Where do we come from? What are our roots? Can we draw strength from the faith of the sisters and brothers who have gone before us?
We believe the answer to each of these questions is, "Yes." And so we have gathered the facts, photos, memories, fioretti and witnesses of present and past members of Faith and Light USA, in both the East and West Provinces.
We have divided our histories into three sections:
Each of these will include past coordinators, pictures of community members, and historical facts. There will also be personal testimonies of community members, which in themselves are very inspiring.
We invite you to browse, and dig deep and share.
Faith and Light USA West
A community of prayer including people with developmental disabilities, their families and friends
A HISTORY OF FAITH AND LIGHT, U.S.A. By Pearl Cahoon
Faith and Light had its beginning in the United States with a Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes, France, in 1971. Fr. Jim O'Donnell was asked by his friend, Jean Vanier of France, to invite a group of persons with disabilities, parents and friends to join the pilgrimage
with Faith and Light friends in Canada. Among those from Cleveland were Julie Ryan,
and Mary Elizabeth, Virginia O'Brien and Mary Ann, Dorothy Gauchat with Todd and
Colette, Sr. Charles, Marge Gibbons, Marilyn Cunin and Cookie, Richard Kohn and
his mother, Richard Conway and Beth, Rosemary Smith and Judy, Delores McKinley with
Marie, and David McDonald accompanied by his father and two brothers.
In preparation for the pilgrimage, they met at the Chapel in Catholic Center to become acquainted before the journey. Upon arrival in France, they were warmly
greeted by Jean Vanier and Fr. Bill Clark. It was a wonderful spiritual journey
ending with a Fiesta and the exchange of candies and small gifts. After the pilgrimage, Fr. Gillis from Hamilton, Canada invited the pilgrims to a special reunion at. St. Anne's in Hamilton.
In 1973 Bishop James A. Hickey asked Fr. Jim O'Donnell and Fr. Phil Pritt to plan to take persons with disabilities to Rome in 1975 to pilgrimage with Faith
Light members from all over the world. A Committee was formed and Posie O'Connor and Anita McEvoy were asked to coordinate the pilgrimage. I was chosen by the committee to represent the United States at the International preparation meetings in Rome. Meeting the representatives of so many countries, speaking so many different languages was an exhilarating experience. This was in the early days of Faith and Light before they were equipped with transistor radios used for interpreting. Fr. Hvied of Helsingor, Denmark, was assigned to sit beside me and quietly translate while I put his words into shorthand. These meetings were intense and went from early morning into evening sessions. About the third day, everyone broke into
laughter and Fr. Hvied and I stopped. Jean Vanier, being very sensitive as to how exhausting this is for translators, pointed out to the members that he had switched
to English and Fr. Hvied and I were so tired, we hadn't noticed. We joined in the
laughter when we realized we were unconsciously treating the English language as
one that needed translated for me.
Fr. Jim and Fr. Phil Pritt chartered two airplanes without knowing whether anyone would be interested. At departure time there were 410 pilgrims signed up
and others who were disappointed because we had no openings. What better example
of FAITH than to charter two planes and pray that people might be interested.
Fr. Jin began a fund-raising campaign to assist families as well as to
take individuals living in institutions on the pilgrimage. The campaign was
successful. It was heartwarming to know individuals living in institutions would
experience, not only their first airplane ride, but would have a never to be
forgotten spiritual journey. The memories they would take back to the institution would warm and brighten their loneliest hours.
Fr. George Matejka and Fr. Ted Weiss were stationed in Rome at that
time and were very helpful in making arrangements there. The Mass at North
American College was one of the highlights of the Pilgrimage.
The preparations were completed and we arrived in Rome and were greeted
by Jean Vanier who helped with the myriads of luggage. Jean would drop the luggage
to hug a friend he recognized.
0n Sunday the Pilgrims gathered for Mass at St. Peter's and at that
time some handicapped pilgrims presented scrolls to Cardinal Poletti. After
Mass, Pope Paul went among the pilgrims and talked with and blessed many of those
in wheelchairs and showed much compassion for our brothers and sisters with handicaps.
At the Torch Light Vigil in St. Peter's Square, he addressed the pilgrims
from his window:
"You have a special place in the Church, where your simple faith,
your prayer, the appeal for affection in your eyes, your generous
heart, all remind Christians of the only ways which lead to God.
