Lewisham community celebrates First Communion

Students at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College Lewisham were as excited and nervous as any others the day before their First Holy Communion.

The school held the first Communion Mass in the Archdiocese of Sydney for students with moderate intellectual disabilities and other complex learning needs on 31 May.

Students in years 7 to 9 including Brian Pham, Leo Lewis, and Frederick Amos received the Eucharist for the first time in front of their families, guests and school community. 

The school initiated the Communion program at the request of parents, including Marco Ianni. He said watching his son Anthony, in Year 9, receive the Eucharist for the first time was an emotional moment. 

It means so much to these families to see [students] taking these extra steps in their faith journey

– Katy Smith

“I wanted to make sure he has that spiritual connection,” Mr Ianni said. “Things shouldn’t be different for him. You can’t thank the school enough, or underestimate the value of having schools that fully support children with disabilities and their families.”

While sacraments are available to all Catholic families at a parish level, it can be difficult for priests and other church staff to know how to prepare a child with an intellectual disability.

School staff worked with their parish priest Father Sam to ensure students grasped difficult, non-concrete topics like who and where God is, and the meaning of the wafers eaten as part of the Eucharist. Staff also organised for non-verbal students, including Anthony, to sign or use iPad apps to participate in spoken elements of the sacrament.

Staff practiced with the students to ensure they felt comfortable, and prepared short books that illustrated all the steps they would take to complete communion, which some read hundreds of times.

“It’s been a process over a few years of working out how we can make this happen because we have to be true to the sacrament, yet make it possible for our students to receive it,” said Religious Education Co-ordinator Katy Smith. “We ask ‘what’s the heart of this? What does this mean and how can we make it accessible for our students?’ I wouldn’t say it’s simplifying it, it’s being true to the heart of it and then making it accessible.

“God loves these young people no matter what they do, but it means so much to these families to see them taking these extra steps in their faith journey.”

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