disAbilities Ministry

Brief History

Parishioner Francesca Pellegrino started the ministry in 2003, with help from Peg Kolm.   Originally, the ministry focused on the needs of young people with developmental disabilities.  Over time, it has evolved to include a wide range of programs and activities.  Since 2010, the Ministry has enjoyed the services of a part-time staff person, Emma Voelzke, Special Needs Program Coordinator.  For up-to-date information, visit our Facebook page at Blessed Sacrament Disabilities Ministry.


In 1978, the Bishops of the United States issued a Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (read the full document at www.ncpd.org/views-news-policy/policy/church/bishops/pastoral). In their teaching, the Bishops stress the importance of serving people with disabilities in their dignity as members of the Body of Christ. 

The same Jesus who heard the cry for recognition from the people with disabilities of Judea and Samaria 2,000 years ago calls us, His followers, to embrace our responsibility to our own disabled brothers and sisters in the United States. The Catholic Church pursues its mission by furthering the spiritual, intellectual, moral and physical development of the people it serves. 

The Bishops recognize obstacles to achieving this ideal.  They warn against the danger of unconscious discrimination, even among Catholics.

Prejudice starts with the simple perception of difference, whether that difference is physical or psychological…. Few of us would admit to being prejudiced against people with disabilities. We bear them no ill will and do not knowingly seek to abrogate their rights. Yet people with disabilities are visibly, sometimes bluntly different from the norm, and we react to this difference. Even if we do not look down upon them, we tend all too often to think of them as somehow apart -- not completely one of us.  What individuals with disabilities need, first of all, is acceptance in this difference that can neither be denied nor overlooked.  No acts of charity or justice can be of lasting value unless our actions are informed by a sincere and understanding love that penetrates the wall of strangeness and affirms the common humanity underlying all distinction.

The Bishops urge us to warmly embrace people with disabilities and to invite them to full participation in the life of our parish communities.  “Participation” means not just winning acceptance and getting help, but having the opportunity to serve others as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The leaders and the general membership of the Church must educate themselves to appreciate fully the contribution people with disabilities can make to the Church's spiritual life. They bring with them a special insight into the meaning of life; for they live, more than the rest of us perhaps, in the shadow of the cross. And out of their experience they forge virtues like courage, patience, perseverance, compassion and sensitivity that should serve as an inspiration to all Christians. 

Full participation in the Christian community has another important aspect that must not be overlooked.  When we think of people with disabilities…, we tend automatically to think of doing something for them. We do not reflect that they can do something for us and with us.   [T]hey have the same duty as all members of the community to do the Lord's work in the world, according to their God-given talents and capacity. 

The Bishops’ Pastoral Statement laid the groundwork for the DisAbilities Ministry at Blessed Sacrament.  It still inspires us today.


Nature and Purpose of the DisAbilities Ministry

The disAbilities Ministry at Blessed Sacrament Parish exists to welcome people with disabilities, and to help integrate them as fully as possible into parish life.  The Ministry primarily addresses the spiritual needs of people with disabilities, while considering their physical and social needs as well.

The disAbilities Ministry at Blessed Sacrament Parish is open to deafness and the full spectrum of disabilities (physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, mental illness, blindness).

The Ministry has its own programs, and works as well with other parish organizations and ministries.


Guiding Principles

1. Blessed Sacrament Parish/School is committed to becoming a fully inclusive Catholic community.

2. The disAbilities Ministry at Blessed Sacrament is grounded in faith and in the teachings of the Catholic Church, especially as expressed in the Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities (1978). 

3. While the disAbilities Ministry at Blessed Sacrament serves and is partly guided by people with disabilities and their families, they are not solely responsible for organizing, leading and pursuing it.  The Ministry is a work of the whole parish community. 



The Executive Committee of the disAbilities Ministry is appointed by the Pastor for a three-year term and serves in an advisory capacity as its volunteer staff. 

The Ministry meets quarterly.  It has the following principal responsibilities:

  • Decide the annual goals, priorities and activities of the Ministry, to be carried out by the Executive Committee;
  • Advise the Executive Committee regarding current Ministry activities and their relationship to established goals and priorities; and
  • Generate and discuss ideas for new or adjusted Ministry goals, priorities and activities.

