By Barb Arland-Fye
On a pleasant summer evening Karl Lantzky, Tracey Jacobsen and Phil Tyler met for their Ministry Formation Program class around a picnic table in a Bettendorf park. The three Catholics have been getting together monthly, usually at Phil’s house because his physical disability makes transportation more challenging for him than for Tracey and Karl.
The three participants in MFP, an adult faith formation program of the Davenport Diocese, have bonded through exploration of faith, Scriptures, lecture notes and personal reflections. With patience and a sense of humor, Phil, Karl and Tracey have honed their listening skills. Karl and Tracey do not know sign language; Phil is adept at sign language, but has difficulty speaking because of his physical disability.
“I have learned so much from Phil,” said Tracey, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. “I have learned that having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong faith and understanding of your faith and others. Disabilities should not stop people from being a part of their church community and growing in their faith and helping others to grow in their faith. I have learned to stop and listen better to others. Phil is such a wonderful person and so filled with the Holy Spirit. It is a great experience that I will never forget.”
The experience is possible because of Phil’s persistence, the MFP coordinator’s commitment to accommodate his desire, and Karl and Tracey’s willingness to be partners with Phil even though they have finished classes for the MFP two-year basic program.
Phil, who is retired from a governmental vocation, said friends motivated him to enroll in MFP with the original intention “of my becoming a deacon. Yet that is out of the question because of age concerns and restraints of numerous disabilities.” Phil serves as an usher at St. John Vianney Church in Bettendorf and attends Our Lady of Victory Church in Davenport whenever Mass is celebrated for the deaf or in sign language. His desire is to be able to communicate the Gospel to the deaf population in the Quad-Cities area, on both sides of the river.
IlaMae Hanisch, the MFP coordinator, recalls meeting Phil three years ago at diocesan headquarters. She was amazed at the determination he displayed walking to and from the bus stop for his first face-to-face appointment. “I think he’s an inspiration to anyone who feels they may have some obstacle to responding to a call to ministry — in Phil’s case, a ministry to the deaf community.”
She believed Phil would benefit from the MFP small-group format, so she searched for partners. She discovered them in the MFP class which meets at sites around the diocese via the Iowa Communications Network.
“During a class discussion when we were talking about how you reach out to people in the parish, Karl (a member of St. Paul the Apostle) shared his experience with his son, who has special needs. I realized Karl had a real love and concern for people with special needs,” IlaMae recalled. Since Karl and Tracey were members of the same class and parish, she asked them about forming a small group with Phil; they readily agreed.
“We’ve built this relationship; we enjoy the time together,” said Karl. “What I get out of this is building a relationship with Phil that might not otherwise exist.”
Phil said he appreciates “the rapport that I get from joining in the small group discussion and the support from elsewhere.” He noted that “each member of the group has different approaches in our studies — yet somehow we mesh quite nicely, as (Karl) would say.” Participating in MFP has provided Phil with “a greater understanding and enrichment of how and why God loves us Christians through his only begotten Son through the Holy Spirit.”
Tracey, the office manager of Office Solutions in Davenport, will graduate from the two-year MFP basic program this month. Besides the in-depth knowledge of the sacraments, the knowledge of the history of the Church, and all the specializations she has been introduced to, “I have grown in my faith by sharing and listening to others. I have learned so much from this,” she said.
She assists with her parish’s religious education program, among other activities, and hopes with the knowledge she has gained to help students learn and grow in their faith. Tracey added, “I would love to be able to utilize more of what I learned in my parish or the diocese.”
Karl, a computer network manager for a local company, said MFP has helped him gain “a much better relationship with our Father, his Son and Holy Spirit. I have a greater understanding of the sacraments, theology, spirituality, and of the Church and how it all works together in community and as community within the whole body of Christ.”
Karl is involved in building a special needs religious education program in his parish and assists with regular religious education in addition to being an altar server, lector and eucharistic minister. He’s planning to apply for and “praying to be accepted into the upcoming diaconate program.
“I hope to use what I’ve learned to help others learn more about their faith. I also want to be able to utilize what I’ve learned as a springboard to greater learning and involvement in my church and community. I still have much to learn and to do!”