Stoneham parish hosts annual Mass for the Disabled

STONEHAM -- Stoneham’s St. Patrick Church -- recently expanded and renovated for full accessibility -- hosted the annual Mass for the Disabled celebrated Dec. 17 by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley.

In his homily, the cardinal drew upon the U.S. bishops’ 1978 Pastoral Letter on Persons with Disabilities, which he said was part of the Church’s defense of the “Right-to-Life and the Dignity of the Individual.”

“The letter says that no one is replaceable,” the cardinal said.

The cardinal also reminded the congregants that it was “Gaudete” or Rejoice Sunday, one of two days of the Church calendar when celebrants may wear rose-colored vestments.

Then, looking to the priests of St. Patrick’s seated on the altar on his left, Cardinal O’Malley said he was grateful they could not find the rose-colored vestments for him to wear.

“Otherwise, I would be standing here looking like the Pink Panther,” he said.

The Mass for the Disabled has been celebrated at different locations throughout the archdiocese to highlight how different communities have worked to make their churches more welcoming to the physically challenged, said Karen M. Murray, the director of the archdiocese’s Office for Persons with Disabilities.

When the church building was expanded so that what was once the nave is now the transept, said parochial vicar Father David C. Goodrow, the new altar was designed with the wheelchair ramp as an integral element. In addition to other wheelchair ramps, the building has a new elevator.

Many of the improvements were required by building code, said St. Patrick’s pastor Father William T. Schmidt. “But, it was also something we wanted to do. It is imperative that we make our services accessible.”

Murray said she was thrilled the Mass would showcase how the St. Patrick’s community has displayed a Christ-like attitude towards individuals with disabilities. Beyond the facilities, the parish has reached out and encouraged them to participate in the liturgy and parish activities.

Father Schmidt said he personally invited Timothy Vernon, 22, who is blind, to participate. Vernon, read the first reading written in Braille from sheets he carried with him to the pulpit.

Vernon grew up on the same Mansfield street where Father Schmidt’s sister lives and he has known Vernon since he was a boy, he said. Having Vernon at the Mass was a reunion for two, and because Mansfield is in the Fall River Diocese, it was a chance for Vernon once again be with the cardinal, who is the former bishop of Fall River.

Two other ministers at the Mass David S. Caouette, a member of the St. Patrick’s Parish, and Murray, both use wheelchairs and used the ramps to approach the altar. The cantor for the Mass, Anthony T. DeBlois, is blind. The gifts were presented to the cardinal by Karen F. Dempsey, from St. George Parish in Framingham, who also uses a wheelchair.

At the reception held after the Mass, Murray said she was pleased by the turnout, especially the number of people with disabilities, who traveled from all over the archdiocese to participate.

The parish, in another way, has reached out to one of its families, the Persons family, which is facing daunting challenges, said Sister Marylou A. Cassidy, CSJ, a pastoral associate at St. Patrick’s.

Their daughter, Maria, 9, suffers from Toriello-Carey Syndrome, a extremely rare disease that attacks both the brain and the lungs, said her father Michael F. Person, whose wife, Nichole, is battling cancer.

Sister Marylou said in April members of St. Patrick’s community began building an addition to the Persons’ house, by adding a new wing that is more accessible. The new wing will relieve the burden of stairs for the mother and daughter, both weakened by months of chemotherapy. “It is a wonderful project,” she said.