St. Barnabas launches ministry for adults with disabilities

by Michele Collins

St. Barnabas Catholic Parish in Northfield has launched a ministry to provide spiritual growth for adults with disabilities and their families. The group meets once a month on Saturdays and activities are tailored to the needs of the group, according to its co-coordinator Mary Henefeld.

The ministry’s meeting place is disability-friendly for worship and includes a hearing aid loop system, wheelchair seating areas, sensory room and easily accessible restrooms.

All are welcome in the ministry, and attendees do not need to be Catholic. The meetings include coffee and conversation, an opening prayer, a Bible lesson and planned crafts.

St. Barnabas Pastor Rev. James Kulway, who joined the parish three years ago, aimed to find ways to gather and involve all Nordonia neighbors by building community relationships through parish outreach programs.

He worked with the co-coordinators to find and invite adults with any type of disability, physical, cognitive or mental, and their caregivers into the St. Barnabas family. 

“We are starting this ministry with the idea of reaching young adults who have aged out of the public school support system but absolutely anyone is welcome,” said Henefeld. “90% of families where there is an individual with special needs do not attend any type of worship service on a regular basis. The main reasons they give are they don’t feel welcome, or they think that the church can’t help meet their person’s adaptability needs.” 

As the parent of a special needs young adult, Henefeld wanted to help change that and let the community know that “we are doing everything we can to make St. Barnabas disability friendly.”

When the group held its first meeting a few months ago, members realized that there was a second major need to be addressed in the community: helping those with dementia. 

“We had parishioners come to the meeting who wanted to join our core team, who pointed out the great need for a dementia/Alzheimer’s support ministry as well,” said Co-coordinator Anne Illig. “It was at that point, we knew what we had to do. Our ministry will have two branches going forward.”

The group is planning group outings and an Octoberfest in the fall. 

“We want every young and young-at-heart adult with special needs [and their families] in the Nordonia Hills community to know that our doors are open,” said Illig.

The group’s next event, “Food, Fun and Fellowship,” is on Sept. 7 from 6-7:30 p.m. and open to young adults age 18 and older. This is an opportunity for special needs individuals in the community to connect and make new friends while their families/caregivers have some respite time. Anyone interested must RSVP with contact information to by Sept. 4 and a team member will reach out with more details. The St. Barnabas rectory can be reached at 330-467-7959. ∞

Photo: Members from St. Barnabas parish offer spiritual growth for those with disabilities and their families. Photo courtesy of Anne Illig.