By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
When an email arrived reminding me of the first Special Faith Saturday class of the new catechetical year, I called my son Colin and asked him if he’d like to attend. We would attend Mass afterwards at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, the meeting place for Special Faith Saturday. A moment of silence followed. “I have to think about it,” he told me.
Colin has always enjoyed the Special Faith Saturday program that Nancy Shannon directs at St. Ann’s and looks forward to seeing the other participants. But this program of faith formation and socialization for adults with special needs also interrupts his Saturday routine once a month. He can cope with the change, provided he won’t miss Saturday night Mass at our parish, Our Lady of the River in LeClaire.
Change is a part of life, but Colin’s autism makes that reality especially challenging. Our family and his support team try to introduce change gradually to avoid meltdowns and high anxiety. After thinking about it, Colin told me he’d like to attend Special Faith Saturday, but skip Mass at St. Ann’s and go to Our Lady of the River instead. Wanting to encourage flexibility, I recruited my husband Steve and our younger son, Patrick, to coax Colin into staying for Mass at St. Ann’s.
The Special Faith participants have an opportunity to serve in ministerial roles at Mass following each month’s class. They serve as readers, gift bearers, and ushers, if they choose. Colin has had the privilege of serving as a lector.
But he was adamant about attending Mass in his home parish. On the Thursday before Special Faith Saturday, Steve and Colin saw each other at their music lessons. When Steve returned home, he asked me to guess the first thing that Colin said to him. “Where’s Patrick?” I responded. “Nope,” Steve answered. Colin said, “I’m going to Special Faith Saturday and Our Lady of the River.” That sealed the deal.
I picked up Colin at his apartment for Special Faith Saturday and we were greeted warmly by Nancy, two parents, Tim and Rhonda, and participants Tim, Bob and Leann. Two other participants, Gerard and Melissa, weren’t able to make it, but we hope to see them next month. Anyone from our Davenport Diocese, age 16 and older, is invited to join us.
During our first class, Nancy asked the participants “who, what, when, where, why and how God is present in their lives.” I cherished the way our little faith community explored and reflected on God’s presence in our lives. For our loved ones with special needs, the answer is concrete: “at church.” Nancy helped them to see that God is present to us beyond the walls of the church.
We went outside, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation as we made our way to the new sculpture in St. Ann Cemetery. The larger-than-life white statues depict Christ on the cross as his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene and St. John surround him.
We returned to the church for a snack and to begin preparing for Mass. We asked Colin one last time whether he’d like to attend Mass at St. Ann’s. He politely declined. As we left the church, he told Msgr. Drake Shafer, the pastor, “I’ll attend Mass at St. Ann’s on Oct. 22” (the next Special Faith Saturday). “Whatever you decide Colin, is just fine,” said Msgr. Drake, whose brother, Gerard, is a Special Faith Saturday participant.
It’s a faith journey we’re taking one step at a time.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)