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History of Program
The Religious Education program for persons with disabilities was established in the Watertown area in 1971. When the program began it was the first of its kind in the diocese. The program was initiated under the leadership of Mr. Thomas Foley, the Religious Education Coordinator, along with Fr. Pierre Aubin, MSC, Priest Director; Mother Marie Assumpta, SSJ, Superior General of the Sisters of St. Joseph; and the program coordinator, Sr. Mary Emily LaRue, SSJ.

The documents of the Second Vatican Council state that we have a serious obligation to minister to the needs of all. In the "Declaration on Christian Education we find, "Since every Christian has become a new creation by rebirth from water and the Holy Spirit, so that he may be called by God what he truly is, a child of God, he is entitled to a Christian education." Since Vatican II, greater efforts have been made to include persons with disabilities into total parish life.

The bishops of the United States followed through with the wishes of the Council with the document, To Teach As Jesus Did. In it we find the statement, "The right of the handicapped to receive religious education adapted to their specific needs also challenges the ingenuity and commitment of the Catholic community."

The Bishop of Ogdensburg, Stanislaus J. Brzana was a strong supporter of religious education for all. In January 1975 he approved the Guidelines for Ministry to the Handicapped, prepared by the Diocesan Religious Education Office. These guidelines formed the basis for Religious Education programs including the Religious Education program for people with disabilities in the city of Watertown.

Under the leadership of Mr. Daniel Ryan, Religious Education Coordinator for the four city parishes, and the Watertown Catechetical Board with its president, Fr. James Remigio, MSC, efforts were made in the fall of 1977 to broaden the scope of the program. More definite goals and curriculum were established and Sr. Mary Maurice Black, SSJ was appointed the principal of the program. Sister had recently completed her master's work in special education and had also taken courses in special religious instruction. In September 1977, in addition to the program for children and adolescents which had begun in 1971, an interdenominational program for residents of the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center was instituted. This was welcomed by the local Association for Retarded Children as this organization had not sufficiently provided for the religious needs of the adult residents. Under Mr. Dan Ryan, the Sisters of St. Joseph worked in this program along with clergymen and lay people from the Catholic and non Catholic denominations. Currently the program is available to any person with disabilities living in the area.

Today there are presently one hundred and thirty participants involved in the program as well as, nineteen volunteer catechists. With the support of the four Catholic parishes and over two hundred and eighty benefactors we are able to continue to prepare students for the reception of the Sacraments, offer weekly prayer sessions and scripture studies, and engage the participants of the program in an active faith community.
Watertown Catechetical Board
Religious Education for People with Disabilities
1 Sterling Place
Watertown, NY 13601