“It was very emotional,” said Belinda Muscat whose 13-year-old daughter Eliana (Eli) received the sacraments from Fr James McEvoy at St Paul’s Church at The Monastery, Glen Osmond, last month.
Born with a rare genetic disorder called Kabuki syndrome, Eli spent her first 16 months in hospital, was tube-fed until she was four and a half, needed an oxygen pump to breathe and didn’t walk until she was five.
“To walk down the aisle, to say the prayer and swallow the communion host was the culmination of everything she has achieved,” Belinda said.
“The doctors wanted to send her to Melbourne for heart surgery when she was two months; she wasn’t doing well, so she was baptised by Fr Philip Marshall in hospital before she left.
“It wasn’t a big celebration…that’s why this was really special for us.”
Eli’s nonna, Nina Fedele, was her Confirmation sponsor, an obvious choice due to her close bond with her granddaughter.
“They’ve been through thick and thin,” Belinda said.
“In those first months, when it was touch and go, Mum was at her bedside praying; we were all praying for a miracle.
“When Eli came back from her heart surgery and caught a cold, she had only half a lung working and didn’t move for days. Nonna said her special prayers to our over-worked angels, and Eli came back.”
Belinda said the school had set up an excellent sacramental program which helped the children to understand what it meant, and what would happen on the day.
“They prepped them for making the sign of the cross and they practised with unblessed hosts,” she said.
Eli started the program while being home-schooled during COVID but returned to school this term.
A student at St Patrick’s since she was six, Eli loves the school and often wants to go on weekends.
“With all her medical conditions, leaving her in someone else’s care was huge for me,” Belinda said.
“The school is so reassuring not just on the medical side but all of the teachers are so nurturing and loving towards our kids, it’s a lovely community.”
Alison Tanti-Clark said her daughter Sophie, who is 15 and has attended St Patrick’s since the beginning of this year, took the Confirmation name of St Cecelia, the patron saint of music, because of her love of singing and dancing.
She said it was “fantastic” the way the school helped Sophie to navigate the sacramental program at her pace and have “voice and agency in the process”.
“She loved sharing the celebration with our family, her school friends and staff,” Alison said.
“It was important to us for Sophie to receive the sacraments to continue to support her on her faith journey to becoming a full member of the Church and our eucharistic community at Sacred Heart parish, Hindmarsh.”
Alison said it was also significant for Sophie. When she was asked what she was looking forward to in celebrating the sacraments, she said she’d “like the holy bread at Church like Mummy and Daddy and Noah (her brother)”.
Sophie’s teacher, Maddi Ross, was instrumental in guiding her and was among the St Patrick’s staff attending the celebration. Her aunt, Debbie Shine, was her Confirmation sponsor.
“It was a truly beautiful day filled with such joy and love for all of the children,” Alison said
While Sophie had been welcomed and embraced by the Hindmarsh parish, the family was doubtful she would be able to engage in the parish sacramental program.
Her complex sensory profile presents significant challenges with regulating her emotions, especially in new environments with unfamiliar people,” Alison said.
“Having a program tailored to Sophie’s individual needs within the supportive environment of her school has ensured that she has been able to prepare for and celebrate the sacraments in a relevant, appropriate and meaningful way.”
James Bowden, 11, has been at St Patrick’s for four years and his mum Alison said the family always hoped that he would be able to receive the sacraments.
“We weren’t sure how he’d go so we were very relieved when we found out he could do it through St Patrick’s,” Alison said.
The family attends weekly Mass at Christ the King Church, Lockleys, and even though the parish had invited him to join the sacramental program with his younger brother Adam, 10, who attends St Francis School, Alison said she wanted to keep that a special experience for Adam.
“So we made a really big deal of James’ day as well, with afternoon tea and then a big party back at our house…he felt really special,” she explained.
A visual learner with limited speech, James benefited from pasting pictures in a booklet showing the steps involved, learning how to sign ‘sorry’ and practising what would happen in the church. A poster displaying his confirmation saint’s name, Joseph, was placed on the altar and Alison said James was “very proud” of it.
His sponsor was his uncle, Peter Richmond, who also attends Mass with the family at Lockleys.
Alison can’t speak highly enough of St Patrick’s. “It’s the most wonderful school, they are very warm and affectionate, and the learning is really tailored to each child’s disability,” she said.