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SPRED the Gospel to those with Special Needs


SS Peter & Paul Parish
Milwaukee WI 53211
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
United States

A proven, effective way for local parish communities to give faith-formation to the 12% of our population with special developmental needs

"SPRED is a blessing to our parish and the other parishes with whom we collaborate. It fits well with what Jesus said about letting the little children come to him." Fr. Michael Michalski, pastor, Saints Peter and Paul, Milwaukee WI

The need it meets

People with developmental disabilities require extra time and attention. Special Religious Education Development (SPRED) provides a way for busy pastors to meet those needs without neglecting their other duties.

Where it came from

SPRED began in 1967 in the Archdiocese of Chicago and is now thriving in over 126 parishes there; it has centers in 28 dioceses worldwide.

The SPRED methodology originated from the method "Vivre" written by Fr. Jean Mesny of Lyon, in the late 1950's and the doctoral work of priest-psychologist Euchariste Paulhas (L' Educabilite Religieuse des Deficients Mentaux). The methodology was refined by the Chicago Diocesan Cathechetical Department. The programme is sound educationally, psychologically as well as theologically.

Each diocese which adopts SPRED is given a basic outline from which a locally based program can evolve, ensuring that both the program and the training are centered within the local church.

How it works

A cluster of parishes works together to provide the program to a variety of age groups. Each parish provides 8 volunteers. These volunteers serve a maximum of six special needs friends of one age group only. A SPRED parish chairperson works to identify all persons with special needs in the parish and coordinates placement with other parishes.

The goal of SPRED is to help the children or adults with disabilities develop:

  • an awareness of God in their lives;
  • an awareness of themselves as persons of dignity who are loved by God;
  • an awareness of themselves as an integral part of the parish community and of the entire Church.
  • meaningful one-on-one relationships within a small group.

To achieve this goal, volunteers undergo specialized training and are equipped to run SPRED meetings in their parish.

  • To start the meeting, a volunteer sponsor invites the special needs friend to paint, work with clay, water or sand, etc.
  • This preparation is followed by symbolic catechesis. Each member tells, or is assisted in telling, stories from everyday life in which the presence of God is discovered. Concrete objects or pictures are used symbolically.
  • One catechist leads the group through a sharing of a liturgical experience and a reading from scripture. They then present a message for each session.
  • The meeting closes with a song accompanied by gestures, silence, and the sharing of food.

The results

Sts.Peter and Paul Parish has offered this program (in conjunction with five other parishes) for six years. Fifty or more people attend the annual parish SPRED picnic. Usually about 75-100 parishioners attend the receptions to welcome the SPRED friends and families after the SPRED Mass.

The entire parish is affected when, three times a year, the friends are integrated into and minister at a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass. Parishioners have commented that the SPRED friends minister with such joy and pride that the liturgy is a spiritual renewal for all participants.

"What I can tell you is that I have an 11 yr old son, Tyler, who was born with Down's Syndrome, is non-verbal and was recently diagnosed with autism. He has participated in the SPRED at Sts. Peter and Paul in Milwaukee for the last 3 yrs. He received the sacrament of First Holy Eucharist last year while participating in SPRED and it was and continues to be a great experience for our whole family. He can communicate that through his smile." Angela C. Mayer Fech, Down Syndrome Association of WI, Inc., Interim Executive Director

The success of this apostolate in MIlwaukee has enabled them to provide a SPRED training center for the surrounding area.

Key elements

  • Collaboration between two or more nearby parishes.
  • Making sure the six SPRED friends in each small group are of the same age group.
  • Up to eight committed volunteers, three of whom might be willing and able to be team leaders.
  • Training and support are available from the SPRED agency (no prior experience is necessary).
  • A suitable meeting space and a regular meeting time.
  • Good communication in the parish to help parishioners understand the program and its goals.

How to implement it

The pastor only needs to gather the first volunteers, put them in touch with SPRED through the Web site, and then give ongoing spiritual support.

More details and logistical information are available at

Rev. Michael Michalski is pastor of SS Peter & Paul Parish.

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