Diocese to celebrate families and children with special needs

‘Bishop’s Very Special Day’ will be held Sept. 25 on the Sacred Heart Cathedral campus; Mass to follow            

By Gabrielle Nolan

The Diocese of Knoxville will host a day for families, adults, and children with special needs at the parish hall and pavilion of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Bishop Richard. F. Stika will lead the “very special day” and celebrate the 5 p.m. vigil Mass at the cathedral.

The event takes place from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25.

Catholics of all ages with physical and developmental disabilities, along with their family members, are invited to attend.

Sister Maria Juan Anderson, RSM, who serves as executive secretary to Bishop Stika, previously directed the diocesan Office of Christian Formation and is interested in better serving the special needs community with catechesis and formation.

“The Church is our mother,” she said. “We speak of the Church as our mother, and a mother cares for each of her children and loves each of her children individually and totally.”

As providence would have it, Katie Helms, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral, unexpectedly met Sister Maria Juan at the Chancery, “and it seemed like the Lord was putting us together,” Sister Maria Juan said.

“We want the children to see that the Lord loves them, first of all, the diocese loves them, the bishop and the Sisters love them, we all love them. They are awesome people,” Ms. Helms said. “They are valued and greatly cherished by us, by the Church, by the people of God. Each special-needs person will need a buddy, which is somebody that will walk around with them and help them.”

The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., will lead the participants in a rally, where they will perform movement and dance songs as well as skits.

Other activities will include arts, crafts, games, and photo opportunities. The St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, a traveling medical van operated by the Religious Sisters of Mercy, also will be available during the event.

“It’s going to be a fun time, and it’s geared toward them, not geared toward other family members or parents. They’ll be the big dogs that day,” Ms. Helms said.

Parents and catechists will have a break-out session to brainstorm together with the Sisters on how the special needs community in the diocese can be better served.

“I think it’s important to see what are the desires and needs of the people in our diocese, and then looking out to what’s available and bringing in to provide the best for our people here in East Tennessee,” Sister Maria Juan said.

Ms. Helms

Ms. Helms, who converted to Catholicism six years ago, works on Wednesday nights with Cathedral Kids, teaching first Holy Communion preparation.

However, Ms. Helms may be most recognized as the woman who plays the bagpipes with her group, the East Tennessee Bucketeers. Special needs adults play bucket drums with her at various community events.

“We’ve been in parades and things for almost 10 years around Knoxville. We have a good time,” Ms. Helms said. “We have uniforms and everything. We just try to add to community events.”

Ms. Helms’ passion for working with special needs children and adults began as a 14-year-old growing up in Florida, when her grandmother suggested that she either get a job or volunteer over summer vacation.

“I worked at a day-camp for special-needs kids, and on Saturdays I worked at a swimming lesson for special needs adults,” Ms. Helms said. “I just had a blast, and ever since then, whenever I’ve been in a church or parish that had special needs people, I just lean towards them and did what I could do to help them.”

Activities will conclude at 4:30 p.m. before Mass, with a parade around the cathedral parking lot, where participants will make music with bucket drums, tambourines, maracas, and cymbals. Parishioners are invited to arrive for Mass early so that they can cheer on the parade participants.

Photos with Bishop Stika will be available for participants after the Mass. “They all love the bishop,” Ms. Helms said of the special-needs community.

“I hope that this event is an experience for both families, adults, and children and all connected to special needs, or at all interested in people with special needs, for them to see in action the Church, our mother, giving intentional time to this group of people and their families,” Sister Maria Juan said.

The event is free, and registration is now underway at https://dioknox.org/bishops-day-registration. Learn more or volunteer by contacting Ms. Helms at BVSD2021@gmail.com.

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