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The look of love

"Throughout my life, I wanted to be a mom, no question in my mind," said Maria Cataldo, a Catholic speaker and writer who has cerebral palsy. "But I was afraid for a very long time. I wondered, 'How am I going to take care of a baby? Carry a baby?' I was afraid I'd drop my baby."


With a noticeably different gait and her balance and lower body strength also affected by cerebral palsy, Cataldo's concerns were not unfounded. But the strength of her faith and hope in God's guidance provided pivotal support.


"At the times of my deepest, darkest depression," said Cataldo, "there's a little spark in my heart that says, 'God does not abandon you,'” said Cataldo. “When I revealed to my now-husband Gary about my fear, I had a moment, a revelation that said, 'This is going to be OK. You don't have to know how.' Now, my children are 10 and 8 and a half, and we do it all."


As a child, Cataldo set her sights on a career as a performer.


"Growing up, I wanted to be the next Mr. Rogers," she said. "He was the only person I saw who had persons with disabilities on his show. I thought, rather naively perhaps, that with that kind of show, it won't matter that I have (cerebral palsy)."


Yet, Cataldo did everything she could to not acknowledge her disability. Her parents encouraged her to be self-sufficient, and she sang and lectored in church. But studying drama at The Catholic University of America in Washington, she encountered the starker realities of the entertainment industry.


"I had finished my freshman year when someone teaching a summer workshop said, 'You have to keep your disability out of the picture,'" said Cataldo. "Part of me was grateful that someone was talking with me as an adult. But it was still very painful."


After graduating, Cataldo earned a master's degree in liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, where she also encountered resistance.


"I wanted to join a group that sang in the chapel," she said. "But they stood up to sing. I couldn't stand with nothing to lean on. I asked if I could have a podium to lean on. The music director said, 'No, I think they like the way it looks now.'"


The rebuff, added to others, prompted Cataldo to reflect deeply about the reality of disability and faith in her life. Gradually, she sought ways to communicate her insight and experience in the realm of disability and faith. She earned a master's degree in theological studies at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology at Boston College and served as a chaplain at Boston Children's Hospital.


Then came motherhood.


"I've brought up my children to be honest," said Cataldo. "For example, I was walking my children to school, and I have to use the rollator (rolling walker). My son said, 'Do you have to walk me to school, Mom?' I asked him if he was embarrassed, and he said, 'Yeah, a little.'"


"I told him, 'I'm willing to listen to everything you're feeling about this,'" said Cataldo, “but I really want to walk you to school.”


She hopes the exchange will help other parents.


"The idea that this 'disability' is something that will lessen the quality of life of your baby or your own as a parent is completely false," said Cataldo. "I believe in the power of every human life to make a difference. My son now looks at professional sports and asks, 'Why aren't there any professional basketball players with a disability?' My children are advocates."


"Living with a disability is not easy," said Cataldo. "But it's totally worth it."


Pratt's website is www.maureenpratt.com.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019