MaryangelaRomanFamily2014Last weekend, our 16-year-old daughter, Alicia, went to Mass at a neighboring parish and was surprised to find herself at its first Communion liturgy. Even more surprising was the fact that one of the young boys for whom she babysits was one of the proud first communicants.

She came home from Mass and even gave us an a cappella rendition of the song the first Communicants enthusiastically sang after receiving Jesus for the first time, “Now I drink this wine and eat this bread….”

Singing loudly, maybe a little off key, she could tell these youngsters felt special as they marked this momentous day in their young lives.

A couple weeks ago, I also found myself at a first Communion Mass, this one in Janesville. Like the first communicants Alicia saw, these young people were also very reverent, exuding pride as they solemnly received the Body of Christ for the first time.

This rite of spring is taking place in parishes across the archdiocese – and as I write this, tomorrow, Alicia will participate in another sacramental rite as she is confirmed at the Basilica of St. Josaphat.

If you’re like me, these sacramental celebrations bring back memories of your own first Communion, confirmation and first confession.

For practicing Catholics, they are just part of growing up in the faith. But for some youngsters, those with special needs, attending religious education and receiving these sacraments is not always just part of the routine.

Their special circumstances, perhaps Down syndrome, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, to name just a few, might mean the students are not able to get much meaning out of regular religious education classes offered through the parishes.

Fortunately for them, in several parishes of the archdiocese, there is special catechesis designed to meet their needs, often with one-on-one instruction.

Meet some of the volunteers who provide this faith formation in our feature, “More than religious education, “ written by Colleen Jurkiewicz on Page 8 of this edition, and hear from some of the parents who have observed their children growing in faith through these offerings.

The programs are so popular, and are having such an impact, that many of them have waiting lists. Coordinators are also looking for volunteers so they can reach more potential students. Might that be something calling you?

As program manager at SPRED (Special Religious Development) and a mother of a 17-year-old son, Sam, who has Down syndrome, Rosemary Feiza-Lenz, described how the program and others like it allow individuals with special needs to meet the church community as equals.

By welcoming them into the life of the church and to the table of the Lord, they create community among all of God’s children. What a wonderful outreach and way to put faith into action!

Following this issue, Catholic Herald Family will take its summer hiatus. However, you can keep in touch with your faith and the Milwaukee Archdiocese with the Catholic Herald, which publishes year-round. Visit for information on subscribing to our print edition, to sign up for our free e-newsletter or to check out our website.

Have a wonderful, safe summer break and collect those photos of your family to share with us in our cover photo contest! See details Page 11!

Until September,