Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

‘Special Saints for Special People’ chronicles lives of saints with disabilities

First slide

Each Catholic has a favorite saint or two — someone who reminds them of themselves, or who they could be. Their virtuous lives provide a guide of how to survive life's trials while staying close to God. But growing up, Megan Gannon didn’t know of any saints who had experienced what she had. While saints have been known to miraculously cure the disabled, she didn’t know of any who were disabled.

“People with disabilities (aren’t) known for feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick or spreading the Good News,” said Gannon, a parishioner of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly. “More often than not, we are on the receiving end of others’ works of mercy. I never heard of anyone who had a disability, or multiple disabilities, and still achieved great things for the church and communities in which they lived.”

But as Gannon got older, she scoured the internet for saints with disabilities. What she found became the book, “Special Saints for Special People: Stories of Saints with Disabilities.”

Gannon, 45, has cerebral palsy. It’s a condition that impacts almost every aspect of her life. She has a severe speech impediment. She needs help eating and getting dressed. She uses a motorized wheelchair.

But she’s able to communicate using an eye gaze system — an infrared camera that tracks her pupils as she looks at the monitor. By holding her gaze on a key, she’s able to make selections. It’s helped her work as a webmaster and now at her current job working on a contract for Goddard Space Flight Center. It’s also how she wrote her book — a collection of saints with disabilities written for young readers and published by Twenty-Third Publications.

Some of the saints are familiar, such as St. Bernadette Soubirous, who had asthma, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was left visually impaired and scarred after a bout of smallpox. Her nickname Tekakwitha literally means “she who bumps into things.”

Others are less well-known, such as St. Rene Goupil, a 17th-century French surgeon who became deaf in his young adulthood. Because of his disability, he had to leave the Jesuit seminary, but he still traveled with Jesuit missionaries to Canada to work as a doctor. He eventually was kidnapped and killed by the Iroquois and is remembered with the seven other North American martyrs every Oct. 19.

Gannon most identifies with Blessed Herman of Reichenau, an 11th-century scholar with spina bifida, cerebral palsy and a cleft palate. As a boy he was sent to live with Benedictine monks, who treated him well and gave him a good education. When he was old enough, he became a monk too. Though he could hardly speak and had difficulty moving, he became an expert in several subjects, learned many languages and made musical instruments. He is credited with writing the hymn “Salve Regina,” or “Hail, Holy Queen.” 

In her book, Gannon notes he was known as Herman the Lame or Herman the Cripple. “People weren’t trying to be mean or disrespectful. At the time it was just the common way to refer to someone with a disability. Maybe it was a good thing, because people came to understand that even if someone had a disability, with God’s help and their own determination, almost anything was possible.”

She hopes the example of Blessed Herman and of the other saints she profiled will inspire people facing all kinds of challenges. “It's nice to know that there are saints to turn to that truly understand,” said Gannon. “I like knowing that we all can really make a difference.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020

@ZoeyMaraistACH