missionary discipleship

Disability Sensitive Ministry

Bishop Quinn's Letter Welcoming People Living with Disabilities available here.

February 2022 Courier, “The Gospel is for Everyone: New Outreach to Those Living with Disabilities”


"Being differently abled does not limit someone from being a “fully-fledged member of the ecclesial community”. Pope Francis reminded us of this when he said that Baptism gives everyone, “without exclusion or discrimination”, the possibility to exclaim: “I am Church!”. #Iamchurch is the slogan of the campaign launched by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life."

The Dicastery launched a campaign in December 2021 with weekly testimonies from people all around the world explaining what it means to be a Christian with disabilities. For more details on the campaign, visit here.

Pope Francis, in an address to all people living with disabilities on Dec 3, 2021, underlined with fervor: Jesus is your friend, the sacraments are for you, and the Gospel is for you!  (Message of the Holy Father for International Day of Persons with Disabilities )

Yet, in the United States, the number of people living with disabilities who do not participate in any religious gathering (Christian or of another religion) is dramatically higher than the rest of the population. Studies are full of stories of families feeling forced to leave a church because of lack of access for their loved one. This is not new, but it is deeply troubling and indicates many of us need to be more proactive in our invitation, welcome, and inclusion within our parishes. As a Church on mission, we are called to worship and pray together. We are called to follow Jesus together. We are called to learn from each other. We are called to affirm human dignity together.

Priests, deacons, consecrated, and lay ecclesial ministers are all encouraged to take a fresh look at how each can improve our service and accompaniment with those people living with disabilities. This is not a small number--it is 19% of the U.S. population! And the disabilities can be physical, intellectual, mental, or social. They can be obvious or hidden. They can be severe or mild. They can be permanent or temporary. They can be seen as challenges or as gifts. But within every person living with a disability, there is one common core: there is a person who is loved by God and called to follow him. The first move is always to assume that truth and be “person-first” in your language: talk to the person directly and by name.

One of the rallying cries of the disability rights movement is “nothing about us without us.” If there are challenges with faith formation, sacramental preparation, and worship participation--in fact, even if there are not obvious challenges--the right first move is to proactively talk to that person (or his or her parents/caregiver if appropriate) and ask “How can we help you better participate? Do you have suggestions for us?” Not all suggestions can adopted, but many can, and it would be the beginning of a helpful conversation to all involved.

Within our diocese, we are working to create an ASL interpreted Mass available in person and online, and many parishes own adaptive hearing equipment. Numerous faith formation programs and sacramental preparation programs adapt their offerings in different ways, depending on the needs of the child or adult. Some parishes offer Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as a children’s catechesis friendly to those with many disabilities. Other parishes train their hospitality ministers to extend welcome in particular ways to those seeking to participate in the Mass. Some parishes have had a particular outreach to the mentally ill. These are all good but we are called to be deliberate and proactive in our welcome to people with disabilities. If you have questions about how to improve, you are encouraged to contact us:

Faith Formation and Youth Ministry: Dana Petricka at dpetricka@dowr.org 

Discipleship, Inclusion, and Physical Access: Susan Windley-Daoust at swindley@dowr.org 

Divine Worship and Sacramental Life: Fr. Patrick Arens at parens@dowr.org

Finally, the Diocese of Winona-Rochester is affiliated with the National Catholic Partnership for Disability, which has many, many resources for parishes and schools wishing to improve the invitation and inclusion of people with disabilities in parish life. A few of the many options may be found below:


Physical Access and Participation Support:


Liturgy, Worship, Sacramental Life:


Faith Formation and Catholic Schools:


Pastoral Care and Societal Support:


Spanish-language Resources:

Finally, much of the NCPD website is available in Spanish here.