Educators attend adaptive catechesis presentation Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Feb. 02, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
mdreo presentation
Members of MDREO (Madison Diocese Religious Educators’ Organization) participate in a videoconference with Michele Chronister, the co-chair of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability’s Council on Intellectual and Development Disabilities, during a recent session at Holy Name Heights in Madison. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- “The only real disability is rejecting the Holy Spirit.”

Those powerful and profound words were some of many heard at a recent session of MDREO -- the Madison Diocese Religious Educators’ Organization.

Their January 26 session at Holy Name Heights was all about the importance of adaptive catechesis -- catechesis for those with disabilities, especially intellectual and developmental.

The presenter was Michele Chronister, the co-chair of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability’s Council on Intellectual and Development Disabilities.

Chronister has written books and articles on adaptive catechesis.

She was originally scheduled to travel to Madison for the program, but was unable to, and instead pre-recorded some videos, specially for the Madison audience. She also participated in a live videoconference later in the day.

The program was made possible with help from a grant from the Diocese of Madison Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities.

The theology of vocation

Chronister’s first pre-recorded talk was on the theology of vocation.

She said when one hears “vocation,” they usually think of marriage, the priesthood, or the Religious Life and added there are people with disabilities who are living out all of those vocations.


She added, however, that many of those at the session minister to children who aren’t living out one of those vocations yet, but they all still have a calling to do God’s will and “play a role in the Body of Christ.”

She said discerning a vocation is all about “how specifically does that love play out in our lives” and understanding everyone is called to sainthood and holiness.

Chronister also told everyone to remember that “vocations are a gift.” God reveals this gift and love to every individual “in an ongoing way throughout that individual’s life.”

“Vocations are also a gift of love to the whole Church,” she added. “When people are living out their vocation, we all benefit.”

She added one thing she wanted everyone to take away from the talks is “it’s not about ‘us vs. them’ . . . we need to be looking at how vocations are a call for all.”

Theological basis

Chronister’s next talk focused on the lives of the saints and figures in the Bible and how “God chooses those who the world views as little or weak” to carry out his mission.

She reflected on Moses, who when at the Burning Bush, told God he had “slow speech and tongue” and may not be effective in freeing the Israelites from Egypt as God was commanding him to do. Despite that, God still wanted Moses to do his great work.

Chronister also used Mary, the Mother of God, as the “paramount example” of someone viewed as weak, but chosen by God to do great things.

She said Mary was a “young, unmarried virgin from an unknown town, Nazareth, [called] to be the Mother of God.”

Mary says in her Magnificat, “For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.”

God “calls those who are little and unexpected and lowly” to accomplish his great work, Chronister said.

She also used the example of St. Thérèse of Lisieux who, more than likely suffering from emotional issues, still followed God’s will for her, and later become an important Doctor of the Church.

Toolbox for adaptive ministry

Chronister’s next focus was on practical tools for educators ministering to those with disabilities.

She said in any adaptive ministry, the first step is to make sure the pastor of the parish is on board with plans and programs. “Your pastor, by the nature of who is he as a priest, is in persona Christi . . . someone who can exemplify the love of Christ.”

She said pastors need to be on board and be willing to help in any way they can and welcome all with disabilities.

The next step is to train catechists. It can be anything from formalized training, sending them to diocesan training, or providing them with other resources to make them aware of special needs some of their kids and teens may need.

Another step is to prepare materials in advance and “the more hands-on, the better.” She mentioned catechetical programs available designed for adaptive ministry or have recommendations for special needs learners. Chronister emphasized there are “all types of different learners,” not just those with special needs that may need lessons adapted to help them understand.

One final step she shared is to make prayer part of the work. “It’s only by the grace of God that we can do the work that we’re doing and we can catechize and bring people closer to God” she said.

Solving scenarios

The afternoon session with Chronister was done via a live videoconference where she and the participants could interact with each other in real time.

Chronister and the participants discussed some scenarios they may face in their parishes and their schools with people who may need adaptive catechesis.

She advised using the acronym “WALK” to help with finding answers to the scenarios.

“W” stands for “Welcome,” or making families feel like they are a part of the parish and build a relationship with them.

“A” stands for “Assess,” or “figure out what questions we can ask these families to get to know them better, to get to know their child better, or what questions we can ask an adult to get to know them better,” Chronister said.

“L” stands for “Listening,” or “how can we listen to what their hopes and desires for them?” and how can the parish help them know where God is leading them in their lives.

“K” stands for “Kick it into action.” Chronister asked participants to figure out, “What options can you offer to everyone who comes to you and what kind of plan can you put into action for each individual or each person?”

Chronister closed the session by taking some questions from the participants on specific scenarios they face in their parishes and schools.

For more on Michele Chronister and resources on adaptive catechesis, go to

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