Hungarian Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

Special Teaching Retarded Get Aid for First Communion

By Edythe Westenhaver
Plain Dealer, APR 4 1964

The little girl was very earnest and her game was steady, yet her speech and expression revealed she was mentally retarded.

"Who is coming into your heart on Sunday?" Sister Mary Fidelia asked her. "Jesus," was the reply.

"And who is Jesus?"

"He is God," again the answer was confident and sure. "He comes into the bread during the mass. The priest will give Him to me."

The child is 10 years old and has an IQ of less than 50. Tomorrow she will make her first communion in St. Emeric Catholic Church.

Church law requires that to receive the eucharist, a child must be able to understand the significance of the act-must be able to distinguish between the Body of Christ and ordinary bread.

Most retarded children are unable to grasp the catechism when it is taught by ordinary methods. For parents faced with daily heart-breaks, there is the added pain of knowing their child cannot experience what is a great day for other Catholic children- a time for special clothes, gifts and parties-and more important, cannot share in the grace which comes from sacrament.

There will be 19 boys and girls in the first communion class tomorrow. All have received intensive specialized instruction from the four sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis who staff St. Emeric School.

Three Years Ago, the Rev. John B. Mundweil, St. Emeric pastor, converted his parish school to one for exceptional children. Most of the Hungarian families, who formerly lived around the church at 1904 W. 22nd Street, had moved away.

(In educational terminology, an "exceptional" child is one who requires special schooling for any reason.)

"I asked myself why these classrooms should be empty when there is such a great need for education for these little ones," Father Mundweil explained.

He hunted until he could find an order of sisters, with special training, for his staff.

St. Emeric Now has 60 pupils aged 6 to 14. there are three classes for "educable" children with IQ's from 50 to 79 and one class for "trainable" children with IQ's below 50.

In the basement, Father Mundweil has started a workshop where mentally handicapped adults do various simple crafts.

The priest, whose previous teaching experience was confined to instructing in philosophy and German in a seminary, supervises. There are two full-time instructors. Next year the workshop will move into larger quarters.

"We want to provide work for the children who finish school if they need it," he explained.

Sister Fidelia, the principal, says the nuns use all of the techniques gained in graduate work at St. Louis and Western Reserve Universities and all of their patience and determination in the religion classes. Pictures dramatizations, songs poems, slides-all are used.

The children also color or draw pictures of the lessons. This often serves as a "test" of their understanding and many also indicate the desire to receive communion. Church law requires that this be expressed by sound or gesture, and sometimes this is not easy to obtain.

There will also be one adult first communion in St. Emeric tomorrow. The school accepts children of all faiths. Among the non-Catholic pupils this year has been a boy whose mother was raised a Catholic.

Last Sunday the father and the child were baptized in their parish church. The parents were remarried in a Catholic ceremony. Tomorrow they will go with their son to the altar.

New Parish Line

St Emeric Parish, organized in 1904 to serve Hungarian Catholics, was given territorial status by Archbishop Edward F. Hoban this week.

Erection of the Riverview housing project on land adjacent to the church caused the decision to assign the extreme southern section of St. Malachi Parish (area south of Franklin Boulevard N.W.) to St. Emeric. The latter will continue to serve Hungarians in the area.