About the episode
"I'm there to convey the message, not be the message of 'I can read braille, so look at me!'" Kate Crohan is a woman of deep faith who has experienced immense joy in her life, but has also had her fair share of crosses. Kate is blind, but doesn't let her blindness stop her from serving others. She is very active in her parish community: singing in the choir, lectoring at mass, serving the parish council and so much more. She is a true model of service, placing herself at the service of her family and friends, and doing so with great joy.
In this episode, Kate and I talk about navigating life with blindness, the variety of ways that she serves her comunity, and the importance of accessibility for persons of all abilities in the Catholic Church.
Listen to the episode
Meet Kate Crohan
Kate Crohan currently lives just outside of Boston. As a preemie, she was part of the wave of babies born before it was recognized that the oxygen in the incubators could cause harm to the optic nerve. Her sight waned over time and now she is blind. She grew up in Connecticut in a devout Catholic family with six brothers. Her mother passed away when Kate was in sixth grade. her father took her and her brothers out for walks and loved to read to them, and really understood that Kate needed to try all that the family was doing.
Kate attended Newton College of the Sacred and transferred to the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where she graduated with a degree in sociology and anthropology. She also has a Master's Degree that helped her become a Teacher of the Visually Impaired.She has worked at John Hancock Insurance Company, Carroll Centre for the Blind, and now teaches technology and braille at Perkins School for the Blind.
All throughout her life, Kate has been active in her parish community, serving the children's liturgy community, singing in the church choir, lectoring at mass and serving on the parish council. She loves her family, the ocean, Martha's Vineyard, and visiting with family and friends.
Learn more about the Xavier Society for the Blind by checking out their website, xaviersocietyfortheblind.org. Thank you to Aisling Redican for making this connection and for these photos!
00:10 RACHEL WONG: This is The Feminine Genius Podcast, a podcast that celebrates all women of God and genius. I'm your host, Rachel Wong.
00:31 RACHEL: Kate Crohan is a woman of deep faith who has experienced immense joy in her life, but has also had her fair share of crosses. Kate is blind, but doesn't let her blindness stop her from serving others. She is very active in her parish community: singing in the choir, lectoring at Mass, serving the parish council, and so much more. She is a true model of service, placing herself at the service of her family and friends, and doing so with great joy. In this episode, Kate and I talk about navigating life with blindness, the variety of ways that she serves her community. and the importance of accessibility for persons of all abilities in the Catholic Church. 01:16 MUSIC
01:27 RACHEL: Hello, Kate!
01:28 KATE CROHAN: Hi, Rachel!
01:30 RACHEL: How are you?
01:30 KATE: I'm doing well! And thank you for adjusting to Eastern Daylight Saving Time, so it's much earlier in your day.
01:38 RACHEL: Well you know what, it's wonderful! I always tell guests, it's so wonderful to start the day in this way. And I note also that we're recording on the feast of St. Joseph, so I am so grateful for his patronage as we kinda kick off the Year of the family, and I'm grateful for your time today, so thank you!
01:56 KATE: Oh, thank you!
01:57 RACHEL: Well, Kate maybe to start off our conversation, if you wouldn't mind sharing with listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do right now.
02:06 KATE: Sure! Well my name is Kate, as you know, and I live right outside of Boston, and I've been here for a long time. I should mentioned also that, that I am blind. I was a preemie and I was part of that wave of babies who were born before it was recognized that the incubator, that the oxygen levels in the incubator I should say, could cause damage to the optic nerve, depending on exposure, how long babies were exposed to it. My vision gradually waned as the months went by.
I'm from Connecticut, originally, and I grew up in a small town. I went to a small Catholic college in Boston, and decided once I was here and had gone on the T, you know, public transportation, there was no way I could go back to Connecticut!
02:55 RACHEL: Would you be able to share a little bit about what your life was like as you grew up as a child and maybe into your adolescent life, what it was like to navigate your life without your sight?
03:08 KATE: So, I grew up with six brothers, and that, as crazy as it sounds, was an incredible blessing, because I did so much more I think than I might have otherwise. Like when I was learning to ride a bike, when I had a bike with training wheels that I got when I was in kindergarten, someone said to me,"You'll never learn that, to learn to ride that bike if the training wheels stay on it!" And my parents, understandably, did not want to take them off, so my older brother did!
