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Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.

Accepting the Gift

July 28, 2019

                On April 27, 2019, Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic Church in Berlin, New Jersey, hosted a daylong conference for parents of children with special needs. The name of the conference was “

Accepting the Gift.” It brought together several dozen parents for both social and spiritual activities, as

well as talks to encourage participants in their journey to care for their children.

                The organizer of the event was Kelly Mantoan. She and her husband, Tony, have five children,

two of whom have a rare degenerative genetic disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which causes

them to rely on wheelchairs for mobility. The devotion it takes for the Mantoans to care for their children, combined with the spiritual rewards their family receives from that devotion, is what gave Kelly the idea for the conference.

                “As a Catholic, I've been able to see that there is nothing wrong with my child, and God can bring joy in this, and this is who he is,” Mantoan told Catholic News Agency. Her desire is to bring this message of hope to other parents of children with special needs. “From a theological standpoint, the Catholic faith is so instrumental in how I deal with my struggles as a special needs parent,” she said, adding, “We have such a rich theology of suffering.”

                Kelly Mantoan’s response to the challenges faced by her family embodies the fruits of the theology of suffering at the heart of the Catholic faith. We must look for the purpose in whatever suffering we find thrust upon us in this life. It is through suffering that we connect with Christ on the cross, and making that connection opens our eyes to the needs of others.

                By seeking out this connection to Christ, caregivers have the opportunity to see the world with the compassionate vision of God. In their daily actions, they tend the wounds of Christ on the cross and teach us all how to turn struggle into eternal reward. Mantoan’s desire to offer support to other families with similar obstacles is a natural response from her caregiver’s heart. And this so beautifully exemplifies how God can work through suffering to bring about a greater good. By embracing the call to care for her own children with special needs, she realized a broader mission to the world around her.

                Talks given at the conference were streamed online so that all those busy caregivers who couldn’t travel to attend could receive support and encouragement by tuning in to hear the message of hope being delivered. Talks ranged from bioethical concerns to the topic of adaptive first communion preparation kits, and those talks are still accessible at the Catholic Parents of Special Needs Children Conference website (, the organizationMantoan formed to keep the conference going in future years.

                Mantoan is intent on growing this vital outreach, which helps families navigate the many struggles they face in society, including challenges within their own faith communities. “If you're in the middle of nowhere and your parish is telling you, ‘We don't know how to give your kids sacraments;’ if you don’t have support, if you feel isolated, we want to alleviate some of that for you, to help you understand what your rights are as Catholic parents, to help you navigate that,” Mantoan told CNA. “The message is that there is joy here,” she said, “joy in accepting your kids and who they are, and joy even in the midst of suffering and hardship.”


For free copies of the Christopher News Note THE ENDURING VALUE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:  

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