Just as Father Tom Higgins started his homily for the Dec. 13 St. Lucy Feast Day Mass at Holy Innocents Church in the Juniata section of Philadelphia, the lights went out, except for the liturgical candles.
It was intentional. Holy Innocents is the present-day location of St. Lucy School for Children with Visual Impairments as well as Archbishop Ryan Academy for the Deaf.
The extinguishing of the lights was symbolic of St. Lucy School’s motto, “We Walk by Faith … Not by Sight” from 2 Corinthians.
“Jesus is the light of the world, we walk with Jesus in the light,” Father Higgins told the students and parents of the two schools for special education as well as the children at Holy Innocents parish school.
St. Lucy’s, named for the martyred patron saint of those suffering from eye diseases, was founded 61 years ago by the late Bishop John J. Graham, when he was superintendent of the archdiocesan schools and now has 32 children in its program.
Archbishop Ryan, which will celebrate its centennial next year, now has eight children under instruction.
“It is extremely important to let our children who are visually impaired or hard of hearing know that they are special in God’s sight,” said Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Meg Fleming, principal for St. Lucy and administrator for Archbishop Ryan. “We are preparing them for the future; most of the children who leave our school go to a regular high school and college. We prepare them to live in society, be productive and know that they are special, and we give them a firm foundation in their faith.”
That lesson is not lost on Simon Bonenfont, of St. Dorothy Parish in Drexel Hill, even though he is only in the third grade.
“This school (St. Lucy) is a wonderful gift from God,” he declared. “Without this school, I don’t think I would be getting the education I am getting now. It is a very good education and at a Catholic school we can practice our religion.”
Because disabilities are often genetic in nature, in some instances the two schools are a family tradition.
Speaking through sign interpreter Patty Starling, Donna-Marie Thiergartner said, “Ryan School means Catholic school. I grew up at the Ryan School when it was on Spring Garden Street. Now my son is graduating from eighth grade; he has been here since he was six months old. It is very important to me because of the Catholic identity and the leadership is very good.”
After the St. Lucy Mass, which is an annual tradition, the festivities continued in the school where the children treated their families and benefactors to a musical concert and refreshments.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.