03:38 RACHEL: Oh my gosh [laughs]
03:38 KATE: My older brother, Tom! [laughs]And then, I was always climbing trees with my younger brother Frank. I just did much, much more than I might have done. I think the inclination of many parents to want to shelter a child who has any kind of disability, of blindness maybe more so than some, because people it's hard for people to imagine life, when they can't see! So I was very blessed. My father also just had this intuitive understanding that it would be helpful to have... you know, just needed to touch everything so we go for long walks and he would show me like leaves on trees and the bark on trees and you know, we all went swimming together when I took swimming lessons when I was really young. So, again being a part of a big family, I think, was huge.
I had grown up as Catholic, my parents were devout Catholics. We went to church, we did extra things like noveans, Stations of the Cross during Lent on Friday. And I still remember my mother saying that you know, blindness was just a cross that I had to bear. And I absolutely did not like that when I was growing up, which to me which means just like, "Oh, I want to be independent! This is normal for me!" You know? I somehow could not take that in. But anyway, being a Catholic was a huge part of our lives growing up, and I wanted to go to a Catholic college and I left in my junior year, because I just felt sort of hemmed in, and the administration decided that I should major in something other than English, because you know, other blind students have done that. And I think it was a much longer story than that in terms of, you know, people... some people find it easier to plan ahead and to provide book lists and that kind of thing, and I'm not sure that would have been easy for the head of the English department there, so I think they were trying to make my life easier, but it was very disillusioning.
And so eventually I left, I worked for a few years at John Hancock [Financial], and then I eventually finished at UMass Boston, majored in anthropology and sociology because by that time, there was a real glut of teachers, so I felt like I would probably never find a job and it would have taken me longer to get through school if I majored in English. So anyway, then I got married, and we eventually had three sons, who are just an unimaginable blessing in my life, I just feel... I cherish my family more than I can ever express. And so, my children are married, I have wonderful daughters-in-law and six grandsons, so, I really did have six brothers three sons and now six grandsons! [laughs]
So, eventually my marriage ended in nineteen... well, we were divorced in 1999, but it was just a horribly, horribly difficult time. And I ended up getting a job, eventually, at the Carroll Center for the Blind and I got that job in 1998. There were just things that happened that, when I look back on it, feel like they were just huge blessings. I mean the fact that when I call to inquire about this job, they had nothing. And then within two months, someone called me because somebody left and another friend recommended me. So I taught in the Independent Living Program, which is... the Carroll Center, among the many things that they do they have adults who come in who have lost their vision or who may have lost their vision when they were young, but they now need more training in given areas. So I taught Braille and communication skills, and I can't even begin to tell you how much I've learned, teaching there. I just had to become really inventive, because, to know something is very different from actually having to teach it, and it was amazing, just an incredible experience. There were so many people that I met there who were just a real blessing in my life, some of whom I'm still in contact with, some of my former students.
Eventually, I wanted more than part-time work, so I got a job also at the Carroll Center through their educational services department. So I taught in public school, as well as in a summer program there. And, again, that was just such joy! I just love the students, and I worked with another teacher of the visually impaired who was a huge influence on my life, I just loved her. She's just a phenomenal teacher and person and I'm very, very grateful that I knew her. I eventually got a job at Perkins School for the Blind, where I teach technology and Braille. And I love, love the job. I love the students. Teaching during the pandemic has been a huge challenge, as has been everything, but they're extraordinary teachers and the administration who are there are just... peoplehave just done amazing, amazing things to manage in this whole new realm, as have the students. They've really, really done an extraordinary job of adapting.
And technology means that students have note takers, which I have, meaning that it's almost like a mini laptop with a Braille display. And then it's also teaching screen reading technology, meaning that when you use a laptop or a desktop computer, you need something that speaks what the computer screen is displaying. So, there's a screen reader which is called JAWS, which is Job Access with Speech, so it's teaching all the vagaries of that, and as anybody who uses any technology, it's always changing and it's always breaking, but it is a real joy. I feel like it's helping my brain as I get older to always adapt, and my family, the power of prayer, everything is just kept me going over these last 20 plus years that I've been teaching, so... 'cause this is my life went through a scene change when, you know, when my marriage ended, so... any way!
