Billy Hudson was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. His mom, Bridget, says attending Masses can be a challenge for those with special needs like Billy.

“They don’t like to stay in one place. Their mind does, I mean, each individual it’s different, but all of a sudden, he might hear something at the Mass and all of a sudden, he’s thinking about something totally different now because that reminded him of something else and sometimes he gets really excited and he’ll want to share with me exactly what he’s thinking,” she said.

Bridget said the amount of time Masses take up can also be challenging. That’s why having an inclusive Mass, with dimmer lights, a shorter duration and softer music, is helpful. In fact, the Hudson’s aren’t parishioners at St. Bernadette’s, but they do come specifically for the holiday inclusive Masses held here.

“We’re always so stressed that people are judging and watching everything that’s happening,” Bridget said. “When they’re younger, especially when he was younger, it was a lot tougher. If there were noises and things like that, we were always paranoid.”

St. Bernadette Church Faith Formation Director Sharon Urbaniak organized the first inclusive Easter Mass eight years ago.

“We invited Brielle Stewart and her mom, Toby. Brielle is now 14 years old with non-verbal autism and her mother approached our open doors committee asking if we could have a special Mass,” Urbaniak said.

The inclusive Masses for both Christmas and Easter have grown over time. Sharon said it’s an honor that people found a home at St. Bernadette’s. She knows how difficult it can be for people with special needs to attend church — her brother had kidney disease.

“He was weak and so we had to carry him to church and somebody said to my parents, ‘what’s he doing here, he should be in an institution,’” Urbaniak said. “So as little girl I guess that always sat in my heart to think ‘this is God’s house. Everybody should be welcome.’”

Urbaniak said this is the only Catholic church in the area that she knows of that has inclusive Masses.

“We need to intentionally do things to include and welcome families of people with disabilities,” she said.

She says there’s still more work to do on that front. Sharon says up next on her list is to increase spiritual offerings for those with special needs.