Thursday, November 20, 2014

(147) The Great Dignity and Value of the Developmentally, Mentally, and Physically Disabled: The Funeral of Theresa Pappas With the Dignity She Deserved........81 years institutionalized, her life had meaning.


A work crew of GDC residents and staff that often cleans up the grounds  
at parks and cemeteries to give something back to the community.
"Disabled does not mean disabled."  Because of privacy laws, GDC could
 not release a photo of Theresa.
          Theresa Pappas died on October 30 at the age of 88 after 59 years at the Gallipolis Developmental Center ( in Gallipolis in southeastern Ohio.  She died without family because she outlived them all.  She was actually institutionalized since the age of seven, a total of 81 years.  No one knew of her death except the GDC residents and staff and anybody who might notice her name in the obituary section of the local newspaper.  The Gallipolis Development Center was a Civil War hospital and in the years that followed treated mainly epileptics and later the developmentally and mentally disabled with special needs.  At its peak GDC had about 2,700 residents, but in the last ten years the State of Ohio like other states has elected to de-institutionalize and put the residents into group homes in their original communities.  Thus the number at GDC has dwindled down to 88.

            Since Theresa was baptized Catholic according to GDC records, the Administration asked Fr. Thomas Hamm to conduct a service at the Cremeens Funeral Home and bury her at the St. Louis Church Cemetery.  But then we thought:  “Is that all?”  According to her great dignity as a human being created in the image and likeness of God and for whom Christ suffered and died, Theresa deserved much more than that.  Thus a family yielded its Mass intention for Monday November 3, the day of her internment and Fr. Tom with Fr. Tim Davison, concelebrated a memorial Mass to honor Theresa’s life and pray for the repose of her soul.  Father began by announcing the Mass intention.  He designated three scripture readings and a Gospel suitable for a funeral.  His homily was special for Theresa as were several beautiful hymns that we sang with Martha Edelmann, our choir director, at the piano.
Theresa Pappas
            Allie Clark, who happened to be the lector at the Mass, exclaimed with great surprise:  “I knew her while a nurse at GDC in the 1990s!”  We also attended the funeral service and burial on a crisp but beautiful, sunny day.  GDC, an entity of the state, did all it could to give Theresa a funeral and burial with dignity.  It was simple but beautiful.  Laid out in a white casket and wearing a nice red dress, one would never guess that Theresa spent most of her life at GDC.  Appearing very peaceful and dignified, one would think that she was a prominent senior citizen of the community.  Over 30 members of her GDC family (residents and staff) were present for the service and internment, including Margaret Mossbarger, the superintendent.  All those present received a memory card in Theresa’s honor.  Gratifying is that GDC, a state institution, treated Theresa Pappas at the funeral, not as a number in a bureaucratic way, but as a person with great dignity.

            Theresa was placed in GDC 59 years ago because of developmental disabilities and special needs.  Allie Clark, a retired nurse, remembers Theresa as a “happy person, always smiling, a beautiful person, very aware although a little slow in grasping.  She had a great sense of humor, frequently laughed, and was fun to tease”.  She enjoyed teasing the staff as well.  Allie observed: That behavior is not typical of retarded people; she may have been misdiagnosed" when admitted as a youth. Theresa was transferred from the Columbus State School to GDC in 1955, when Elvis Presley took the country by storm.  She remained an Elvis fan until she died and was buried wearing an Elvis Presley bracelet.

            Rita Hager, another retired nurse of 29 years at GDC, described her as "sociable and would come to talk to people.  She liked to participate in the Activities Center and was active in the GDC Garden Club.  She was able to take care of herself, bathe, and dress.  She did not have any behavioral problem."    Mary Holly, an administrative assistant at GDC, described her as "a happy and kind person, loving, friendly, and funny at times.  She would get attached to people and ask for photos of them and their families."

            Theresa is typical of GDC residents, according to Ms. Clark.  They are happy for the most part and do not want to leave after living in that secure environment for many years.  Their simplicity is beautiful, enjoying the little things of life.  As the children Christ talks about in the Bible, they’ll probably get to heaven before all of us.  Some are developmentally disabled; others are mentally ill.  Some have multiple physical and mental disabilities and ailments, even bedridden under total care.  Allie Clark remembers one patient who was blind, deaf, and speechless as Helen Keller.  Yet their lives have tremendous value and dignity.

            Fr. Thomas Hamm believes that "because of their mental disabilities and physical handicaps, Society looks upon them as not important, as disposable.  Putting them on the streets uncared for is really passive euthanasia."    

Theresa Pappas
            Was Theresa’s life a waste?  Absolutely not!  Did she have a purpose in life?  Yes indeed!  Theresa taught the people around her that one can be happy with a simple life if treated well.  There was no bitterness or any complaining or whining attitude regarding her lot.  Theresa’s kindness indicated that she was able to communicate love, an example to all.  Theresa was certainly prepared for eternity and is probably holier than most of us.  She was not weighed down by possessions and “stuff” nor did she have the competitive drive to obtain wealth and more “stuff”.  

Theresa must have learned a lot about the faith since Fr. Adolph Golubiewski (1950-1980) and Fr. William Myers (1980 – 2011), past pastors of St. Louis Church, Gallipolis, Ohio were employed as chaplains at GDC for much of Theresa’s life.  They said Mass there every Sunday for many years.  According to Ellen Schopis now well into her eighties, “Fr. G sometimes fought for the needs of the residents as for pajamas in one case and for their rights.  The Catholic Women’s Club of St. Louis Church would go to GDC every Sunday to visit them”.  Ellen enjoyed the visits, calling the residents "beautiful people".    

Furthermore, those who took care of Theresa as employees depended upon GDC for employment over the last century.  They as well as volunteers had the opportunity and satisfaction of giving a little of themselves to the residents and students of GDC, Galco, and the Guiding Hand School.  That experience is enriching and facilitates spiritual growth.  The members of the St. Louis Council of the Knights of Columbus have been enriched by holding an annual special Olympics for the Guiding Hand School for the last 15 years or so.  We enjoyed their enthusiasm and simplicity.   Seeing GDC residents forces us to recognize that we cannot take our personal gifts for granted and to realize that we have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day and always.

Pope Francis practices what he preaches.  In the top two photos he genuinely communicates love to two boys with cerebral palsy.  The bigger boy is wearing a World Cup Soccer Champion Argentina

On the right he embraces a man with a severe skin disease.  The Pontiff demonstrates  Church teaching in action........ that every human being has the same dignity and value.

“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

Most families with developmentally disabled children consider them to be a blessing despite the difficulties.  These special needs kids add their beautiful simplicity and a lot of love to the family which makes the members realize what is really important in life.  When an abnormal baby is found in utero, many couples sadly elect to abort and snuff out what could be a difficult but beautiful and even fruitful life.  There is a reason for it all. 

St. John Neumann beautifully described the inherent dignity and value of the developmentally, mentally, and physically disabled:  “Everyone has a mission; has a work.  We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random.  God sees every one of us.  God creates every soul for a purpose.  God needs every one of us.  God has an end for each of us; we are all equal in God’s sight.  As Christ has his work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do his work, we must rejoice in ours also.”

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