10:04 RACHEL: No worries! I mean, perhaps that is a wonderful segue into, you know, your own faith journey, and I want to go back to something that you mentioned that your mother said. And I remember in a previous conversation we had, you know, you're talking about this idea of crosses, personal crosses.
10:20 KATE: Mhm, yes!
10:21 RACHEL: And that's the one I think great equalizer is that no matter who you are as a Catholic, each of us have some kind of cross and it's going to be different, I think, depending on who you are. I remember the first time I talked to you—and just as I was preparing for this to just, and I really want to thank you for that—is just recognizing how really grateful I am for something that I, you know, take for granted! So I just want to thank you for again reminding me of that, and my hope is that listeners also recognize this is not something to be taken for granted. Like, sight is something that not everyone has so I just want to thank you for that!
10:59 KATE: Sure! Yeah, yeah, yeah!
11:00 RACHEL: If you wouldn't mind sharing a little bit about your faith because I know that you mentioned that this idea of the cross and how you weren't too fond of that term when your mom had shared it, and you had a pretty, it sounds like, a pretty strong like Catholic upbringing, and just, yeah, like what was that like to go through your faith, kind of having this proverbial cross, so to speak, and how that may be impacted your own journey.
11:27 KATE: Well, I felt when I was growing up, I just rebelled against that term because to me, a cross indicated lots of suffering, you know? Or, a means of having to adjust to something that is very difficult. And certainly I've had—I mentioned my marriage, you know, not lasting? That was a horrible time in my life. And, you know, there were other lesser things that have happened that have been difficult, but I did not look at blindness as one of those! So, I wanted to just be like a normal kid, and so it didn't resonate with me when my mother said it, but I'm sure did with her because, you know, especially now that I'm a parent, having a child who is quote unquote "different" has to be a huge adjustment for a parent, and I have incredible admiration for parents, always! Always! Being the parent of a quote unquote "normal" kid is hard! It's a big, huge job.
12:33 RACHEL: Yeah.
12:33 KATE: I love it, it's one that I cherished from the moment I knew I was, you know, pregnant. Anyway, so, I, I feel very blessed to have the children that I have, and grandchildren and family! But, so, I appreciate it from my mother's standpoint, which I could not do as a child. To me it's just was like, "What do you mean? I'm just a normal kid!" And I remember one of my students saying to me—she was in third grade—and she said, "You know, I don't really care that I'm blind. This is me, this is the way I am, and I'm totally happy!" And she said, "If I could get my sight back, I wouldn't do it." And she said, "What would you do?" And I said, "If I had a way of regaining my vision, I would do it in a heartbeat!" And she was so intense! She said, "Are you trying to tell me that you are not happy?"—and she like, she's very dramatic, so she like drew out that word as if it was like, how would you say something? So, I said, "It isn't that I'm not happy. I am very, very happy with my life, but it would be such an incredible adventure." And she said, "Wow, I never thought of it that way." And, you know, there's been a lot written about that and you can't just magically regain your sight and all that and go into that, but even if you could, there would be a lot to learning how to see and all that, and it's the brain and all that, but it was an interesting discussion with her, and it was one that I had with my father because I remember saying the same thing to him when I was little. That if I could get my sight back, I wouldn't do it. And he was just totally baffled.
So I went from feeling that way about, you know, my cross to bear, but also feeling like my faith was really important. A few years ago, I was very blessed, although I didn't think of it at time that way! When my pastor, the pastor of our church, we were doing a retreat, and he asked me and there was someone from ahother parish who was also asked to write something about communion or the Eucharist and what it meant. And I ended up writing this one thing which, which I actually ended up, I loved doing it. But one of the things I remember saying is that, even long before I made my First Communion, I realized the importance of it when my older brother, who's two years older than I, when he made his First Communion. I just knew it was a huge thing. And, first time we went to midnight mass, you know, when they're finally allowed to go to midnight mass, that was huge! And then, as I said was to go to stations of the cross, we used to do novenas. So my faith felt like a huge part of my life.
