It is well known that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has many programs that can assist people in a variety of ways literally from the cradle to the grave. The trick is, just whom do you call?

It’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, in the area of intellectual disabilities (ID) alone, there is the Developmental Programs Division of Catholic Social Service (DPD), Office for Persons with Disabilities and the Deaf Apostolate, and the archdiocesan Schools for Special Education. It is also possible there is no program directly in the archdiocesan system that answers a particular need, but the staff can point callers to an agency that does.

Immaculate Heart Sister Kathleen Schipani, director of the Office for Persons with Disabilities and the Deaf Apostolate, noticed she was receiving a number of phone calls concerning issues that could not be addressed by her department which focuses on pastoral care, not education, other than religious education or physical care.


She suggested to James Amato, the secretary for Catholic Social Services of the archdiocese, that there was a need for a help line that could assist callers by directing them to the proper office.

Amato agreed and working together with the relevant departments they developed a new Disabilities and Autism Help Line at 484-472-5041.

A letter signed by Fran Swiacki, executive director of DPD; Sister Kathleen; Dr. Andrew McLaughlin, director of K-12 Special Education and Father Dennis Weber, SdC, director of Mission and Ministry for DPD, was sent to all pastors, and a presentation was given before the Council of Priests as well as several deaneries,  promoting the hotline.

As explained in the letter, “As more individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism receive primary care at home from family members, the need for in-home supports, respite care and community-based resources has grown dramatically.”

While many parishes already have a strong commitment to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible in their care for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, they may not know how to respond to specific needs. In this way the help line can be of great assistance.

“Getting information out to parishioners about our services to the intellectually disabled is a secret story, an unknown resource,” Swiacki said. “The culture before was what the parishes can do for us; this is what we can do for the parishes. Through this we let people know what services we have that can help their loved ones.”


The help line is a streamlined way if a parish or family is unsure of what office or department would best assist them, according to Sister Kathleen.

“They can have a compassionate, caring and knowledgeable person assist them,” she said.

That first contact would be Barbara Jenkins, director of admissions at the Intellectual Disabilities Division of Catholic Social Services, who has been tasked with monitoring the new hotline.

The services people are looking for, she finds, range from housing to respite care, either in-home or out of home, residential care and day care.
“The process starts with getting a referral; meeting to find out what the people need,” she said.

So far, the hotline has garnered about 30 callers. About half were regarding young people under 21 years of age, and these were referred to McLaughlin at the Office of Catholic Education. Another quarter involved adults needing ID services and support.

As to what callers are looking for, inquiries range from housing to services for people with disabilities, according to Jenkins, especially people who would like to be connected to a Catholic facility, whether it be respite, residential or day care.

“Autism folks are often looking for support groups and those referrals are split evenly between adults and children,” she said.


For more information, call the hotline at 484-472-5054.