Apostolate helps churches, schools provide access in diocese Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Mar. 16, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- The Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities (formerly the Apostolate to the Handicapped) has been a resource for people in the Diocese of Madison since 1967.

Beginning in 2013, at the direction of Bishop Robert C. Morlino, Msgr. Larry Bakke, director of the Apostolate, initiated a program to provide grants to parishes and schools to help cover some of the expenses of making their buildings, property, and grounds more accessible to people with disabilities.

Applying for a grant

The first step in applying for a grant from the Apostolate is to identify a need.

Often the need is recognized and communicated by parishioners or students that are challenged in overcoming a structural barrier in order to fully participate in church and/or school activities.

Such challenges include not being able to navigate steps or open doors.

School or parish officials usually spend some time discussing how to effectively remove or overcome the challenges related to these identified barriers.

Often the most effective solution is structural modification such as installing a ramp or power-assisted doors.

At that point, parish or school officials should get in touch with the Diocese of Madison Building Commission, through Grant Emmel, to help ensure that the modifications they are considering meet with all civil and diocesan policies.

Emmel can be contacted at 608-821-3010 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Through this process, after estimates from contractors are received, if the projected cost is more than available resources, the church or school may wish to consider applying for a grant from the Apostolate.

Churches and schools in need of additional financial support to help with expenses related to an identified need should contact the Apostolate staff.

They can help ensure that all of the appropriate initial steps have been taken and can provide some guidance in how to develop a grant request.

Once a request is submitted, it is reviewed by a committee.

At this point, additional questions and the need for some clarification may arise. Apostolate staff will communicate with the grant requestor.

The grant review committee then makes a recommendation to deny, partially fund, or fully fund the request. That recommendation is then forwarded to Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison.

Once Bishop Morlino approves any recommendation to provide funding, a check is processed and delivered to the requestor.

Other uses for the grants

While most grant requests that come to the Apostolate are to assist with some form of structural modifications, the Apostolate is also available to help with expenses related to church and school programs that help to ensure that people with disabilities can be fully included in the life of the Church.

For example, grants from the Apostolate have helped to cover expenses related to providing American Sign Language interpreters for parish events.

A recent grant from the Apostolate was used to help develop the St. Ambrose Academy Reading Institute, a program to help Catholic school students with dyslexia learn to read at grade level.

An example of help

One example of a parish that came to the aid of its disabled members with the help of the Apostolate is St. Mary Parish and School in Bloomington.

To make the church accessible to those with physical limitations, the parish wanted to install electric door openers on the church building.

They would be used by Mass-goers as well as retired priest Fr. Bill Seipp, who sometimes celebrates Masses at the church and uses a walker to get around.

In addition to the door openers, the school also wanted to convert a small ground floor restroom into a larger one.

The other restrooms were only accessible by going up or down stairs, making them difficult to get to by those with physical limitations.

The parish then contacted the diocesan building commission and met with contractors to create a plan, obtain an estimate, and verify that the project met diocesan building requirements.

Next, they completed an application for a grant (available on the Apostolate’s website at and included the formal estimate and explained how the projects will directly benefit people with disabilities and their involvement in the parish.

The grant was then reviewed by Bishop Morlino and the Apostolate Grant Committee.

Today, more people who have mobility challenges are able to attend Mass, social events, and school events at St. Mary, Bloomington.

“This is a great example of practical ways to make an old church building more accessible for people who have mobility challenges,” said Kellie Raddell, administrative assistant for the Apostolate.

For more information on the Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities and its grant program, go to its website at

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