Larry Kiley was recently hired as the Coordinator of the Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, succeeding Ginny Duncan, who recently retired after serving in that role since the office was instituted a decade ago.
Mr. Kiley, a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Rohrerstown, wants to build upon the momentum established by his predecessor and those who serve in the Parish Advocacy Program, and is bringing his own experience to the table as well.
“For most of my life, I have had a personal passion for people with disabilities, and for older adults,” Mr. Kiley told The Catholic Witness.
For the first 25 years of his life, he was a witness to his mother’s selfless care for his older sister, Lisa, who depended on round-the-clock care from a brain injury that rendered her completely disabled. When Lisa was born, doctors expected to her live only a few days; she was 27 years old when she died.
“Being in that environment, seeing my mother’s selfless love, and also being very close to my sister developed in me a passion and an eye toward helping those who may need our help,” Mr. Kiley reflected.
He and his wife, Katie, have two daughters: Anna, 8, and Julia, 6, who has Down Syndrome.
“I have a lot of personal experience with people with disabilities, and I can particularly empathize with families who have similar situations,” said Mr. Kiley, who retired this past summer from a 25-year-career with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Established in 2007, the Diocesan Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities serves and supports people with disabilities and their families and parishes in working toward their full participation in all aspects of the life the Church.
The office is a source for reference material, guidelines and training programs, and hosts annual events such as Camp Kirchenwald for adults with intellectual disabilities, and the diocesan Mass celebrating the gifts of people with disabilities.
A cornerstone of the office’s ministry is its Parish Advocacy Program, an initiative designed to enable parishes to better respond to the gifts and needs of parishioners with disabilities.
Selected by the individual pastors, parish advocates help pastors assist parishioners with disabilities to become full participants in the life of the Church – spiritually, physically and socially.
The diocese’s Parish Advocacy Program was created in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’1978 Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities, which challenges the Church to create an environment that fully recognizes the dignity, rights and potential of all people.
In his role as Coordinator of the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, Mr. Kiley says that a robust Parish Advocacy Program is a main component of the success of the ministry.
“I consider myself to be the parish advocates’ advocate,” he said. “This ministry is really focused on the parish level. It has to start at the doors of the church.”
Mr. Kiley lauded the efforts of Mrs. Duncan and the advocates who have collaborated with the Office of Ministry with Disabilities, especially regarding the creation and distribution of resources, reference material and training programs.
He said his efforts now are to listen to the challenges and the successes of people with disabilities, and receive feedback from the parishes regarding their efforts.
“I’d really like our advocates to remain actively engaged with people with disabilities and families in our parishes,” he said. “My goal is to create awareness and foster good communication throughout.”
As such, he has created a list of five A’s on which to focus efforts:
- Awareness – Promote visibility of the needs and gifts of all parishioners with disabilities
- Attitude – Foster a welcoming and charitable parish climate for all parishioners with disabilities
- Action – Collaboratively develop plans to eliminate barriers and elevate gifts and talents of all parishioners with disabilities
- Assessment – Examine actions taken to evaluate success and devise improvements
- Adoration/Prayer – Integrate prayer into all efforts and activities
“In my mind’s eye, I have an image of my work being about pushing down while also lifting up. We want to push down and eliminate the barriers that prevent the full participation of persons with disabilities, whether those barriers are physical or other. The lifting up is the elevation of the person with disabilities and celebrating their gifts and talents,” Mr. Kiley said.
“Our efforts are not just about having people with disabilities come to Mass, it’s about welcoming them to serve at Mass, being active in the parish, receiving the sacraments, participating in committees, attending classes and social functions, etc. It’s about their full integration & well-being,” he said. I think our Bishops have summed this up perfectly, stating “There can be no separate Church for people with disabilities. We are one flock that serves a single shepherd.”
(Find resources on disabilities ministry, learn more about the Parish Advocacy Program, and read the U.S. Bishop’s 1978 pastoral statement online at www.hbgdiocese.org/disabilities-ministeries/)
(To reach out to Larry Kiley, Coordinator, call 717-657-4804, ext. 322, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness