Archbishop Kurtz honored for his support of Catholics with disabilities

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph E. Kurtz delivered closing remarks at the Race for Belonging: Catholic Disability Gala Aug. 27. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability honored Archbishop Emeritus Joseph E. Kurtz during its “Race for Belonging: Catholic Disability Gala” event the evening of Aug. 27 at St. Louis Bertrand Church.

Archbishop Kurtz, who served as the organization’s episcopal moderator from 2017 to 2021, delivered brief remarks and a prayer.

“Thank you for the opportunity for us to share this wonderful cause, a cause that not just the church but our society needs to hear,” he said. 

The archbishop gave thanks for the “gift of every human being and most especially for the gift of a child born with a disability.”

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability is marking its 40th anniversary this year. The organization was founded to implement the U.S. bishops’ pastoral statement on persons with disabilities. It works with dioceses, parishes and members of the laity to ensure that Catholics with disabilities have full participation in the church from building wheelchair ramps to providing mental health support or adaptive faith formation, said Charleen Katra, executive director.

Katra said the dignity of each person was celebrated at the gala that drew about 150 people. She told them the “church desires the participation of people with disabilities.”

When people find out about the organization for the first time, their response usually is, “ ‘I’ve been looking for something like this for 20 years,’ ” she said, adding, “the Body of Christ is incomplete” if people with disabilities are not active in their parishes.

She also offered her gratitude to Archbishop Kurtz for his service to the organization.

“He was a fabulous episcopal moderator for us,” she said. “You want someone who has a heart for this ministry and no one has a bigger heart for this ministry than Archbishop Kurtz,” said Katra during an interview.

People are touched when someone representing the organization can share their experience. Archbishop Kurtz drew from his experience with his late older brother George Kurtz, who was born with Down syndrome, she noted. 

Archbishop Kurtz often said that when his brother George moved in with him, his presence made the rectory a home, Katra told the gala attendees.

Archbishop Kurtz acted as “our guide for disability ministry. We’ve been honored to serve with him,” she said.

During the event, Katra announced that the National Catholic Partnership on Disability has partnered with the local nonprofit Angels in Disguise, founded by Mike and Penny Michalak, to create the Georgie Kurtz Educational Scholarship. 

The $5,000 scholarship will help cover the cost of a Catholic education for a child born with Down syndrome. The first scholarship was awarded to a child who attends St. John Catholic School in Lawrence, Kan.

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