By Barb Arland-Fye
Alex Clancy is a young man with autism who values his Catholic faith and wants to get more involved in his parish, St. Patrick’s in Iowa City. When his dad, Greg Clancy, read an article in The Catholic Messenger about Special Faith Saturdays, he thought: “Here’s a nice opportunity for Alex to grow and become more involved with his faith.”
Special Faith Saturdays is a new program that provides faith formation and socialization opportunities for persons ages 16 and older preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation as well as those who have already received the sacrament. Alex and Greg attended the first session, Feb. 19, at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove — about an hour’s drive from home. They’ll be back for next month’s session.
“I believe in Jesus. I want to be closer to God,” said Alex, after completing an arts and crafts project that featured the Holy Trinity on a shamrock neck piece. Alex was one of eight individuals — seven male adults and one teenage girl — who participated.
Afterwards, six of the eight attended Mass at St. Ann’s. The pastor, Msgr. Drake Shafer, joyfully announced their presence at the beginning of the 4 p.m. liturgy. His younger brother, Gerard, was among the participants. They brought up the offertory gifts and three of them also assisted with the offertory collection.
“It was wonderful; all of the participants were so involved with the ministry in the church. Alex helped take up the gifts,” Greg Clancy said.
Dan Elskamp, a member of St. Ann’s whose son Tim is a Special Faith Saturdays participant, thinks the program is fantastic. “When Tim was young I didn’t think he needed to be confirmed.” But by being able to prepare to receive the sacrament, “it makes him feel like everyone else.”
St. Ann’s parishioner Peggy Ragona is glad to see a program established for adults with special needs, like her son, Bob. Parents and caregivers need more resources for faith formation opportunities for their adult loved ones, she says.
Seeing Special Faith Saturdays become reality brought tears to the eyes of Diocesan Faith Formation Director Mary Wieser as she talked about the program’s goals with parents and caregivers at the opening session. “I am so pleased we got it off the ground after all these years. We have volunteers who said they are willing to help and who are committed to making it a quality program.”
The Book of Ecclesiastes notes there is a time for every purpose under heaven. St. Ann’s parishioner Nancy Shannon worked 28 years in Davenport as a special education teacher. Her retirement in May provided the time to help Special Faith Saturdays come to fruition.
“I wanted to get more involved with working with people with special needs in my parish, and this was a perfect opportunity to do that,” said Shannon, who serves as Special Faith Saturdays’ main catechist. “I don’t feel like I’m done teaching. I still feel like I have some teaching years in me.”
And she’s encouraged that “everybody who came interacted very well and everyone went home feeling that this is a good thing to do. The parents were excited and the students were excited. I think it’s a neat opportunity and we have a wide variety of abilities.”
Special Faith Saturdays
Special Faith Saturdays meets monthly for individuals with special needs ages 16 and older. The upcoming sessions are: March 19, April 16 and May 21 beginning at 2:30 p.m. Sessions will conclude with Mass at St. Ann’s. Each session begins with catechesis for participants and discussion with parents or caregivers, followed by social time, cookies and beverages. Then participants are invited to assist with the liturgy by helping to take up the collection, offertory gifts and hand out the bulletins, Wieser said.
The culmination of Special Faith Saturdays will be a Special Needs Confirmation Mass to be celebrated Pentecost Sunday, June 12, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Ann’s with Bishop Martin Amos presiding.
Contact: Mary Wieser, director of Faith Formation for the Davenport Diocese at (563) 888-4241 or by e-mail at email@example.com.