worked with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati so nonverbal students could also take part in their Confirmation Mass.

“It starts with our school’s vision statement – specifically, ‘Maximize our students’ full potential by developing the whole child to be confident, contributing members of society,’” said Adam Frazier, the Coordinator of Campus Ministry at St. Rita School for the Deaf. “To tell one of our students, ‘No, you can’t do [something],’ is a blow to their confidence. We have a banner in the hallway quoting Matthew where it says, ‘Let the little children come to me’ and we take that to heart. How can we make sure every student can participate at Mass in a way that is meaningful?”

Frazier reached out to the archdiocese to see what options were available to have all confirmands participate in Mass. “Through email, we came up with the idea to let the students who are nonverbal write the intentions during the prayers of the faithful,” said Noelle Collis-DeVito, archdiocesan Associate Director for the Office for Persons with Disabilities. “They then lead the prayers of the faithful that they had written with their communication devices.”

Since that initial Mass, Frazier and Beth O’Leary, a religion teacher at St. Rita, have continued to utilize the communication devices to inspire more students to participate in Mass.

“This is encouraging more responsibilities for [nonverbal students] and leadership skills can be developed too, just like the verbal students,” O’Leary said. “At St. Rita, we strive to involve all of our students in the Mass, no matter the disability. We want all of them to develop a deeper relationship with our Lord Jesus. I think our program helps work toward this goal.”

“We know all of our students face so many obstacles to accessibility to religion in general, that we will do whatever we can at St. Rita to provide access to Christ and His Gospel message,” Frazier said. “[Having nonverbal students] only means that the adults have to come up with a way to make that opportunity a reality.”

Collis-DeVito agreed, “Our call as missionary disciples is to provide people with the opportunity to encounter Jesus and to accompany them on their faith journey. When we take the time to see the face of Christ in each individual person and respond to their needs and gifts, we are living this mission. By providing creative ways for persons with disabilities to share their gifts at Mass, we are strengthening the Body of Christ.”

This article appeared in the October edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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