VANCOUVER—A catechetics program for children with special needs will continue to run even after its founding sisters move away from the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

Vanspec, founded by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in 1981, is an alternative to PREP and RCIA unique for its one-on-one classes for people with special needs. The sisters announced in August they are moving out of Vancouver due to declining numbers, but the archdiocese has hired a lay woman to run the ministry.

“I just want to continue the work that has been done starting with the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence,” said Lucy Rodjito, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Vancouver and the new Vanspec coordinator.

“It’s a good ministry and everybody has the opportunity to receive the sacraments, including those with special needs.”

It’s a good ministry and everybody has the opportunity to receive the sacraments, including those with special needs.
Lucy Rodjito

Rodjito first heard about the ministry through Sister Rhonda Brown, DSMP. She visited the centre to learn more about Vanspec, with the thought of encouraging young adults in her Indonesian Catholic Community to volunteer there. She didn’t realize she’d come to love it and volunteer herself.

“It’s a joy to see them understand even just a little thing that’s been explained to them, and to see the way they respond to the teacher and teaching materials,” she said.

At the end of a class, she said, Vanspec students give presentations on what they learned that day, using crafts or stories. Watching them brought Rodjito a lot of joy because “they understood a little more about Jesus that evening.”

Rodjito began volunteering in January and became a teacher’s assistant. When she realized Vanspec didn’t have a website, she and the archdiocesan communications office created one. But as Rodjito got more and more involved in the ministry, she learned that Sister Brown and the other Daughters of St. Mary of Providence were about to move away.

“It is very shocking and very sad to see them leave,” said Rodjito. Her goal is to continue their work as classes begin Oct. 14. As Vanspec coordinator, she is tasked with hiring enough teachers and assistants, making sure lesson plans are prepared, and seeing that all three teaching centres are ready to go.

Rodjito meets with Clay Imoo, associate director of the Archdiocese of Vancouver's Ministries and Outreach Office. (Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

Sister Brown said Rodjito is a “very capable and competent” candidate for the role.

“This is a program that was very dear to the many sisters who worked for Vanspec, and we are very pleased to know that the program will continue even now that we have had to leave Vancouver.”

Sister Brown said Vanspec was born when a mother approached Archbishop James Carney and asked him for catechism for her son, who had severe autism.

“At the time, Catholic schools and PREP programs were not equipped to serve children with special needs,” said Sister Brown.

Auxiliary Bishop Lawrence Sabatini suggested the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence could fill the gap. The sisters were invited to the Archdiocese of Vancouver to create a catechetics program for the children like the autistic boy who were missing out on learning the truths of their faith.

We are very pleased to know the program will continue even now that we have had to leave Vancouver.
Sister Rhonda Brown, DSMP

The sisters arrived in November of 1981 and officially launched Vanspec the following school year. The program currently runs three centres (in Delta, Surrey, and Vancouver) and has 45 students, 50 volunteers, and 227 alumni. It runs one-on-one catechism classes as well as a summer camp.

As incoming coordinator, Rodjito hopes to see more Vanspec centres open in the future.

“I want Vanspec to be known,” she said. “Hopefully parishes will be open to welcome Vanspec as part of their PREP program and welcome any special needs students that might come forward and want to have first Communion, confirmation, or first confessions. They should have the opportunity, the same as other children.”

Vanspec will hold a dinner and dance fundraiser at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Hall Nov. 4. Proceeds will go toward their annual summer camp.