Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

Monthly Archives: April 2018

‘DePaul School has meant so much to us’

The prenatal visits gave no sign of problems. But soon after Luke Worgul was born, doctors came back with the diagnosis: Luke had moderate hearing loss. At two months old, he was fitted with a hearing aid.

Today, thanks in part to a new early intervention effort at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech, Luke is a happy, well-adjusted two-year-old. His parents, John and Kristen Worgul of Squirrel Hill, couldn’t be happier.

“Luke is doing fantastic,” Kristen said. “DePaul School has meant so much to us and all the families going through this, giving kids the best outcomes possible.”

DePaul School, in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, was able to assist the Worguls and other parents thanks to a grant from Our Campaign for The Church Alive! The Baby and Parent Program at DePaul is supported by donors’ sacrificial gifts.

“We’re now able to help children as soon as they are diagnosed with hearing loss,” said Ruth Auld, executive director of DePaul School. “We started this group to get parents connected, and to know they’re not alone.”

“The goal is to have fun, socialize and learn,” said Michelle Parfitt, director of early intervention services. “It’s a key time to develop listening and spoken language skills.”

Audrey Craig was enrolled about three years ago in DePaul’s toddler program. Like 70 percent of their students, she had received a cochlear implant—a small electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain.

Now, at age five, Audrey is ready to follow her sister Kelly, 9, from DePaul into the Mohawk Area School District in Lawrence County. Parents Justin and Tracy Craig, like the Worguls, are hopeful about the future.

“At first we were nervous, with the girls going to school at such a young age, but we’re very pleased,” Tracy said. “We know they will be able to do whatever they want in life, and we’re excited for this next step for Audrey.”

John Sopczynski, Jr. can provide parents with a glimpse what is possible. He received cochlear implants as a toddler and learned to listen and speak at DePaul until he was mainstreamed at St. Joan of Arc and St. Louise de Marillac schools in the South Hills.

He’s now earned an electrical engineering degree at Penn State University and is employed by Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin. He’s also working toward a master’s of science in electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and a graduate certificate in nuclear engineering.

“The teachers at DePaul are like an extended family to me,” Sopczynski said. “They prepared me well for school and the workforce, and continue to play a big role in my life.”

Founded in 1908 by the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, DePaul is the only listening and spoken language school in the tri-state region for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The goal has remained the same—to prepare each child for success in the hearing and speaking world.

“The education and medical technology sectors are changing rapidly,” Auld said. “Cochlear surgery implants can now be performed at 12 months of age.

“Parents often walk through our doors feeling scared, many going through a grieving process. But they are leaving with smiles, knowing that nothing can hold their children back,” she said.

Kristen Worgul expressed her gratitude to supporters of the Church Alive! campaign.

“Thank you to the donors,” she said. “It means so much to us and all of the families going through these challenges to have the extra support.”

Welcome Home

“I returned to church last September after stepping away about five years ago,” April said. “My pastor reminded me how involved I used to be in my faith, and he said, ‘I can see you returning.’ He also told me that there’s no cost now for an annulment.

“It took me nine months to decide to come back,” she added. “But I know in my heart that my late parents would be happy. They are looking down and proud that I’m doing this.”

The number of marriage annulment inquiries and cases in the diocese have increased significantly since 2015 when fees were eliminated. Bishop David Zubik told the board of Our Campaign for The Church Alive! that cost was an obstacle for many petitioners, and the board approved a grant enabling the fees to be waived.

It took Cathleen several years to decide to seek an annulment. Raising her children in the faith was a major motivation.

“I knew I needed to do it, but it’s been a lot more emotional than I thought it would be,” Cathleen said. “It was hard to describe my life. I started to remember the things I didn’t want to recall.”

Divorced Catholics who wish to remarry in the church need an official finding by a church tribunal that their first marriage, although entered in good faith, was not spiritually binding. Some couples preparing for marriage in the church don’t understand the sacramental nature of matrimony and that God should be a part of their union.

An annulment opens the door to full participation in the sacramental life.

