By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When and why did you join, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish?
Sloan: My husband and I joined OLPH Parish 27 years ago when we moved from the city, largely because many of my family members were already parishioners.
Sloan: I joined the SPRED Ministry from its start at OLPH 18 years ago. At that time, there was a real need, several OLPH families had small children with developmental disabilities who would benefit from the ministry. Naturally, parents wanted their children to experience a sense of the sacred in their life, and in time, receive their sacraments.
Before it launched at OLPH, Julia Hess (SPRED’s Community Worker) spoke at our Masses. Distinctly remember being moved by her description of the ministry. The idea of our (Catholic) Church fully welcoming kids/teens and adults with developmental disabilities and nurturing their spiritual life was intriguing. Felt compelled to learn more.
When I joined SPRED it was a very active time in my life, traveling for work, volunteering, and raising two small children. Looking back you might say it wasn’t the ideal time to get involved but actually SPRED was and is the perfect anecdote to a busy life, soon it became a priority.
Gordon: How many catechists are in your ministry and what age group to your serve?
Sloan: At OLPH we are blessed with two full SPRED groups, we meet on different evenings, we each welcome 6-10-year-olds from our parish and surrounding parishes. Spred fosters one on one relationships, when we are all present, we have 6 friends and their assigned catechists, as well as our Leader Catechist and Activity Catechist. 14 total. Our friends have the supportive presence of our catechists, and we in turn have their life-giving presence. Together we are in a relationship.
Gordon: What surprised you the most about SPRED and your involvement?
Sloan: At first, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of the adult-only sessions, which precede each, total community session. It is there where adult catechists gather as a small faith community; it’s reflective and contemplative. Those evenings have fortified my faith and nurtured a deeper interior capacity to know and understand God, in the everyday. Our desire is to model that sense when we gather in our total community sessions.
Secondly, the parents of our friends. I’m always struck by their faith, patience and importance they place on their children’s faith life, they’re truly wonderful examples.
Gordon: Approximately how many people with special needs (Friends) has your SPRED ministry served over the years?
Sloan: This may not be exact, but certainly over 60 friends. Gordon, it’s equally important to mention the catechists who are being transformed by SPRED’s small faith community, the parents and families touched, as well as the larger parish. With the support of our pastor Father Jerry Boland we host three SPRED Family Masses each year, it’s really a joyous occasion.(Numbers can be deceiving, in my humble opinion.)
Gordon: What lessons about God’s love have you learned from the SPRED Friends?
Sloan: Where do I begin? Importance of living in the here and now; in the present moment. Perhaps the easiest way to access God’s love. Personally, SPRED has deepened that capacity. Another insight, perfection is neither the goal nor is it God’s standard; God’s love is simply boundless.
Gordon: What motivates you to continue in SPRED?
Sloan: SPRED’s founders Father James McCarthy, Sister Susanne Gallagher, and Sister Mary Therese Harrington were awarded Notre Dame’s distinguished Laetare Medal at the University of Notre Dames 2013 commencement. During the ceremony
University of Notre Dame President, Rev. John Jenkins applauded SPRED’s Founders for “insisting that a developmental disability neither tempers Christ’s invitation nor restricts one’s right to respond and they have ushered countless people to their rightful place at the Eucharistic table.”
Being involved, promoting Someone’s rightful place at the Eucharist table drew me in the very beginning, and continues to …
Gordon: What do you hope for the future of SPRED?
Sloan: Our core team often talks about our desire for increased awareness and understanding of SPRED. Like many ministries, SPRED could certainly benefit from funds to support additional SPRED Community Workers. We have several proximate parishes that are without SPRED, with children on waiting lists. People’s lives are busy so finding committed, talented catechists are always something we need. Additional SPRED Community Workers would help facilitate that growth and oversee placements and opportunities—it’s important to work. We know our friends with developmental disabilities are out there, we have waiting lists to support that fact.
Gordon: Thank you for sharing insights into the love and care that SPRED catechists have for the Friends that they care for and the love and care that they return.