You have a place in society where, thank God, you have many friends
who love you and support you: and remember that they too depend
When our plane landed in Cleveland, Fr. Phil boarded the plane and called
me to the front to tell me my son, Ken, 31, had suffered a fatal heart attack the
night before and he led me to my family who were sadly awaiting my return. I
hesitate to mention this sorrow in my life and yet I feel it is important to share
with you. I loved my son who was a wonderful husband to Elaine and father to
his two little girls, Chris 9 and Connie 5. If anyone told me I could continue
to work in Faith and Light or the Apostolate after losing my son, I would have
said, "impossible". I share this part of my personal experience only to stress
the power of prayer. The 410 pilgrims remained on the plane when Fr. Jim announced
what happened and they prayed for my family. Many cancelled their flights to
other states to come to the funeral home the next evening. lnstead of falling
apart, I had unbelievable strength and peace to do what had to be done.
Through the years I have witnessed other Faith and Light families in times
of serious illness or deaths and I have seen the power of prayer miraculously give
them strength and acceptance -- with acceptance comes Peace! Jean Vanier asked us to return home to form small communities of people. Posie and I with friends would call the people together for a Celebration and
we would have 150 to 200 pilgrims come with their albums and memorabilia -- friend-
ships were forming at this time -- communities were not!
In the meantime we were in contact with International Faith and Light in France and we were disseminating their information to people through the States
to inform and keep them interested in Faith and Light -- seeds were being planted!
In those days the literature came in French and had to be translated before we could type and xerox it for distribution. Today, everything comes in English and is beautifully printed.
In January, 1977, Fr. Krasen, Posie and I went to a meeting in Chicoutimi, Canada with plenty of
warm clothing. The Faith and Light meeting was well represented by people from
Quebec, Newfoundland, Montreal, Toronto and the United States. Irene from Trosley,
France was on hand to represent Jean Vanier. The people in wheelchairs gave us a picture they had drawn with a card attached giving the name, address and birthday of a person with a handicap. This
was to encourage the recipient to respond with a birthday greeting and hopefully
develop a friendship with the person. Neat idea! In 1978 the news came from International that another Pilgrimage to Lourdes was being planned for 1981. What would be different from the Rome Pilgrimage was
that it would not be x number of strangers boarding the plane, but it would be
open only to members of Faith and Light communities. This was the magic that was
needed . .. when this information went out, small communities began to form. Posie
O'Connor with the Oden family were first to call people together at Oden's home,
followed with Julie Ryan, the Murphy's, Virginia O'Brien, LaBianca's, Nose family,
the Thomas' in Akron as well as communities in Wadsworth and Dayton, Ohio on the
North Coast. Not necessarily in that order but in the same time frame . At the same time, communities were beginning to form through the efforts of Sr. Joan Magnani, Fr. Bob Wagner, Barbara Stevens, and, Sr. Pat Murphy in Massachusetts, Kay Maloney, and the Peterson's in Connecticut. Sr. Jeanne d'Arc in Jefferson, Wisconsin started a community at St. Coletta's. Betty Britchgi and Judi Garcia, in California, Sr. Mary Hurley, Wm. Wightman, Adolph Meisch, and Danny and Teres Millar in Washington state, and later Mark and Loretta Miller in Kansas. Again not necessarily in that order but during the formation days.
In January 1978, Terry Gaydosh and her brother, Frank and I represented the United States at the Faith and Light Conference at Brussels, Belgium. Marie-
Helene Mathieu was elected President of Faith and Light, giving Jean Vanier an
opportunity to resign from the administrative work and to be free to travel and
be more present to people. Betty Renaud of Canada was elected Coordinator of
our Region -- the U.S. and Canada. After the Conference, we took a train to Trosley to visit with friends. The L'Arche homes in Trosley are located in a unique village with stone houses and
narrow hi1ly roads and dirt sidewalks. Jean Vanier started l'Arche with just two
men many years ago and the village has hundreds of handicapped people living in
homes through the village. l'Arche homes have spread throughout the world as a
result of one man who believed people who are mentally retarded could live in harmony
and enjoy richer lives by living in community.
I really enjoyed sharing meals at these homes in such a peaceful and
happy atmosphere and then watching everyone "pitch in" for the clean-up. In their
simplicity, this community has truly found the secret of living amicably in
community. That is not to say there are never problems, but when a person has
anxieties, he is never alone ... he has his brothers and sisters to console him,
just as they share their prayer, their meals, their leisure and their lives together.
Posie and I attended a meeting in Cork, Ireland in January L979. Representatives of 17 countries were present and leaders of Faith and Light stressed the importance of coming together in community at least once a month in preparation for a Pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1981.
