Apostolate to the Handicapped shares Christmas spirit with disabled, elderly Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
apostolate christmas 2015

Msgr. Larry Bakke, director of the Apostolate to the Handicapped, greets guests at the annual Advent/Christmas Party held on December 5 at Monroe High School. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash) To view or purchase photos, go to www.madisoncatholicherald.smugmug.com

MONROE -- “This is so cool!” said first-time guest Denise Horn.

The Janesville resident had attended the Diocese of Madison’s Apostolate to the Handicapped Day at the Dells -- featuring Mass, lunch, and the Tommy Bartlett Water Show -- numerous times in the past, but she had never attended the annual Advent/Christmas Party before.

“I think it’s put on very well and it brings out the spirit of Christmas,” said Horn, who added it’s a good event for people who need a family to celebrate with during the holiday season.

Annual event

The party was held December 5 at Monroe High School in Monroe.

Hundreds of guests -- disabled and elderly persons -- from the Diocese of Madison and neighboring dioceses attended the event, which featured Mass, live music by local favorite Hugo Espinoza (commonly known as just “Hugo”), lunch, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, and a gift from the Apostolate -- an olive wood carving from Bethlehem.

Joanne Nafzger from Albany and her family have been coming to the party for the past 15 years.

“Our son enjoys it,” she said. “We enjoy all the people . . . seeing our old friends . . . the warmth of everyone.”

Volunteers young and old helped the event run smoothly.

Some of them, like 13-year-old Naomi O’Leary from New Glarus, helped greet the guests as they arrived.

“It’s a really fun experience,” she said, “helping all these people is great and it's a good thing to do."

The guests were escorted to their tables in the gym, decorated for the season with flowers, candy canes, and cookies, as Hugo played Christmas music to complete the atmosphere.

Ivette Shean, from Blue Mounds, drove her cousin Haydee from Madison and Haydee’s caregiver to the event after hearing about it for the past few years.

“We all are there together to celebrate the birth of Jesus,” said Shean. “I think this is beautiful. The people who organize this are a blessing. It’s so well organized.”

Mass is celebrated

Priests from the Diocese of Madison concelebrated Mass with Bishop Robert C. Morlino and Msgr. Larry Bakke, director of the Apostolate to the Handicapped.

The priests helped distribute Communion to the guests at their tables during Mass.

Mass began with Dr. Patrick Gorman directing the Diocesan Choir and the Monroe High School Band leading “O God, Beyond All Praising” during the procession.

Bishop Morlino thanked everyone for coming, telling the guests they were “such a treasure to us.”

“It’s a beautiful day and you’re all beautiful, too,” he added.

During his homily, Bishop Morlino told the guests they were a good example for the season of Advent -- examples of waiting for the Lord’s arrival.

“When you hear the word ‘wait’ you know what it is to wait because the way life is, you so often have to wait for your caregivers to help you,” Bishop Morlino said.

He also connected waiting with the Year of Mercy, which starts on December 8.

“Just as you have to wait for your caregivers -- sometimes for a long time -- so too we have to wait for mercy, because for mercy to enter our hearts, and take hold of us, and change us, it takes time.”

Bishop Morlino closed his homily wishing everyone “a blessed Year of Mercy and health and safety to each one of you whom I love so much.”

As Mass concluded, Monsignor Bakke called it a “joy” to see everyone.

“What a privilege to gather in Holy Eucharist this morning and join together as sisters and brothers in praise of God in this Advent season as we move toward the great festival of Christmas,” he said.

The celebration continues

Volunteers, including teens from Monroe High School’s FFA, helped serve the lunch -- turkey, mashed potatoes, and ice cream -- to the guests.

As the guests finished lunch, Hugo continued the Christmas music.

Some of the volunteer nurses from around the area took a brief moment from their duties to dance with guests who wanted to boogie.

A highlight of the day was the chance to get pictures taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

As the day drew to a close, buses, vans, and other vehicles pulled up one by one to the doors of the school to take the guests home.

For more information on the Apostolate to the Handicapped, go to www.apostolatetothehandicapped.com