April 16, 2021

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Michael Ware

Moving beyond labels, offering a sense of belonging

Michael Ware(April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Office of Worship and Evangelization invited Michael Ware, a young adult member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford who serves as the parish’s catechetical leader, to tell his story. Below are his answers to the questions we asked. It is our hope that growth in understanding of autism and other disabilities will lead to relationships of support and increase a sense of belonging.)
 

Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

“I was born in Bloomington and diagnosed [with autism] at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis when I was around 2½ years old. I really became on fire for my Catholic faith at 16, and I started discerning the priesthood as a senior at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Go Sycamores!”
 

What drew you to seek formation as a Third Order Dominican?

“Most religious orders have a Third Order which consists of laity committed to shaping their lives based on the charisms of that particular order (secular Franciscans, Benedictine oblates, etc.). I was an oblate at St. Meinrad originally, but a friend of mine told me to check out the Dominicans in 2015. The rest is history. I read up on anything I could to learn more, and in 2017 a Dominican laity group began at St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington.”
 

What have been some challenges you’ve experienced as you have moved forward in formation?

“The discernment experience has been pretty rough. Some vocation directors and religious don’t completely understand what autism is, its variations or how to handle it. Some orders won’t take candidates if they are autistic, especially if there are no available resources in the seminaries. My goal now is to help priests understand what we in the autistic community experience. I think we would be great priests and religious in the right circumstances.”
 

What are some areas of growth you’ve noticed since you began formation?

“Humility and empathy for sure, and a deeper appreciation for devotions such as the rosary, and for saints such as St. John Paul II the Great, St. Theodora Guérin and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati for inspiration.”
 

What advice would you give a parish or a community that is seeking to be a place where people on the autism spectrum can belong and thrive?

“I think educating everyone— particularly clergy and seminarians—in psychology with a focus on disabilities would be huge. Even though there may be parents who have children who are autistic in the parish, that doesn’t mean collectively [the faith community] would know how to approach us. Offering [times where there is not as much stimulus or distractions] such as daily Masses would help people who are autistic focus, relax and appreciate the sacraments.”
 

What advice would you give someone who is on the autism spectrum and is discerning a vocation or seeking a spiritual “home” as you seem to have found with the Dominicans?

“[Similar to the words of] Winston Churchill: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Values like perseverance, patience and honesty have been crucial [to me], along with a great spiritual director. I’ve been very blessed in relationships with great priests in our archdiocese like [the late] Father Richard Eldred, our own Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Father Daniel Bedel my spiritual director, Father John Hollowell and [Dominican] Father Patrick Hyde. I’m also extremely blessed to work with Father Jegan Peter, our administrator at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford. In terms of a specific religious order, that depends on the individual and their charisms, but having a good spiritual director is a great start.

“It’s hard enough being a young adult Catholic. Having autism can be complicated and ostracizing at times. I only hope my witness as a whole, especially my work in my parish, being a future lay Dominican and being involved in other ministries will help everyone in the archdiocese understand how to handle situations like mine.”

(Michael Ware serves on the Council on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. For additional information about ministry with persons with disabilities in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit our website www.archindy.org/specialneeds or e-mail catechesis@archindy.org.)

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