Through the years a group of people kept meeting in Cleveland as "the Core
Group" at Fr. Jim's home. Kay Maloney and Fr. Cal Gengras from Connecticut; Fr. Bob Wagner from MA;
Sr. Paschal Nurre and Sr. Teresita from Iowa were among the out of state people who
attended the meetings. Clevelanders were Terry Jungquist, Sandy Gross, Brian
Daw, Dorothy Michaels, Ann Daw, Marge Gibbons, Fr. George Matejka, Pearl Cahoon,
Eric Gauchat, Posie 0'Connor and Henry Oden.
In the meantime, Faith and Light was growing and some structure was necessary
A National Coordinator and National team were discerned in 1983.
The National Coordinators have been myself, Cleveland, Ohio; Fr. Cal Gengras,
Hartford, CT; Brian Daw, Cleveland, Ohio; Maureen O'Reilly, Dearborn, Michigan and
Barbara Stevens, Wellsfleet, MA.
I was listed as National Coordinator in the beginning although there were no
communities. My term was spent in communication, writing letters, sending
out materials and talking about Faith and Light to interested groups. That was
followed with 17 years as National Secretary and I'm still doing the National
Fr. Cal Gengras brought his gentleness and was able to interest many people
throughout the states when he talked at a NAMR Conference about Faith and Light.
His term was cut short due to the serious illness of both of his parents.
Brian Daw was discerned Coordinator at a time when his special talents and
expertise were needed. Brian was instrumental in incorporating Faith and Light
April 27,1983; getting a non-profit status; writing a grant proposal to the
American Bishops Catholic Mission; initiating the National Newsletter and dividing
the United States into regions.
Maureen O'Reilly was discerned National Coordinator in 1986 and brought with
her a quiet prayerfulness and the ability to make each person feel important.
Maureen's term wasn't finished when she was discerned International Co-Coordinator,
a tremendous challenge that she manages with her many gifts and her great sense
Barbara Stevens was discerned National Coordinator in 1989. Barbara brought
a deep sensitivity and understanding having a son, Paul, who is mentally retarded.
Her genuine honesty in expressing the love received from her son as well as her
beauty in relating some of the parental problems that arise endeared her to all
Faith and Light members. Barbara was unable to complete her term in order to
care for her husband, Bob.
International Faith and Light suggested the United States split into two
National countries in view of its growth. At the Denver meeting in 1994, members
voted to restructure into two parts -- the East and the West. Official recognition
was given to the United States by the International Council when they met in
Poland, July, 1994.
At the National meeting held in Denver in October, 1994, Sr. Florita Rodman,
was discerned National Coordinator for Faith and Light, USA/EAST. John and Diane Griffin were discerned National Coordinators for Faith and Light, USA/WEST. Eric Gauchat was the first elected National Treasurer, followed by Posie O'Connor, the late Salvatore LaBianca, John O'Reilly and our present National Secretary/Treasurer is Claire Butler. Claire is very capable, efficient and
her pleasant personality is truly a blessing to Faith and Light members.
Our National Chaplains have been Fr. Jim O'Donnell, Fr. Bob Wagner, Fr. Cal
Gengras, Fr. George Matejka, Fr. Jim Boyle. At present, Fr. Giles LeVasseur,
Washington, D.C. is National Chaplain for Faith and Light, USA/East. Deacon Mike
Ciletti, of Colorado Springs, CO, is National Chaplain of Faith and Light, USA/West
Through the years Faith and Light communities have been blessed to have so
many priests, ministers, and Bishops involved in their communities in the various
locales. Each, in his/her own way, has made valuable contributions to the spirituality of Faith and Light through the years.
We must keep in mind that leaders in Faith and Light are chosen through the
discernment process and that involves a lot of prayer. Once again, the power of
prayer has Blessed us with inspirational leaders in Faith and Light.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the gratitude we owe the Diocese of
Cleveland and the Apostolate in those early days. There wasn't any money, dues,
typewriter or grant money. I was able to use the facilities at my work, inform people
through the Apostolate newsletter "Communique", use their equipment to get information out as well as time to travel.
Thanks to Bishop James Hickey, Bishop Anthony Pilla and the Apostolate
Directors, Fr. Phil Pritt and Griff Hogan for the important role they played in
planting seeds of Faith and Light in the United States.
I have touched on some history of Faith and Light, but volumes could be
written about the hundreds of members whose efforts and dedication have contributed to the growth of Faith and Light, USA, as well as the friendships and joys that members have experienced along the way.
It is important to remember the strength and reason for Faith and Light lies
in the small communities who come together in friendship to nurture, support and
celebrate with one another.
The many blessings we have received are evidence that we are being guided by
the Holy Spirit. Let us continue to pray for one another in the International family of Faith and Light.