A special Mass for a special group of people

The procession of servers, deacons, priests and Bishop Johnston approaches the sanctuary at St. Catherine of Siena Church Aug. 26 for the SPRED Mass. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — As the procession of servers, deacons and priests followed by Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., approached the sanctuary of St. Catherine of Siena Church, the congregation rose and sang the opening hymn. It was a Sunday in Ordinary Time, but not an ordinary Sunday for many in the assembly. The Mass Aug. 26 celebrated SPRED, Special Religious Development, the program that designs religious education to specifically meet the spiritual needs of adults and children with developmental disabilities.  Currently, there are three SPRED programs in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese — at St. Catherine’s, St. Therese North and St. Charles Borromeo parishes. While the programs are housed at those three parishes, members of each group come from different parishes in the area, depending on their ages. St. Catherine’s Center serves those ages 22 and older; St. Therese North serves ages 22 and older; and St. Charles serves all ages 6 to adult. SPRED meets for 24 weeks yearly, beginning in the Fall and concluding near Easter.

Bishop Johnston was the principal celebrant with Benedictine Fr. Sunoj Thomas, pastor of St. Catherine’s, and Fr. Bob Kerr, former pastor, concelebrating. They were assisted by Deacon Kevin Cummings. Several SPRED members participated in the Mass: a server, an Offertory gift bearer, a reader and in the choir.

The bishop began his homily by reading his letter to the diocese that he had asked to be read at all Masses in all parishes that weekend concerning the “sobering and disheartening news” about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Pennsylvania over the past seven decades, about the abuse of adults by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, D.C., and in Rome, and about allegations concerning the late, former Bishop Raymond J. Boland, including some information that raised questions. He assured his listeners that the investigation into the McCarrick scandals would deepen, that to help heal any who were hurt, for Bishop Boland’s reputation, and uncover the truth, inquiries would continue. The November U.S. Bishop’s meeting would include the McCarrick investigation; establishing communication channels for complaints about bishops, and more. He said the responsibility for the sex abuse scandals rests with us in church leadership. He accepted that he and his brother bishops must do penance for the suffering and hurt caused, and ask forgiveness. He also asked for the spiritual help —prayer — of the people in the pews across the diocese.

ReAnna Broyle, a member of St. Catherine’s SPRED program and a St. Therese Little Flower parishioner, sings “Amazing Grace” near the conclusion of the Mass. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

Referring to the Gospel reading, he stated that he is “convinced that Jesus is trying to heal his church. I will not despair.”

After reading the letter he spoke about the SPRED program. He began by saying how grateful he was to be at St. Catherine’s that morning, “because, in our midst is the Church at her best!” After complimenting the program’s longevity at St. Catherine’s, more than 30 years, he thanked Judy Shute, Diocesan Coordinator of SPRED, the two parishes north of the river with SPRED programs, the past and present pastors, and the parishioners. He also thanked the Knights of Columbus, O’Hara Council #4387, for being “prime funders of SPRED, selling lots of tootsie rolls (laughter).” Most of all, he said he was “grateful for those of you served by SPRED, and for your families … great examples to all of us of the love of Jesus Christ.”

Glancing around the church, the bishop said, “You are a great gift to us; a priceless gift to us. You enable all of us to be enriched by showing us that Jesus Christ in his love, is present when we love and serve one another … You allow the Truth, Beauty and Simplicity of the Gospel to see seen in our midst. You manifest the kingdom of God!”

The homily continued, with Bishop Johnston reflecting on the Scripture readings that day, which dealt with major decision making — serving God or false deities in Joshua 24: 1 -2a, 15-17, 18b; and staying with Jesus or leaving him, John 6: 60 – 69.

The SPRED Mass continued.

The SPRED program was initiated more than 50 years ago in the Archdiocese of Chicago and, over the years, spread to dioceses in 14 additional states, five European countries, Mexico, two in South Africa and two in Australia. Judy Shute recalled that in the early 1980s, Father Tom Borkowski, then-assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s in north Kansas City, learned about the program and wanted to bring SPRED to this diocese. After fledgling programs had started at St. Catherine’s, during his time as assistant pastor there, St. Therese and St. Charles Borromeo parishes, he hired Judy to serve as his administrative assistant for the Diocesan Ministry for Persons with Disabilities. A few years later, when Fr. Borkowski was appointed pastor of St. Mary Parish sin Nevada, Mo., he offered the ministry at St. Catherine’s to Judy to manage. “Little did I know what blessings the future would bring,” she said.

Since 1989, she has worked with the parish’s volunteer SPRED catechists in helping their group of adults learn about the Catholic faith, prepare for the sacraments and enjoy socializing in an area they can call theirs. A convert to Catholicism, Judy understands the various ways of teaching and learning about Jesus, building a relationship with him, and sharing that relationship with others. “I love working with them,” she said. “When they learn about Jesus and his mother, or the saints, or something about their faith, they are so joy-filled. The joy on their faces brings joy to me!”

Some years ago, Judy was hired by Catholic Charities to work with the Disabilities and D/deaf Services office, and continued to manage the SPRED program at St. Catherine’s. Several months later she was appointed Diocesan Coordinator of the SPRED Program by Bishop Sullivan, which is a volunteer position.  In June of 2017, she resigned her position at Catholic Charities.

Each SPRED program belongs to the parish in which it exists, she said. The SPRED center at St. Catherine’s is totally funded by the O’Hara Council of the Knights of Columbus. She said the SPRED programs at St. Charles Borromeo and St. Therese-north are also funded by their Knight’s councils, but added that she believes the parishes support them as needed.

As the Mass was nearing its conclusion, a woman climbed into the choir and stood shyly at the lectern for a moment. Then ReAnna Broyles, a SPRED participant and member of St. Therese Little Flower parish, burst into “Amazing Grace.” Her voice held the congregation spellbound while she sang the beloved hymn.

A brief reception in the church’s narthex followed the Mass.


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October 22, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph