Special Faith Confirmation|Bishop confirms four individuals with special needs

Bishop Martin Amos congratulates Gerard Shafer following his confirmation at St. Ann Catholic Church in Long Grove on June 12, Pentecost Sunday. Gerard was one of four adults with special needs that the bishop confirmed during the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Also congratulating Gerard are his brother, Msgr. Drake Shafer, who concelebrated the Mass, and another brother, Martin, who was Gerard’s sponsor.

By Barb Arland-Fye

LONG GROVE — Alex Clancy spoke softly as he read from First Corinthians during the Pentecost Mass at which he and three other men with special needs received the sacrament of confirmation. When the congregation realized just how softly Alex was reading, a hush enveloped St. Ann Catholic Church in Long Grove. It was as if those who were gathered for the 10:30 a.m. Mass on June 12, including a fussing baby, had been cued by the Holy Spirit to be still.

“That was the Spirit at work; what a grace!” Msgr. Drake Shafer, pastor of St. Ann’s, said after the Mass.

There were other moments of grace.


Colin Fye, a member of the Special Faith Saturday group with Alex and the others being confirmed, had the privilege of presenting the first reading. That Scripture, from the Acts of the Apostles, includes complicated names of communities that can be a challenge to read even for a typical lector. Colin read the passage without stumbling on any names.

Still another moment of grace occurred when Bishop Martin Amos confirmed the men with special needs (along with a woman, Melissa Welp, who does not have special needs). They confidently renewed their baptismal promises and joyously responded when Bishop Amos imposed hands on each one of them and separately anointed them with Chrism oil to seal their commitment to the Catholic faith.

Gerard Shafer, the younger brother of Msgr. Shafer, gave Bishop Amos a big hug twice during the confirmation rite — not a typical response for someone being confirmed. Later, when Bishop Amos placed cross-shaped pendants around the necks of the newly confirmed individuals, Gerard gave the bishop yet another big hug. “He just can’t help himself,” a smiling Msgr. Shafer told the congregation.

During his homily, which preceded the confirmation rite, Bishop Amos described two concepts of time using the Greek words chronos, for the passage of time, and kairos, for a time that changes things. For the apostles, Pentecost wasn’t just another day, another moment in time; it was a moment of kairos, the bishop said. “The Holy Spirit came upon them, and it changed their whole lives.”

For the families whose loved ones received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday at St. Ann’s, it was a kairos moment.

“It gives me goose bumps every time I think about it,” said Peggy Ragona, whose 37-year-old son, Bob Ragona, was confirmed.

This may have been the first time Catholic adults with special needs had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of confirmation through a diocesan faith formation program. Mary Wieser, the diocese’s faith formation director, organized the Special Faith Saturday program with Msgr. Shafer, Nancy Shannon, Mary Ann Curran and Arnie Wieser.

Shannon, a retired special education teacher who taught the adults during monthly Special Faith Saturdays this year, is grateful for the experience and believes the men were fully aware of what happened to them at their confirmation. “They understood this is God; this is the Spirit,” she said. “It was nice to be able to share this with the rest of the (St. Ann’s) community.”

Referring to the individuals with special needs, Bishop Amos said: “I think their enthusiasm is so contagious for everybody. You wish everybody would have this sense of God’s Spirit.”

Catholics confirmed

Individuals with special needs who were confirmed on Pente­cost Sunday at St. Ann Catholic Church in Long Grove were: Alex Clancy of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, and Tim Elskamp, Robert Ragona and Gerard Shafer, all of St. Ann’s Parish. Other members of the Special Faith Saturday class were: Leann Liendo, St. Anthony Parish, Davenport; Colin Fye, Our Lady of the River Parish, LeClaire; and Jason Gesling, St. Ann’s Parish.

Msgr. Drake Shafer, pastor of St. Ann’s, looks forward to seeing the faith formation program for adults with special needs grow in the next session, which begins in September.

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