“Patrick tells us he has gone to church ‘since the day I was born.’ He says he likes listening to the Gospel. I believe this is true because he asks me, ‘What was Sunday’s Gospel reading?’ almost every night at bedtime. He likes to go over it.

Patrick loves the music in church. He learned all the words and tunes to many hymns and sings them at home. In church, he prefers to listen to the music. (His favorites include ‘Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,’ ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today,’ and ‘I Am the Bread of Life.’) He recognizes the Responsorial Psalm by the music alone. Bob and I are routinely floored by things he knows. Due to the pandemic and Patrick’s compromised immune system, we have kept him home a lot, and he has listened to Mass online. More than once he has remarked at the end of remote Mass, ‘Well, we went to church, but we didn’t have Communion.’ This makes us marvel at how deeply he is connected to his faith.

When it was time for his First Communion, we practiced a lot. The whole family was involved. I was too nervous to go to the rehearsal. The priest was not too sure Patrick understood. So, he held up the host to our blind son and asked, ‘Patrick, do you know what this is?’ Bob told me that Patrick responded in a loud voice, ‘It’s the Lord, Jesus Christ!’ The priest then took a step back and asked Patrick to pray for him.

Aunt Ronna and Uncle Bill say, ‘We have never known him to not want to attend church. He loves the community and interaction with the people. He sings from his heart and shows us the way to love Christ.’

There are many things Patrick and all of us have learned by rote. Along the way, many people have questioned what he really knows. Patrick’s deep understanding and connection to his faith stands as evidence to us that he is much smarter and more in tune with what Jesus wanted us to know than most of us.

His very existence affirms our faith. That’s another story.” (Photo: Mary and Bob Ross with Patrick at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield)

Mary & Bob Ross, parents of Patrick in the Adult Program Fairfield
“When Philip talks about our plans for the weekend, his plan always includes ‘Sunday, Church.’ At church he loves to engage with others, sometimes sharing the missalettes, and shaking hands—or bumping elbows or fists. He willingly gets dressed in a nice outfit and is always enthused about going. Although it is hard to keep him focused, it is clear that Philip listens at Mass. He perks up at a mention of ‘Philip’ in a reading and says, ‘That’s me.’ Hearing the phrase ‘Dear Brothers and Sisters,’ he’ll often say ‘I have brothers.’ Recently he has become more engaged in the actual Mass, leading the family right into the front pew where he can more easily focus on all that is happening. He enjoys the music and participating in any prayers with which he is familiar. He always gets excited when his favorite ‘rock star,’ Msgr. Bob [Weiss], is present.

We have loved raising Philip in a faith environment. He seems to be an unusually faith-filled individual. So much of what he says and does, on a very regular basis, revolves around Jesus. We have caught him querying ‘God’ to Siri on the iPad, and coming up with videos and more relating to religion. Philip is very aware of those in our lives who have passed on, as well as those who are currently struggling and in need of prayer. He mentions them all (including pets, such as the former hamster) almost daily. In the car, Philip will often roll down the window, look up to the sky and say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for the sky.’ When we are out in any group setting, he often manages to get everyone to respond when he says, ‘Forks down: prayer.’ Lastly, Philip will not let me say goodnight without saying our prayers. Everyone in the family notices these simplest of things and sometimes I sense that especially his siblings are a bit amazed!

We’ve been very fortunate to have been a part of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown and to have had the blessing of so many caring people along the way in Philip’s life. Then there is Saint Catherine Academy. Philip’s experience here has truly complemented and greatly enhanced his faith. For this we are forever grateful!” (Photo: Philip with Msgr. Robert Weiss, Pastor of St. Rose of Lima)

Karen & Phil Palilla, parents of Philip in Saint Catherine Academy
“Ryan has always gone to church with us, although the early years were spent in the cry room, along with his brother Daniel. As he has matured over the years, Ryan has come to enjoy and look forward to Sunday morning Mass. He lets us know he wants to go to church by making the prayer sign with his hands. Ryan has become aware that God is in heaven, that God is good and watches over us, and expects us to be loving and kind, and to help other people.

When Ryan was younger, it was hard to get him involved in church because there were no programs available. We created our own program (with one-on-one help) so that he could make his First Holy Communion and Confirmation. It wasn’t easy and I’m not sure how much Ryan understood.

However, now that Ryan is older, church has become a great community. Ryan has become a fixture at the 7 a.m. Mass. The priests and parishioners that have come to know him. We have to continue to refocus during Mass many times because he wants to wave, smile and blow kisses to everyone. It is clear from their reactions and the look on their faces that Ryan has had a significant impact on them by bringing them a little bit of happiness to start their day. It is not uncommon to hear what a gift he is.

Every few months, St. Aloysius has a get-together with the special needs members and church teenagers called St. A’s Buddies. They play games, sing, dance and do fun activities. It is awesome, and Ryan loves it!

