By Arlene Edmonds

Special to The CS&T

The One Flock Choir drew spontaneous applause from the crowd that filled the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Sunday, March 22.

While their interpretation of “A Special Ode to St. Paul” may never garner them a Grammy Award, the audience appreciated their fervent singing and hand gestures. Each child in the ensemble has a disability, and even deafness did not stop them from singing their hearts out.

Their participation was part of the annual Mass for Persons with Disabilities titled “Celebrating Welcome and Access.” It was sponsored by the Respect Life Office’s Department for Pastoral Care for Persons with Disabilities and the Deaf Apostolate.

The choir members are all archdiocesan special education students at St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments, Archangels’ Academy, St. Katherine Day School, Our Lady of Confidence Day School or Archbishop Ryan School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children. Ellen Wedemeyer directed the choir. Ranging in age from 4 to 21, the members were blind, deaf, autistic, developmentally delayed or have Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or spina bifida.

The pews, too, were filled with those with disabilities and caregivers, families and friends. There were several persons holding Braille materials distributed by St. Lucy Day School or seated next to their Seeing Eye dogs. Nancy Sullivan, Denise Logan and June Goodwin served as American Sign Language interpreters. Wheelchairs and walkers lined many of the aisles.

“In this service we have found deep and lasting joy,” said Cardinal Justin Rigali, as he commended the One Flock Choir.

The program also opened with Tonya Dorsey and the New Vision Choir. The group is made up of members of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, St. Charles Borromeo, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Hope and St. Martin de Porres Parishes. Dorsey sang the entrance hymn and penitential rite.

During the Mass many of the disabled had important roles. Those with speech impediments, in wheelchairs and walkers or other disabilities presented the gifts and offered intercessions.

In his homily, Cardinal Rigali said that the Lord has love for all, whether able-bodied or disabled, and that Jesus Christ died for all. He said that all are endowed with gifts that can be utilized by the Church and that God treasures whatever gifts one can offer.

“Each of us experiences the fragility of our bodily life and the frustrations of our limitations,” said the Cardinal. “Yet, it is our faith in God that continually affirms the splendor of who we are as persons…. In God, our lives are filled with purpose and meaning.”

After the Mass, all were invited to attend a reception in the Archdiocesan Office Center adjacent to the Cathedral.

A retreat for persons with disabilities will be held at the Malvern Retreat House Oct. 13 to 15.

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at