Home Opinion Maureen Pratt: ‘Special Saints’ open world to those with special needs

Maureen Pratt: ‘Special Saints’ open world to those with special needs

Maureen Pratt
Maureen Pratt is a Los Angeles-based author. (CNS photo)

Like many of us, when Megan Gannon lifts a concern in prayer, she turns to Mary, the mother of Jesus, first.

“I’m a big believer in the whole St. Louis de Montfort idea of ‘to Jesus through Mary,'” said Gannon, “and that all of God’s graces come to us through Mary. I’ve always been attracted to this type of spirituality.”

But, she has another, less familiar, go-to saint: Blessed Herman of Reichenau. The 11th-century German Benedictine monk was born with cerebral palsy and spina bifida, yet despite his disabilities made significant contributions to science, theology, poetry and music (he composed the hymn “Alma Redemptoris Mater,” or “Sweet Mother of the Redeemer”).

“I really identify with Blessed Herman,” said Gannon, who also was born with cerebral palsy. “I like how much he was able to accomplish in his life, even though he had multiple disabilities. People who know me will say that I’m a very determined person and have a wide range of interests. I’m glad to see the same traits in Herman.”

Cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, affects everyone who has it differently.

“In my case, my mind works fine,” Gannon, a college graduate, said, “but (cerebral palsy) affects all my motor skills, as well as my speech. My muscles can be very tight and spastic, but I also have lots of extra movements. I’m able to drive my power wheelchair, but basically need a lot of assistance with all aspects of daily life. Also, because I don’t have control over my arms/hands to use the keyboard and mouse, I use a Tobii Dynavox eye gaze system.”

The technology uses a camera to track Gannon’s eyes as she looks at an onscreen keyboard to select the letters she wants to type, and allows her to “click on” something on the screen by holding her gaze on it for a certain amount of time, and includes a speech output capability.

Through her communication system, she engages actively with people in her parish. She participates in a Catholic women’s study group, providing written comments for the discussion, and serves as the parish webmaster.

And then there is Blessed Herman.

“When I was young, saints were sort of like super heroes who did amazing things, but I couldn’t really identify with them on a personal level,” said Gannon.

Several years ago, after searching but not finding a book on saints with disabilities, Gannon began to look for the saints online. Finding several, the idea for a book formed.

“I never imagined that I would write a book. But I just couldn’t get this out of my head,” she said. “I figured if I hadn’t heard of them (saints with disabilities), others probably hadn’t either, and I began to think that these saints could be both an inspiration and role models for many others with various disabilities.”

In 2014, Gannon self-published “Special Saints for Special People.” Included with Blessed Herman are eight other saints who lived with disabilities ranging from blindness to diabetes. She gives programs on her book in schools, and finds it provides a way for adults to approach her, too.

“I’ve met lots of people who wouldn’t have spoken to me otherwise,” said Gannon, “just because they wouldn’t know what to say.”

Where disability can be a divider, it is a blessing to be able to recall the saints who have gone before us — Blessed Herman from the 11th century, or another from another time — who give companionship for the journey and inspiration for the soul.

Connecting then and now, yesterday and today, striving to live in faith all the way to heaven.

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Pratt’s website is www.maureenpratt.com.