Ryan has brought us closer to the church and the community. We have met some truly wonderful people. We often walk out of Mass with a full heart after seeing the joy he brings to others.” (Pictured with Fr. David Franklin & Fr. Rob Kinnally, Pastor, St. Aloysius Parish, New Canaan)

Deirdre & Mark Rajkowski, parents of Ryan in the Adult Program
“When Jessie and her twin sister Christine were very young, Mass was typically attended in the cry room with one or all of us crying! Those were difficult and stressful times. We wanted Jessie to be able to attend Mass with appropriate participation and behavior, but she wanted to run up and down the aisle and would throw a tantrum and scream. I gave her candy reinforcement for behaving appropriately for longer periods of time. She also responded well to the physical reinforcement of being swung by her ankles upside down, so I was a regular standing in the aisle swinging her in the back of the church!

As Jessie’s behavior improved, I made her a special church book with pictures of the parts of Mass and she learned how to find and follow the readings and hymns.

When it came time for Christine to make her First Holy Communion, we realized that Jessie would want to participate when she saw her sister receiving Communion. After speaking with our priest and the school principal, we were encouraged to prepare Jessie for this special sacrament. This required months of practice receiving unconsecrated hosts, first at home and then in the church. We took photos of all of the steps involved and created a social story. Jessie, who loves to dress up, practiced wearing her communion dress at home and in the church. During the last rehearsal with all of the students, Jessie had a major meltdown and I had to carry her out of the church. We were not sure she was going to be able to participate. At the last minute, her father participated as the ‘tallest student’ to support her. God truly shone upon her that day because as soon as the children left the pew and lined up to receive their First Holy Communion, Jessie joined them in the aisle, received the host and, with the exception of her father standing behind her, was indistinguishable from any of the other children at Mass that day.

Jessie now attends Mass with us and receives Communion weekly. She is recognized and known by everyone, including the choir who know how much she enjoys the music. She continues to use the Mass book I made her and is diligent about keeping us on task, anticipating the readings, a prayer or hymn, or knowing when it is time to stand and kneel. Our entire parish community is always very kind to Jessie and we often receive positive comments about her participation and the joy she shows. Jessie always looks forward to Mass, and although it is difficult to know what she understands about God, she often smiles and displays more joy during the consecration and after receiving Communion. Because Jessie is always fully present in any given moment, seeing her during Mass has enriched our own experience as we share this time with her. It has drawn our family closer to our experience of God, demonstrating the simple yet profound message of how a diverse community of people coming together can share in God’s message of love regardless of their challenges. ”

(Photo: Michelle and Richard with daughters Jessie and Christine at their First Holy Communion in 2004 at Our Lady of Victory Parish in West Haven.)

Michelle Rivelli & Richard Zangrillo, parents of Jessie in the Adult Program
“Anna has always gone to church with us, and has always participated in the Mass as her typical peers. She sets an example for her siblings to attend Mass; there is never a doubt whether she will attend or not. She has received all her Sacraments and is respected in the parish community. She has sung in the C4Y Diocesan youth choir.

Anna loves Jesus. She has an extra sense of when an angel or God is present. In this challenging world, we find Anna’s gentle practice of faith brings solace to our family.

In her own way, Anna practices her faith through singing and trying to follow the Liturgy of the Word each Mass. She also has a strong moral compass and knows right from wrong. While she is quick to point out her siblings’ shortcomings, she does go to confession and has a nice gentle demeanor that reflects her love of God and neighbor. (Photo: Anna with Rev. Ciprian Bejan, Pastor at St. Lawrence Parish, Shelton)

Jill & Dave Stowe, parents of Anna in Saint Catherine Academy
“Both Hema and I were born into Hindu families. We grew up in India and were therefore exposed to many religions. We had friends from many faiths in school. We both went to convent/catholic schools, and later to colleges that were also faith-based.

We used to take Kari to the Hindu temple in Middletown once in a month or so when we lived in Rocky Hill. Now it is a much longer trip, so we don’t go that often. There is a temple being built in Stratford that we have visited a few times. Kari knows about Hindu temples. We say prayers before going to sleep. These are Hindu prayers. When Kari was verbal she used to say them herself. We now recite to her and she sometimes says a word here and there to fill in. We do not really know how much of all this she appreciates. But we can say the prayers are calming and we think it helps to have that as part of her nighttime routine.

We also observe Hindu religious holidays at home (such as Diwali, the ‘Festival of Lights’). We celebrate at home by lighting lamps, cooking some special dishes (usually sweet ones!), and sometimes with fireworks in the backyard. We talk to Kari about the day, and cook some special meals. We do Zoom meetings with Kari’s grandparents (Hema’s parents) every week, and her grandma often reminds us of upcoming auspicious days.

Ever since Kari was born, we have been putting up a Christmas tree so she can relate to the holiday season, plus get gifts under the tree! We also decorate the tree with all the ornaments she has been bringing home from school over the years, as well as ornaments we collect during our travels. We were happy to see Kari included in the Christmas Pageant at the Center. For us what is important is for Kari to participate in events with her classmates and friends, so she has a sense of belonging to her school and her community. (Photo: Kari as the Star of Bethlehem in the annual Christmas Pageant)

Hema & Easwar Iyer, parents of Kari in Saint Catherine Academy