PROVIDENCE — For almost two decades, St. Patrick Church in Providence has been opening its doors to make physically handicapped parishioners feel like they’re part of the parish community.
The inclusive spirit that permeates the parish on Smith Street has been recognized on the national level. In mid-January, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, in partnership with Loyola Press, announced that St. Patrick Church is the recipient of the Loyola Press 2018 Opening Doors Parish Award.
The parish will receive $1,000 and a plaque from Loyola Press for its commitment to helping parishioners with disabilities to have access to full participation in all aspects of parish life, including catechetical opportunities, liturgical celebrations and community service projects.
“I was very surprised when I received the news. I didn’t realize we were in the running for that award,” said Father James Ruggieri, the pastor of St. Patrick Church, who received a telephone call from Loyola Press on Jan. 11 informing him of the award.
The judges who selected St. Patrick Church noted that the parish has American Sign Language interpreters available at Mass every Sunday, offers catechesis for children based on a continuum of their individual needs, live-streams Mass for homebound or sick parishioners and last summer hosted a Bible camp for people with disabilities.
“St. Patrick has demonstrated comprehensive and consistent ministry to all of its parishioners, regardless of their age, ability or language,” Kelsey Bell, director of the Office for People with Disabilities in the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon who served as a judge for the award, said in prepared remarks.
Father Ruggieri credited the Diocese of Providence’s Apostolate for People with Disabilities —which receives support from the annual Catholic Charity Appeal as a ministry of the Office of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry — and his parishioners with cultivating a welcoming environment for the local Catholic faithful with disabilities.
“It has to be a parish effort to make people feel welcome and comfortable,” he said. “The idea of being an inclusive community, allowing all people to have the opportunity to come together, worship at Mass, to just be a part of the faith community is so important. There are so many great people in our diocese and we are happy to collaborate with them.”
Irma I. Rodríguez, the director of the Diocese of Providence’s Apostolate for People with Disabilities, nominated St. Patrick Church for the award. She noted that people with disabilities of all ages participate in the parish’s music ministries and are members of the liturgical team as altar servers and ushers.
“This is not only an honor for the parish, but it’s also an honor for our diocese to know we have a parish community that is following in Jesus’ steps, searching and serving, welcoming and inviting all people to be part of the community and to grow in faith,” Rodriguez said.
Father Ruggieri, Rodriguez added, has been a “driving force behind all the wonderful things” that have been happening at St. Patrick Church over the last 15 years for parishioners with disabilities. She added that Father Ruggieri “worked tirelessly” with parishioners to secure funding for an elevator, handicap ramps and accessible restrooms.
“They’ve been doing this for a long time,” Rodriguez said. “It melts my heart that a parish that really loves our community, our people with disabilities, would be recognized at a national level. They really deserve this.”
Father Ruggieri credited Rodriguez’s office with organizing the 2018 summer Bible camp for people with disabilities that his parish hosted. Last year, the Apostolate for People with Disabilities also arranged for American Sign Language interpreters to be present for a Sunday Mass every week at St. Patrick Church.
“Irma has been a great, great collaborator with us. She’s opened doors to connect us with the interpreters and getting the word out to people,” Father Ruggieri said. “She’s a big reason why we’re able to be an open community. She’s given us the opportunities to do that.”
In her nomination letter, Rodriguez noted that St. Patrick’s for many years has included people with disabilities in their faith formation and sacramental programs. Catechetical leaders have modified their classes and provide specialized instruction in small groups or in one-on-one settings. At times, people with disabilities, because of their medical needs, have received instruction at home from a parish catechist.
“We try to make whatever accommodations we can,” Father Ruggieri said.