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SPRED is religious education for children with special needs

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“If every little flower wished to be a rose, nature would lose her spring adornments, and the fields would be no longer enameled with their varied flowers.” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux

In Special Religious Development (SPRED), we rejoice that God made each one of us just as he intended.

There is a growing need in the church to provide faith formation to children with special learning needs. It is estimated that one in seven children has intellectual or physical disabilities. These are God’s beloved children, and through loving and joyful instruction, SPRED helps guide people with significant disabilities to full communion with the church.

During the recent celebration of the Mass for Persons with Disabilities, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge challenged Catholics to be more inclusive of people with special needs. The SPRED program helps people with disabilities to become active in their faith community and to be included and recognized as full faith participants. 

SPRED is unlike typical religious education programs. Through bonds of friendship and deep personal relationships, catechists help those with disabilities discover the presence of God in everyday life situations. Symbolism is used extensively to make instruction simple, yet meaningful, while the practices and customs of the Catholic faith are integrated into each lesson. SPRED catechists instruct and guide participants to the graces received through the sacraments, and catechists become trusted faith friends, openly sharing their personal love for Jesus.

SPRED catechesis leads children and adults to develop a sense of the sacred, a sense of the church, a sense of Christ and a sense of God. People with disabilities begin to know and love God so that they may be able to share their gifts and talents with others.

SPRED helps teach people to see God’s likeness and image in everyone.

This year, the diocese expanded the SPRED program from four to 10 parishes, with the ultimate goal of having at least one SPRED program in every diocesan parish.

SPRED, which serves people with disabilities ages 6-60, must expand as more families become aware of the value and success of SPRED programs. Parishes recognize the need to include everyone in religious education programs and SPRED helps provide religious instruction for those who learn differently and may not be comfortable in large, general classroom settings.  Volunteers staff SPRED sessions and training/guidance is provided for new programs and new staff.

Accessibility to SPRED and other religious education programs is critical to promoting inclusivity in church communities for all families and children, providing services based on abilities, not disabilities. SPRED can be a welcome addition to religious education services at all parishes.

Emanuel is diocesan coordinator for special needs ministries.

Find out more

For more info on SPRED or sensory-sensitive Masses, contact Nancy Emanuel, 703/224-1633 or nancy.emanuel@arlingtondiocese.org.

To visit or enroll in a SPRED program, contact one of these parish programs:


All Saints Parish, Manassas — ages 6–16


Church of the Nativity, Burke — ages 6–16


Sacred Heart Parish, Manassas — ages 22+


Holy Spirit Parish, Annandale — ages 22+


Corpus Christi Parish, South Riding — ages 6–16


St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish, Fredericksburg — ages 6–10 (regional program)


Our Lady of Hope Parish, Potomac Falls — ages 6-16


Our Lady of Angels Parish, Woodbridge — ages 6–10


Cathedral of St. Thomas More, Arlington — ages 6–10 (regional program)




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019