CLINTON – Harry is a 35-year-old client at the Whitten Center, an assisted living center for the mentally and physically disabled run by the State of South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
He is developmentally and physically disabled making it impossible for him to speak, but he still communicates.
In fact it is his unspoken words that brings Mary Zipter, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Lake, back to the center for weekly or biweekly visits to the residents even though it is an hour and a half away.
She sees sorrow in Harry’s eyes as he moans; sometimes he reaches for her hand. His pain is not physical. He is lonely and in need of love.
Zipter would like to see people like Harry happy again and hopes to organize a ministry for the mentally and physically disabled.
She understands firsthand the needs of the disabled because she cares for her 20-year-old son Christopher, who has been disabled since birth due to a complication from a streptococcus B infection.
Because her son is severely hindered physically, Mary must lift him in and out of the wheelchair and help him dress and bathe. The physical, emotional, and spiritual demands are great and that is why she would like to see part of a ministry to the handicapped include fellowship and support for the caregivers.
But just as the demands can be great, caring for the disabled is extremely rewarding, according to Zipter. As for being a mother of someone disabled, Zipter called her son an inspiration.
“He is so innocent and good that I get such peace and joy being his mother,” she said.
The key to success in ministering to the disabled, according to Zipter, is to pray. She prays before the Blessed Sacrament everyday so that she can be unified with Christ in her efforts. Another practical point is to minister in two, something recommended in the Holy Scriptures.
“It is more fulfilling to go with someone,” she said. “My son makes it easier for me because I have someone to share my experience with. When you go in twos, you are less likely to become overwhelmed by the loneliness and hardship.”
Christopher enjoys the visits and has already established a friendship with one of the residents. Also, she brings the Eucharist to two of the eight Catholic residents.
Franciscan Sister Karen Pourby, parochial administrator for Holy Spirit Mission in Laurens and St. Boniface Mission in Joanna, also provides a monthly communion service for residents, but other sacramental needs exist. Two people await their first Holy Communion and some may need confirmation, reconciliation and the anointing of the sick, which would require a priest or bishop to administer.
Although providing creative catechesis would have a positive impact, Zipter feels as though her first call is a ministry of presence, where she talks, listens, or even holds the hand of the patients.
“The need for human interaction is tremendous,” she said. ” The joy they receive from even the littlest attentions is great.”
She hopes that she can be a source of encouragement for others to consider this ministry.
One of Zipter’s greatest dreams is to eventually have a L’Arche community in South Carolina where the disabled and their caregivers could work, play and pray together.
The international organization, originally Catholic, now serves all denominations and has 120 communities in more than 30 countries.
L’Arche is the French word for ark, the symbol of a safe secure place with God; a place of new beginnings, of hope, of diversity.
“The greatest concern of any parent of a disabled child is what will happen to the child when they pass away,” said Zipter who feels the L’Arche community provides a stable environment for the disabled.
A cousin group to L’Arche is called Faith in Light, and it is more of a support group, providing the caregivers with all kinds of resources.
Zipter does not know whether or not the ministry will grow, but she is urged on by the scripture quote, ” The Lord hears the cry of the poor, blessed be the Lord.” She has hope that when people hear about the needs of the disabled, they will respond.
She firmly believes the words from the L’Arche charter, “Whatever their gifts or limitations, people are all bound together in a common humanity.
“Everyone is of unique and sacred value and everyone has the same dignity and the same rights.”
She believes that the physically and mentally disabled have the right to know God’s love and she is taking on this enormous project, one soul at a time.
For more information, please contact Mary Zipter at (803) 951-8445 .