“There are Catholic marriages that don’t work, and a number of people who are converting to the faith need to go through the annulment process first,” said Jay Conzemius, moderator of the diocesan Office for the Tribunal. “Eliminating the fees and streamlining the process has brought more people forward.”

Pope Francis has made clear that marriage is indissoluble and should be seen as a gift. But he also stressed that not all failed marriages or remarriages are the same, and urged pastors to work with divorced parishioners to repair their relationship with the church. The Holy Father simplified annulment procedures so that decisions may be reached in a timely matter.

Conzemius has been presenting a series of well-attended annulment workshops across the diocese. Topics include why the church reviews marriages, the difference between a civil divorce and a church annulment, and changes to the process. The workshops conclude 7 p.m. Tues., March 13, at St. Ann Parish in Waynesburg.

“The annulment process has a huge impact on people,” Conzemius said. “They started their marriage as a lifetime commitment and for whatever reason it just didn’t succeed. Hopefully this helps them make some sense of what happened.”

“Getting an annulment was well worth it,” Cathleen said. “As a divorced person, I didn’t feel as welcome in the church.”

“I feel like a kid again,” April said, “being with people who make me feel good and welcome me into the church.”

For more information, contact the Tribunal Office at 412-456-3033 or email

New ways of serving God’s people

After returning from an innovative diocesan course about spiritual gifts and roles, a group of parish staff members decided to put into action what they had learned about leadership for effective ministry.

The staffers were assigned tasks to plan an upcoming parish talk. One who was good at organizing asked a co-worker to recruit a speaker.  Another leader was put in charge of food and drinks. A fourth staff member lined up greeters. Another handled publicity.

The presentation at St. James the Apostle Parish in Pulaski was well-attended and warmly received. And something clicked for those five leaders who are among 145 attendees of the first Lay Ecclesial Minister Leadership & Evangelization Collaborative, a state of the art effort designed to change how church leaders approach ministry.

Lay ecclesial ministers include catechetical administrators, pastoral associates, youth ministry leaders, college campus ministers, school principals, directors of music ministry, parish business managers, social ministers, and pastoral care ministers.

“Everyone has their unique, God-given abilities to help make the community work well,” said Vicki Pavalko, director of religious education at St. James. “Before, we used to volunteer for different tasks. This time we asked, ‘who is best in a particular role?’”

A Deacon Leadership & Evangelization Collaborative is also underway, with 69 participants, and a Priests Collaborative was held in 2017. The training is supported by sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!

“This is what it means to be the body of Christ,” said Father Joe Mele, episcopal vicar for leadership development and evangelization in the diocese, “equipping each team member to do what she or he is called to do by Christ.”

Topics covered by the collaboratives include strength-based leadership, building bridges, leading in transition, making disciples, raising up new leaders, and the universal call to holiness.

“There’s a real openness to the ideas they’re learning,” said Dr. Michel Therrien, president of the diocesan Institute for Pastoral Leadership. “They’re seeing the vision and opportunity to lead in a different way.

“When people know what their own strengths are, they can help others step up with their God-given strengths,” Therrien said. “Every member of the body of Christ has an indispensable role to play.”

Deacon Bill Palamara of St. Athanasius Parish in West View said deacons are well-positioned to help build vibrant parishes as part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative.

“As our parishes come together, some people will feel left behind and we’ll be called upon to help lift them up,” Deacon Palamara said. “Deacons serving in parishes can be a stabilizing force.”

Deacons are ordained ministers with a special calling to do works of charity and service, proclaim the word of God, and assist in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church. Bishop Zubik assigns deacons to specific ministries in parishes or institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, jails and prisons.

Clergy and lay leaders will be forging teams in new parishes, providing pastoral care for people who are displaced, upset or confused by the changes, and reaching out to those who have drifted from the faith or never encountered the Lord in a meaningful way. Leaders will need integrated knowledge, skills and attitudes in a vibrant relationship with Christ, self and others.

“The change that’s ahead is a little scary, but it’s also exciting,” Pavalko said. “I have great hope that more people will really participate in the faith.”

Registrations are being accepted for a second lay ecclesial ministers collaborative that begins June 9. Call 412-456-3110 for more information.