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Special Religious Education serves disabled in parish-based programs
By Julie Filby
As part of the pro-life activities of the U.S. bishops, in a 1978 pastoral letter they encouraged dioceses to embrace the “responsibility to our own disabled brothers and sisters in the United States … by furthering their spiritual, intellectual, moral and physical development.”
In line with this call, the Denver Archdiocese has maintained the Office of Special Religious Education and Pastoral Care since 1976.
“Realizing all persons are called to be full members of the body of Christ, the ministry facilitates the development of the Catholic faith and its sacramental life through education, nurture and presence,” said Sister of Loretto Mary Catherine Widger, co-founder of the program and associate director since inception.
The ministry provides catechesis and sacraments through parish-based religious education programs. Currently 11 parishes, 150 students and 100 volunteer teachers are involved in weekly programs throughout the archdiocese. Five additional parishes offer tutoring and other types of intervention (see list at the end of this article).
Co-founder of the ministry, Father Lawrence Freeman, served as director for 23 years. At his death in November 1998, his brother Father Roland Freeman took over as director. In addition, the team is supported by administrative assistant Veronica Saykally.
The office coordinates in-service for teachers, tutoring on specific programs and home visits. Liturgy is celebrated in all programs.
“We are goal-oriented and curriculum conscious, but our mission is to minister to the religious life of the student,” said Sister Widger. “It’s a mutual ministry with persons with developmental disabilities and their families.”
Faith nurturing for people with special needs
In addition to parish-based education and pastoral programs coordinated by the Office of Special Religious Education and Pastoral Care, the ministry provides “religious nurture” to 70 residents of the Wheat Ridge Regional Center. The facility serves individuals with developmental disabilities with complex medical needs, intensive therapy needs or dual diagnosis (mental health issues as well as developmental disabilities).
“Because these residents have severe, profound disabilities they benefit best from a program of religious nurture and supportive Christian presence,” said Sister Widger.
The ministry also shares in the celebration of Mass with approximately 80 adults at the Carron Coffee House each month. The Carron Coffee House, based at Light of the World Church in Littleton, provides a place for people with physical and mental disabilities to socialize in a casual atmosphere.
In 1985 Sister Widger co-founded the Bridge Community, a state licensed and certified intermediate care facility. The community, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on April 1, is home to eight adult women.
“It is the only Catholic group home in Colorado,” said Sister Widger. “It serves as a model of Christian care that is so needed in today’s society.”
The residents and staff are encouraged to interact in the community with reciprocal sharing of gifts, talents and needs that enhance family living.
“The goal is not only to provide a stable and supportive community for the women who choose to live here,” said Sister Widger. “But to create a home where each woman can realize the fulfillment of which she is capable.”
For more information on the Bridge Community, contact director Risha Dimas at 303-935-4740.
special religious education program
Below are contacts for parishes with weekly programs:
Spirit of Christ
Vi Becker, 303-956-6719
Queen of Peace
Peggy Leichty, 303-905-6906
St. Martin de Porres
Jane Miller, 303-499-4330
St. Thomas More
Sheri Funderburk, 303-799-0052
Becky & Greg Hastings, 303-985-8439
St. Catherine of Siena
Anita Garcia, 303-416-0569
Diane Schreiber, 303-980-5504
Light of the World
Joy Jaeger, 303-973-3969
St. Frances Cabrini
Kathy Seefried, 303-979-7688
Susan Whittaker, 303-455-2049
Immaculate Heart of Mary
J.P. Melia, 303-908-2906
Parishes offer tutoring and other intervention:
Nativity of Our Lord, Broomfield
Blessed Sacrament, Denver
Risen Christ, Denver
St. Louis, Englewood
Holy Trinity, Westminster
For these parishes, contact Sister Widger at 303-934-1999.
To start a weekly parish program or for more information on the Office of Special Religious Education and Pastoral Care contact Sister Widger at 303-934-1999. For more information on the Bridge Community, contact director Risha Dimas at 303-935-4740.