June 21, 2013

‘Hope Award’ recipient sees God in those with special needs

Susan Robinson, center, smiles with Daughters of Charity Sister Rosaria Raidl, left, and New Hope participant Dana Zunk after Robinson received the St. Vincent New Hope “Hope Award” at St. Vincent New Hope in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Susan Robinson, center, smiles with Daughters of Charity Sister Rosaria Raidl, left, and New Hope participant Dana Zunk after Robinson received the St. Vincent New Hope “Hope Award” at St. Vincent New Hope in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

In her 30-plus years of working with those with special needs at St. Vincent New Hope, Susan Robinson has seen many situations that most people would describe as hopeless.

Robinson sees the opposite.

“I have a love for people with developmental disabilities,” she says. “They are so faith-filled, so giving, so trusting. They make us better than we ever could be.”

New Hope is a ministry of St. Vincent Health in Indianapolis. It provides comprehensive support services to people with developmental disabilities, as well as counseling services to families in crisis.

Last year, New Hope created the “Hope Award” to be given annually to those who have provided stellar support for the ministry.

“When it came to picking this year’s recipient, there was just no question about it—she was the automatic choice,” says Kathe Rae, manager of staff development and mission integration at New Hope.

Robinson was presented with the second annual “Hope Award” at a ceremony at St. Vincent New Hope on March 27.

“After [working] more than 30 years here, she retired about five years ago,” says Rae. “But she has been serving PRN [as needed]. And she just joined the board of directors.

“For years, she oversaw behavioral services, and she most recently was in my position before retiring. It’s been five years since she retired, and I’m not even close to filling her shoes.”

Robinson reflects on those years with satisfaction.

“Some days were hard and challenging, but I loved it,” says the mother of three children and grandmother of six. “It’s a wonderful community. When I retired, I thought how great it was to look back and know I did what I wanted to do.

“[Working with those who are developmentally challenged] was always in my heart from the time I was very young. It was never a question. I was just called to it.”

She sees that call and her Catholic faith as interconnected.

“It’s all one. It’s all part of bringing faith into ministry. It supports and nurtures, it leads you in the right direction, and it makes what you do more than work.”

As the original founders and continuing supporters of New Hope, the Daughters of Charity recognized Robinson’s connection of vocation and faith. About a decade ago, they invited her to be an affiliate of the Daughters of Charity, similar to being a third order lay member.

It was around that time that Robinson’s passion for her vocation was further enhanced. She was traveling through Ireland with some Daughters of Charity sisters.

“We met a nun in Limerick who was a leader of SPRED [Special Religious Development],” recalls Robinson. “We spent the entire evening with her and her SPRED group. It was wonderful. My heart opened to SPRED, and I’ve loved it ever since.”

She returned to Indianapolis and started a SPRED meeting at St. Monica, her home parish. Once again, her faith intertwined with her vocation—all but one of the members in her SPRED group were also clients of New Hope.

Her involvement with SPRED extended to joining the archdiocesan SPRED advisory council, and helping organize the annual SPRED dinner/dance for many years.

Kara Favata, assistant director for special religious education in the archdiocese, says that, when talking about the SPRED members, Robinson often says, “ ‘They get it, Kara! They are so close to God’s heart [that] they fill you with the gift of the Holy Spirit when you’re in their presence.’ ”

As director of religious education for St. Monica Parish, Mary Jo Thomas Day also sees Robinson’s gift of compassion for those with special needs.

“She is really inclusive. She looks at everyone as a child with God in them, especially those with developmental disabilities,” says Thomas Day. “She has a strong love for them. She knows God is part of their life, and she wants to grow that in them. And she is so humble in all she does.”

Embodying that humility, Robinson referred to the Daughters of Charity when asked about her thoughts on receiving the Hope Award.

“The Daughters of Charity’s mantra is ‘faith, hope and love.’ They’ve always lived out hope,” she said. “For me to receive this award, it’s a reflection of that deepest belief in my heart that there’s always hope.” †

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