Serving special needs children and others

Serving special needs children and others

Photo by James A. McBride

stewardship-webFather John Vignone, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel, stands with Jacob and Maria Smith and their children, Jonathon (in Jacob’s arms), Rachel, Ephraim, Rebekah, Joshua with Ruben, and Lydia. Along with their work as members of the Baptism Committee at St. Katherine, Jacob lectors, and Maria helps with religious education.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Jacob and Maria Smith are expanding their stewardship at St. Katharine Drexel to help tailor a religious education program for children with special needs.

“Our 7-year-old daughter Lydia has Angelman Syndrome,” said Maria, “which is similar to Down’s Syndrome in that there is something wrong with one of her chromosomes. She’s developmentally impaired.”

Maria said she is working with religious education in the parish, including the coordinator, to make a program for all special needs children in the parish so they will not be forgotten but can learn at their own speeds, using their own resources.

“Feedback has been very positive,” she noted.

Jacob and Maria were married 20 years ago in a civil ceremony. A former Baptist, Jacob said he was blessed by the church in 2001, and the following Easter “I came into the church through RCIA.”

He pointed out that now he wanted to do something for the church, to help out, to use his time, talents, and treasures. Nine years ago he asked Maryann Bierbaum, who was in charge of the lectors at the time, to consider him for a lector’s position.

“I had no idea how to do this or even how to volunteer,” said Jacob, “but once I got started I really enjoyed it.”

His wife is also a lector.

“Jacob inspired me when I saw him performing his duties as a lector,” Maria said. “I read an announcement in the church bulletin that lector classes were beginning and if interested sign up. I did.”

Jacob said that “Father Joe Ferrera was pastor at that time and he was busy and needed additional help because of the many, many things going on in the parish. The bulletin always carried something about events that were planned. Whenever my schedule and Maria’s schedule allowed us, we’d attend these events.”

Jacob pointed out there was a large pool of people who were lectors and he and his wife volunteer at least one Sunday a month. Sometimes they even fill in as cantors.

“The church is right down the block from were we live,” Jacob noted. “We can pitch in once in awhile as cantors, switching hands as lectors. It’s really neat.”

Jacob and Maria also lend their time and talents to St. Vincent de Paul Regional School in Mays Landing. Maria started there when her kids were in the second grade. She would oversee lunch once a week and sometimes help out on a monthly basis with various activities.

Jacob, a professional musician, can’t often make it for lunch but “I’ll go and help serve Thanksgiving dinner and the senior breakfast.” This year Jacob provided some background music with his saxophone. He said he often plays in restaurants and similar locations. “But everything’s been a little slow lately,” he added.

For the past year, Jacob and Maria have been members of the Baptism Committee. “There are six couples on a team,” Maria said. “Two couples present classes to parents that include the history of baptism, how it evolved, the procedure, and so on.”

Before the teams were created, a volunteer would go from house-to-house to present the program. Father John Vignone, pastor at St. Katharine, would accompany this person, Maria said.

“Last year it was decided to put together a team,” she said. “We’re now coming up on our second year.”

Father John had explained to Jacob and Maria what the concept of the Baptism Committee was “and if we were really interested in doing this work,” Maria said. The initial meeting with Father John included a visiting sister who was doing something similar in her parish. She brought brochures and “we tweaked them a bit for our parish,” said Maria.

Father John called the Smiths “an inspiration for others. People who meet them can’t help but be inspired by them. Jacob and Maria are very religious and they, along with their children, are very caring.”

Two of their children, Rebekah, 14, and Rachel, 12, are preparing to become masters of ceremonies for the church so they can help younger altar servers.

In addition to Lydia, Rachel, and Rebekah, the Smiths’ other children are Joshua, 15, who’s part of the Parish Youth Group, Ephraim, 5, Ruben 1, and Jonathon, 7 months.

For more information on stewardship contact Russell Davis, Office of Stewardship, at 856-583-6102.

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