September 11, 2009

Religious Education Supplement

‘We are one body’: Special Religious Development participants enjoy annual retreat

SPRED participant and St. Monica parishioner Linda Palmer of Indianapolis smiles as she kneads bread dough on Aug. 29 during the archdiocesan Special Religious Development retreat at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

SPRED participant and St. Monica parishioner Linda Palmer of Indianapolis smiles as she kneads bread dough on Aug. 29 during the archdiocesan Special Religious Development retreat at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

BEECH GROVE—As they carefully mixed and kneaded the bread dough, the Special Religious Development participants and catechists shared stories and laughter on Aug. 29 during the seventh annual archdiocesan SPRED retreat at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center.

Their joy in being together and creating the small loaves of wheat bread was magnified during prayer time on Aug. 30 when they saw their freshly baked bread in a basket next to flowers and a candle on a table in the center of their circle of chairs.

“SPRED is very sensory oriented,” explained Roni Wyld, coordinator of the parish-based religious education program for developmentally disabled adults and children, which is under the direction of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.

“In our SPRED sessions at the parishes and during our retreat, we always have things that appeal to all of our senses—smell and taste and hearing and sight as well as touch—so making bread is a favorite activity,” Wyld said. “Our friends get really excited because it tastes good, and they’re not sure what to expect after mixing all the ingredients.” (See a photo gallery from the retreat)

The SPRED program was started by Father James McCarthy in 1960 in the Archdiocese of Chicago to help Catholic adults and children with special needs participate more fully in the sacraments and parish life.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis began offering the SPRED ministry at parishes in 1998. Participants, who are called friends, receive sacramental preparation and enjoy faith-sharing activities.

“SPRED is based on faith-sharing groups,” Wyld said. “In SPRED sessions, catechists read a verse from the Bible to the friends several times then condense it down to a one-line sentence for reflection. What is God trying to tell us? What are we to learn from this reading?”

Then the catechist walks around the prayer circle, she said, greets each person by name, holds their hands and tells them, for example, “Jesus says to you, ‘You live in my love.’ ”

Their sacred space gatherings are very powerful, Wyld said. “You can feel the Holy Spirit present in the group. As we share our faith, the things that our friends and catechists say are so beautiful. It’s just overwhelming, and it brings tears to your eyes a lot of times.”

Wyld said a young man who has autism did not like to be touched until he began participating in the SPRED prayer sessions at his parish.

“His mom is a catechist in the group, and he had never, ever kissed her,” Wyld said. “He never wanted to hold hands or be touched by anyone. When the leader was going around the group, she held out her hands to him and he took them. After she gave him the message about God’s love, he turned to his mom and gave her a big hug and kissed her on her cheek. It was a big meltdown for everybody because we knew the Holy Spirit had made a connection with him.”

The theme for this year’s retreat was “We Are All One Body,” and faith-sharing time centered on each person’s relationship with God and others.

The Scripture passage for reflection during their prayer time was, “Jesus prays to his Father, ‘Father, I have given them the glory you gave me that they may be one as you and I are one,” (Jn 17:22).

“We had 23 friends and 11 catechists at our retreat this year,” Wyld said. “We could have more friends at the retreat if we had more volunteer catechists. We especially need men to help us with our retreat.”

Retreat participants represented St. Mark the Evangelist, Holy Spirit, St. Monica, St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Pius X and St. Andrew the Apostle parishes in Indianapolis as well as St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg and St. Mary Parish in Anderson, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“When our friends came to the retreat, they were talking about wanting to see the [Benedictine] sisters again,” Wyld said. “On Sunday morning, we join the sisters for Mass at the monastery chapel, and the sisters are so pleased to see us. They are so welcoming, friendly and accommodating.”

Benedictine Sister Mary Luke Jones, administrator of the Benedict Inn, said the SPRED friends and catechists “are a delight and a blessing to us every year.”

Holy Spirit parishioner John Amberger of Indianapolis has participated in all seven SPRED retreats, the annual dinner dance, monthly faith-sharing sessions at his parish and occasional social activities.

“I live in a half-half world—half normal and half not,” Amberger explained. “I have my normal friends, and I have my SPRED group friends so it’s kind of the best of both worlds.

“I’m a complex person, but people don’t know this,” he said. “It’s hard to see from the outside that I’m complex. You really have to know the real me to see it. … I grew up in a solid Catholic household, and my mom was adamant about us staying in the Church, in the faith. The SPRED program just kind of gives the handicapped me the chance to be with others in my faith.”

His SPRED friend, Mike Hoffman from Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, smiled at him and said, “Yeah, he’s multifaceted. That’s what he is.”

St. Monica parishioner Rita Makiejus of Indianapolis enjoyed participating in the SPRED retreat for the first time and is looking forward to the start of monthly SPRED catechetical sessions at her parish in late September.

“We get into a circle and talk about ourselves,” she said. “In our sacred space, we pray a lot, you know, we pray for everybody. And then we have snacks. It’s like our celebration that we have. It’s about being united, you know, with friends, and being with Jesus and loving Jesus, and knowing that he’s always there to help you out and that he loves you, too.”

(For more information about participating in or volunteering for the archdiocesan Special Religious Development program, call Roni Wyld at 317-236-1448 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1448, or log on to

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