On Dec. 2, 1993 We were given the best gift ever and one full of surprises – The first surprise started at 8:00 in the morning when my wife who was expecting our 11th child told me that the baby was coming - and I mean coming Now – Megan Marie Ryan was born 5 minutes later in our bedroom under my dutiful delivery skills. The next surprise was that Megan had Down Syndrome.
In the emergency squad on our way to Mt. Carmel East Hospital that morning we began the most unexpected and exciting journey that we could have ever imagined.
A Catholic education
We dealt with all the things that new parents of a child with special needs have thrown at them – health concerns, social concerns, and you name it, but our ultimate concern was what kind of education Megan would be able to have and was there a possibility of a Catholic Education for her – as was so important for us with her 10 older siblings. We fretted over this for years – legal pads of our thoughts that if they said this, we would say this – finally we just handed it over to God and called St. Catharine for an appointment with Margaret Crabtree, the principal at the time. We were greeted with “We have been waiting for you”! How about that for a Catholic welcome!
I was the guy that took some time to get it
Margaret Crabtree also made the comment – “Megan will give more to us than we will ever be able to give to her!” Well, the Archie Bunker that I am I did not get this at all - I was smart enough not to question the principal, but really didn’t get it. You know it is a funny thing about people and special needs – some people get it right away, some people take some time but eventually get it, and some people never get it! I was the guy that took some time to get it!
As time went on we began having more and more meetings with the principal, teachers, and intervention specialist. It was very humbling and we were kept being told “We do this with a number of families”. Again, we just thought they were saying that to make us feel good. – I eventually got it – St. Catharine’s actually was doing this with many other families. Here we are with our 11th child at the same school, having been very active parents – school board, coaching, volunteer in everything – and had no clue as to what the school was doing with special needs students. In fact, I can remember telling my wife one time that I did not think anyone at St. Catharine got anything but A’s and B’s.
When successes are difficult to achieve
In hindsight it is easy to realize why we didn’t know what was going on in the world of special needs - learning disabilities are really a private life of struggles and successes that are shared between students, their teachers, and their parents. It is a little easier to share with others if your child is reading above their grade level, or excels in Math, or is an excellent writer. There are many students whose successes are difficult to achieve – whose successes come in very small steps over a very long period of time. When families are experiencing these struggles, it is very normal to keep them private and to think that you may be all alone.
When we finally realized what great things were going on so privately and unnoticed – and unfunded- we realized that this was a story had to be told. We had told the school that we knew there would be extra costs with Megan and that we would help with them. At this point we knew that this was way more than a Megan thing – Hence SPICE – Special People In Catholic Education.
The Mission is Threefold:
-To raise awareness of Special Needs
-To raise funds to help meet the costs of serving students with special needs
- And to serve as a model to other schools both within and beyond the Diocese
We are part of the same body
To raise awareness of Special needs – Let me tell you – they do exist and each and every one of us has some special need. I have DIPS (Deficiency In Public Speaking). We are all unique, each of us has different learning styles, and each of us is as important as the next to our Faith Community. When Jesus said “let the little ones come to me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” He did not say let those with blonde hair or blue eyes, or those with an IQ over 120, or those with athletic ability. Another favorite scripture verse of mine is “We are all different, yet parts of the same body”. Each and every one of us is different, yet we are each an integral part of our community.
And you know what? Our community is better off for it. Our Catholic schools and parishes are doing a great job of serving all members of their families. Some better than others, but in general, they are doing a great job. This is the story that needs to be told.
SPICE helps raise funds to meet special needs. The reality is that there is never enough money– even in the public sector. SPICE, however, has made a difference in the lives of 1000’s of families. Since it's inception 17 years ago, St. Catharine SPICE has raised over $1.2 million dollars. We provide over $70,000 per year to the school and parish. These funds are used for speech and occupational therapists, classroom aides, individual student tutors, classroom equipment and manipulatives, and teacher in services. SPICE does not set curriculum or hire personnel. We are not the experts. SPICE raises funds to be used where the pastor and principal think there is the most need. For instance, St. Catharine tests every incoming kindergarten student for speech. It would take maybe a year and a half to have everyone tested. With SPICE funds, incoming students are able to be tested in a shorter time period, and if therapy is needed, time is not wasted and it can be started sooner.
For the last 4 years, we have helped with the cost of an interpreter for a St. Catharine parishioner who is deaf and attended Bishop Hartley High School. She became the captain of Hartley’s soccer team and is now a freshman at Capital University.
SPICE serves as a model to other parishes in the diocese and beyond. There are now over 12 parishes in the diocese that have their own SPICE program. We have also worked with parishes in Dayton, St. Louis, Huston, Texas, Florida, and Kentucky.
We are not experts
My wife keeps reminding me that I am not an educator, nor an expert in special needs. Of course, she is always right--I am not an expert in much--but one thing I do know—there are many families that desperately want a Catholic Education for their child with special needs. We wanted this years ago and God continuously put great people in our lives that kept us moving forward.
I started this talk telling you that the emergency squad that took Megan to Mt. Carmel East was that start of a great journey for us. We had no road map, just a lot of willingness by a lot of great people that God has put in our lives. Our daughter Megan graduated from St. Catharine School, Bishop Hartley High School and last May from a 4-year transitional program at THE Ohio State University. Again, God has been good to Megan and the Ryan family.
However, the success of SPICE is not measured by one person or the number of dollars raised, but rather by the fact that a culture now exists where special needs can be recognized and served Catholic schools, and that those families with someone with special needs know they are not alone.
So yes, we have much to be thankful for:
To Jesus Christ that teaches us that we are all different yet parts of the same family
To great leadership in our parishes and schools
And last but certainly not least - to our families- who are living proof that we are all different, yet parts of the same family. You know children are like snowflakes – no two alike. But we love them all equally and would do whatever it takes for any of them.