The miracle of St. Joseph available to all


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

“In a way,” the woman says, opening the door to the classroom, “they are perfect little beings.”

Six children cluster around their teacher. They are completely silent, their wheelchairs locked in place, their heads lolling. The teacher casually suctions fluid from a tube in the throat of a little boy on her left. Music. This is their music lesson.

It seems to me an exercise in wishful thinking.

We are at St. Joseph Home in Sharonville. The residents are, in the words of a brochure, children and young adults who have “profound mental and physical disabilities. All are nonverbal and nonambulatory.” Eye-opening experience

The teacher beats a drum.

“You like that, don't you, Mimi?”

No response.

Wishful thinking.

Then I notice that Joey's tongue — his tongue— is moving in time to the music.

The teacher puts her hands over his, and together they make music on the drum. His eyes snap open. They lock with mine. And he gives an achingly beautiful smile.

Mimi nudges a device strapped to the back of her chair that makes a rhythmic noise in response to the music. She is fully engaged. I am simply too unsophisticated to see it. But I am beginning to see, guided gently by Sister Marianne Van Vurst, the administrator of St. Joseph, who has opened the door to me. And my eyes.

After a while, I do not see the wheelchairs. I see little kids. Every shoelace is tied. They are dressed in spotless knit shirts, sweat shirts, corduroy jeans. How much time must it take to dress each child? And to dress each child several times a day? Accidents happen.

There are 48 children who live here. The Sisters of Charity who operate St. Joseph do 30 loads of laundry — 25 pounds per load — every day. Spotless. And fragrant with fabric softener.

As I stroke Mimi's chubby arm, run my fingers across her dimpled hand, I notice something. “Look, Sweetie,” I say, “your nail polish matches your outfit today.”

With some pride, Sister Lynn Heper tells me that it always does. “That's important to Mimi.” Sister Lynn would know that because she carried Mimi, 4, “in my arms” to St. Joseph when the little girl was only 3 weeks old.

Beating the drum, brushing their teeth, making Christmas ornaments, finger painting. Much of this is accomplished with four hands, adult hands over little ones.

“How come the Lord let you stay here?” Sister Charlotte says she asks each time she meets a new child. “And then we try to find out what is unique about this angel.” That's what she calls them. There is an official Hall of Angels with photographs.

She points to Trevor, who was able to pick up a cup and knew how to give a hug.

In his room, Carlos sprawls blissfully, listening to opera. Some of the other kids like country music. Some like rap. The women are vigilant, alert. Whatever these children appear to need, they will try to provide.

Quality of life? These children are not merely cared for. They are treasured. They have, of course, a full range of emotions, including joy. And, I presume, frustration and anger, although I did not see it. But they have no hatred. There's no deceit, no conniving, no malice of any kind. This is not the real world.

The real world is an incomprehensible — if not suspicious — war. It is a Constitutional crisis occasioned by unspeakable selfishness. If you would like some relief from the real world, you may come to St. Joseph. They need people to sew name tags on clothing, to help with field trips, to do laundry, to read to the children.

It's peaceful there. And tangible and generous proof that every human life has value. It is, in a way, the perfect place for an exercise in wishful thinking.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at lpulfer@enquirer.com, call 768-8393, or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and radio commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.