The Executive Committee of the disAbilities Ministry is appointed by the Pastor for a three-year term.  After soliciting a recommendation from the membership, he appoints one of their number as Chair for a three-year term. 

The Executive Committee has seven to ten members, at least three of which are people with disabilities or immediate family members of people with disabilities.

Any sitting member may nominate an individual to fill a vacancy on the Executive Committee.  The Committee will consider the nomination at the meeting next following.  Committee approval of a nomination is subject to the Pastor’s endorsement.

Members of the Executive Committee may choose to educate themselves about a particular type of disability, so as to serve as resource to the Ministry for that disability or as liaison with outside experts and organizations. 

The Pastor will fill the vacancy should a member of the Executive Committee miss two consecutive meetings without excuse.

The Executive Committee meets monthly.  It has the following principal responsibilities:

  • Execute the Ministry’s established goals and priorities through individual and collective action; and
  • Supervise the activities of staff.

The Chair of the Executive Committee will:

  • Convene and lead all meetings;
  • Work with parish clergy and parish staff as necessary between meetings
  • With the staff’s assistance, respond to the questions, requests and concerns of parishioners; and
  • Report directly to the Pastor. 

The Staff of the Ministry will:

  • Staff all meetings of the Executive Committee, preparing agendas, minutes, reports, analyses, correspondence and other documentation as required;
  • Carry out the priorities of the ministry (see below) in a competent and responsible manner within the constraints of a part-time work week;
  • Assist the Chair and members of the Executive Committee as necessary between meetings; and
  • Report directly to the Chair.



Catholic Organizations

1. Bethlehem House

2. Blessed Sacrament Star of the Sea Sodality

3. Catholic Coalition for Special Education (CCSE): www.ccse-maryland.org

4. Kennedy Institute, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Washington

5. Department of Special Needs, Archdiocese of Washington

6. Director of Special Education, Archdiocese of Washington

7. Office of Ministry for Persons with Disabilities, Archdiocese of Washington

8. National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD): www.ncpd.org

9.  NCPD Council on Mental Illness: www.ncpd.org/ministries/mentalillness

10. National Catholic Office for the Deaf: www.ncod.org

11. National Apostolate for Inclusion Ministry: www.nafim.org

12. Young Adult STAY Care, St. Thomas the Apostle Parish


Other Organizations

1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): www.nami.org*

2. Potomac Community Resources: www.pcr-inc.org

3. Special Olympics Maryland: www.somd.org


    Executive Committee and Staff

    David Byers, Chair (301.681.7014; )
    Andrew Fois
    Alison Hughes
    Seamus Hughes
    Margaret (Peg) Kolm
    Andrea McCarthy
    Dean Packard
    Francesca Pellegrino
    Emma Voelzke, Special Needs Coordinator (202.449.3990; )


    Young Catholics with Disabilities Group

    The DisAbilities Ministry includes a Young Catholics with Disabilities Group which offers social events and gatherings for teens and young adults with disabilities in our community.   

    Contacts:  Francesca Pellegrino at or 301.933.8925

                   Peg Kolm at or 301.562.9573


    Special Olympics Basketball

    The Blessed Sacrament DisAbilities Ministry sponsors a Special Olympics basketball team, providing practice facilities throughout the season and an Exhibition Game in the spring.


    National Catholic Partnership on Disability

    The Blessed Sacrament DisAbilities Ministry is proud to associate itself with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD).  Established in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1982, NCPD is the primary resource for practical approaches to including people with disabilities in the everyday life of the Church.  Please learn more at www.ncpd.org.  Working on behalf of the over 14 million Catholics in the United States who live with physical, intellectual, sensory, mental, or emotional disabilities, NCPD provides training, resources, and consultation to a network of directors of disability ministry in dioceses and parishes throughout the country, and to other ministry partners.  Through its programs and services, NCPD promotes and defends the culture of life, upholding the dignity of every person.