Faith clubs provide formation for disabled adults

Members of the Faith Club at Our Lady of Lourdes Church stand together after placing flowers in front of a picture of Mary.
Members of the Faith Club at Our Lady of Lourdes Church stand together after placing flowers in front of a picture of Mary.

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Several parishes and volunteers in the Archdiocese of Louisville have been providing faith formation for developmentally disabled adults for a quarter of a century. This ministry is set to expand this fall.

Currently, the archdiocese has four Faith Clubs that aim to foster the Catholic faith among these adults in a safe, comfortable environment, said Maureen Grisanti Larison, consultant for adult formation and initiation in the archdiocesan Office of Lifelong Formation and Education.

“The goal is to promote inclusion in the parish life,” she said. “There are a wide variety of people in parish life. This is a place for (developmentally disabled adults) to feel at home.

“They may not be able to sit down and read a Why Catholic? book or participate in a traditional Bible study, but this they can do,” she said, noting that the clubs have 50 to 60 members in total. “It gives them a place to share their faith in a way that is accessible to them.”

Parishes that currently host Faith Clubs are Ascension, Holy Family, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Lawrence churches. A fifth club will begin this fall in the Highlands at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Faith Clubs meet once a month during the school year for about two hours. During that time, facilitators lead the participants in a community-building exercise, usually a “check-in” about what they have been up to, a faith formation component and end with some time to socialize.

Fran Hartell, left, a Faith Club facilitator, and Eleanor Schweickhardt, a club member, pose for a photo during the club's May meeting.
Fran Hartell, left, a Faith Club facilitator, and Eleanor Schweickhardt, a club member, pose for a photo during the club’s May meeting.

One of those facilitators is Fran Hartell, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes. Hartell has been working with the group at her parish on and off since 1990.

“Being in a parish setting is very good because the parish is a community,” Hartell said. “There are all kinds of different people in a community.”

At the group’s last meeting of the school year May 20, the faith-building component centered around Mary. Participants read aloud the “Hail Mary” and placed flowers in front of a picture of Mary.

The participants’ abilities are “all over the spectrum,” Hartell noted. Some have Down syndrome, others have autism or have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

She added the experience has been enriching for her.

“They have taught me so much more about spirituality than I can teach them,” she said.

Eleanor Schweickhardt, a member of the Faith Club at Our Lady of Lourdes, said she likes “the atmosphere of friends” at the club.

Katherine Stoltz, also a member, said she gets excited to see everyone at the meetings.

“I enjoy being with everyone I love,” she said. “We have meetings, talk about God and have a summer picnic.”

Donald Gruneison, a member of Holy Trinity Church and of the Faith Club at Our Lady of Lourdes, said he likes “to play bingo and see friends” at gatherings.

Club members are aided at meetings by volunteers, such as Judy and Ron Brennan. They have been involved with the club at Our Lady of Lourdes for 25 years.

“We do it because we love to do it,” Judy Brennan, a member of St. Barnabas Church, said.

Many of the faith groups do some type of service project throughout the year, Larison said. These projects range from making cards for senior citizens to working with the children in the parish.

In addition to the monthly meetings, all the clubs get together several times a year for special gatherings, including a Christmas party, a Lenten retreat and a summer cookout and swim party.

“The retreat is always a powerful experience,” Larison said. “They pray so intensely, so simply, so beautifully. It brings tears to your eyes.”

Larison hopes more people become aware of the clubs and that members may feel more included in their own parishes.

“They are human beings made in the image and likeness of God,” Larison said. “The fact that their abilities differ from our abilities doesn’t make them less a member of the Body of Christ.”
To request more information about the Faith Clubs or to inquire about volunteering, call Larison at the Office of Lifelong Formation and Education at 448-8581.

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2 replies on “Faith clubs provide formation for disabled adults”
  1. says: Eugenia

    “The fact that their abilities differ from our abilities doesn’t make them less a member of the Body of Christ.”

    In fact, they are closer to God because of their inability to purposely and willingly choose sin.

  2. says: Mike Lally

    I have helped with Faith Club for more than 6 years and month in and month out, it is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life – I love Faith Club!!!

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