Special needs ministry successes deserve to be celebrated. Guest blogger Susie Stefonowich shares the story of Michael's spiritual journey in this post.

Our post for the day comes from guest blogger Susie Stefonowich. After reading Karen Jackson’s post about her daughter’s confirmation, Stefonowich submitted this piece about a young man in the parish where she and her husband lead an ecumenical special needs ministry.

Special Needs Ministry: Meet Michael’s Village

I truly began to appreciate the saying “It takes a village” when Michael, a man who experiences cognitive disabilities and attends our church, asked to become Catholic. His roommate, Max, a man who experiences Down Syndrome is a Fourth degree Knight in the Knights of Columbus. Therefore Michael knew what being a Knight meant and wanted to join. However, he was told he needed to be Catholic to do this.

Special Needs Ministry and Kits from Loyola Press

After contacting Michael’s family in North Carolina, we found that he had never been baptized. So, baptism is where we began. There is not a written curriculum for an adult with cognitive disabilities to become Catholic, so we needed to develop one for Michael. We decided to use kits produced by Loyola Press as our guide. These kits were developed for children who experience autism, but are helpful with anyone with cognitive disabilities.

Michael’s Special Needs Ministry Village

My husband and I assumed we would sponsor Michael, but then 2 people volunteered to sponsor him. Amazing, as sometimes its difficult finding sponsors for persons who do not experience disabilities. Michael had two without even asking! So began Michael’s Village.

Since Michael was not raised in the Catholic Chuch, we began teaching him how to bless himself with the sign of the cross. This was difficult for him as some of his motor skills are limited. Also, he had difficulty remembering exactly how it should be done. Immediately after we met on Sunday mornings and before mass started, he walked up to everyone and said, “Look!” and then attempted to do the sign of the cross. We tried to be there and explain, “Michael is learning the sign of the cross.”  They began to help him….so more villagers.

From January until Mother’s Day, we and Michael’s sponsors worked with him on Sunday mornings. Once we set the date for his baptism, he invited everyone. Every Sunday, after class, he walked up to anyone and everyone and told them he was going to be baptized. Then he called one of us to give the specific details. He would say, “I want you to come!” More villagers, as many said they would be there.

Michael was baptized on Mother’s Day 2014 with many of his friends and his family from North Carolina in attendance. He was so excited and so spontaneous, he affected everyone who was there. Michael’s innocence and sincerity showed our entire parish of over 1200 families how wonderful and simple God’s love truly is.

Michael’s Special Needs Ministry Village Continues to Grow

Michael’s village grows weekly. We will continue helping to prepare him to receive his other sacraments (Eucharist and Confirmation), and in the near future he will accomplish his dream of becoming a Knight of Columbus.  My husband and I, along with his other sponsors all agree, that Michael has taught us much more than we could ever teach him about God’s love.

Your Special Needs Ministry Success Story?

Do you have questions or comments for Susie? Leave them in the comment box. Or leave a shout out about the good things happening in the special needs ministry at your church.

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 Susie Stefonowich worked as a pediatric nurse at the Children’s Hospital in Norfolk, VA for 38 years. She is also the parish advocate at Church of the Holy Family in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She and her husband coordinate The Chosen Ministry, ecumenical special needs ministry. They are the parents of Colleen, who 29 years ago was born 12 weeks prematurely. Colleen has some cognitive disabilities which led to the Stefonowich’s involvement in the special needs community. God works in mysterious ways!

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