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Mass of Special Blessings

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When you are the parent of a child with special needs, Mass can be stressful sometimes. You might work to get to church early and get the perfect spot, only to deal with a series of outbursts and meltdowns until the final blessing. The Special Blessings ministry at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church and Father John P. Mosimann, pastor, welcomed each and every one of these “joyful noises” at a Mass for children with special needs in Fredericksburg Aug. 14.

“I really appreciate Father Mosimann being so welcoming to people with special needs and really making them part of the community here,” said Kim Duplantier, mother of two boys with Down syndrome, Andrew, 16, and Joseph, 8. “The Mass really meant a lot to us.”

More than 70 people attended the Mass followed by a reception in the courtyard meeting room. Organizers hope the Mass becomes an annual tradition at the parish.

The St. Mary’s Special Blessings Ministry began in 2018, after a number of parents read an article in the Catholic Herald about the Special Blessings group in Manassas, said Joyce Bodoh.

“After that article was published, I reached out to Maria Buonocore of the Manassas group,” said Bodoh, whose daughter has special needs. “She had received inquiries from several other parents in the Fredericksburg area who were inspired to begin a similar group here. We have about 25 people in the group and typically have about five to 10 in attendance at our virtual meetings. We work in conjunction with the Manassas group, who are invited to our virtual meetings so we can have a larger impact.”

Speakers during the meetings have included Father Mosimann; Diane Elliott, former assistant superintendent of diocesan Catholic schools; and Michelle Schachle, mother of Michael Schachle, who has Down syndrome. His parents believe he was cured of hydrops (a build up of fluid in a baby’s tissues and organs causing swelling) after their prayers to Blessed Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. The miracle was confirmed by the Vatican, which led to McGivney’s beatification in October 2020.

Other topics have covered wills and trusts, raising children who are gifted or developmentally/learning delayed, special education, individualized education, and due process and responsibilities of the school.

The inaugural Mass provided an opportunity to celebrate the success of the ministry and involve special-needs children as servers, gift-bearers, cross-bearers and ushers.

Catalina Perez assisted at the altar for the first time alongside her older sister Lauren. Catalina, 13, has autism, according to her mother, Johanna Merino, who helped organize the event. Catalina participates in Special Religious Development, known as SPRED, a program that prepares developmentally disabled parishioners for the sacraments.

Despite Catalina’s added challenges, an unknowing onlooker would have assumed she was a seasoned altar server with her reverent demeanor and attentiveness.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Merino. “She obviously has been watching (the servers) this whole time.”

“I really feel strongly that by engaging and bringing together parents of special needs children, we can provide each other hope, support and encouragement,” said Bodoh, another of the event organizers. “Too many times it can feel isolating and stressful to be the parent of special-needs children and making decisions and worrying about doctor appointments, surgeries, therapies and behavioral or mental issues. The Catholic faith is so beautiful as it reminds us that the suffering that God allows us is, in itself, a gift, and we have been given the distinct privilege and responsibilities to raise our children.”

Kassock is a freelancer in Fredericksburg.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021