Then, I wanted to go to a Catholic college to expand upon that. So I applied to several and got into Newton College [of the Sacred Heart], as I mentioned, which is now Boston College's Law School did not survive it was one of those small colleges that didn't make it, and it was a Sacred Heart school so the nuns who are unbelievably learned. I mean they were just spoke many languages and I still remember some of the English classes that I took. We also took philosophy and theology, so I really did realize one part of what I wanted, which was to learn much more about what it was like to be Catholic! But I was also teenager, and it was the first time I really... I went to a school for the blind, I didn't say that earlier. I went to a school called Oak Hill School for the Blind. So I went away when I was five and through there five nights a week and then went home on weekends, and that was not a good experience, in terms of being away from home, I really hated it! So my senior year, I stayed at home for the first time in my life, went to a public high school, and that was a great experience. I just loved it! I made really good friends, I had excellent teachers. I wish I could say I was still in touch with some of the people I knew then! But when I was at Newton, it was the first time I really had been away from home, so I was definitely feeling like a teenager or a young adult. And so I remember learning all of this in philosophy and theology about Thomas Aquinas and we also had a number of teachers, oddly enough, from Harvard Divinity School, so—who were not Catholic. I was very challenged with all the reading that I had. And then, somehow, I began expecting that mass would provide a similar kind of thing in terms of the kinds of homilies that we had, and, and I just started for a very disappointed. And then the mass came in so all the Latin, you know, became was an English, which now I love, but then I didn't. It was just part of change that I didn't like, and I'm not very good with change. I hate to admit that, but I'm not.
And so I remember one day I didn't go to Mass and I thought, well, the world is still turning on its axis and so then I stopped going into mass, which, you know, it's hard for me to talk about right now because I can't even imagine it! But I did, and you know, eventually I left college, I worked for a few years. Oddly enough, the man I worked for, he was part of a huge family. And one of his brothers is a priest and we eventually met because he was the pastor of the church that is right down the street from me!
18:15 RACHEL: Oh wow!
18:16 KATE: And that was just such a great experience! But anyway, I stopped going to church, you know, I left school, I worked, and then eventually got married. When I got married, I could not imagine—even though it wasn't a practicing Catholic—the thought of getting married outside of the church, it didn't cross my mind for a moment. It wasn't just because my father would have just had a horrible time about one! My mother died when I was in the sixth grade. So, my father would have been heartbroken, I'm sure, if we hadn't gotten married in the church, but the thought never even occurred to me. I just, what would marriage mean if we don't get married in the church? And this friend who I met my senior year helped me pick out prayers and we had musicians that my former husband knew who, you know, played the organ. We had a few singers because he went to the New England Conservatory. So it was a beautiful mass, it was just amazing.
So I felt that, even in spite of my not going to mass anymore, I still had this connection with being a Catholic. Then, when we had children, I think my oldest son was probably four, four and a half, five, and my youngest one was around a year. And I remember when my eldest son was playing, and I thought, I have to figure this out! You know, my sons were baptized. And I thought, if I don't figure out how to find the church that I feel at home with, my children are going to grow up worshipping superheroes! [laughs] You know? And again, I remember where I was on Martha's Vineyard when I had that thought, it's like, I need to figure out a way to bring the Catholic faith back into my own life, and then into theirs.
We, at that point, were living on Martha's Vineyard year round, but my husband had a job in Boston. So we occasionally went to Boston and stayed at this hotel where he worked, which was an incredible perk, it was this super expensive hotel! Never could have afforded otherwise. So we stayed there, and I thought, there has to be church around here that I can go to. So I started going to the Paulist Center and the joy of that mass and the inclusiveness of the congregation, the joy, the music and the homilies, and I just instantly fell in love with that church. So we started going, and my two older sons received First Communion there, and it was on Holy Thursday. You know it's different because obviously it's usually in May in many churches but it was so incredibly meaningful. And then when we moved here, went to a church in another town that we could walk to, but a long walk. So we would walk, we took cabs, and eventually we met people who would drive us home which was super helpful. But the music was phenomenal.
As my kids got a little older and were in elementary school, they discovered that all of her friends were going to St. Agnes, the church we go to, that I go to. And they just said, "This is crazy. Why should we walk to church when there is a church right down the street?" They became altar servers and my youngest son was an altar server there for years. And eventually, like, the year after we joined that parishm I remember we came home from the Vineyard, and I thought, what has happened? This choir is so different, and we had a new choir director. And I thought, I have to join this choir. I have to join this choir! And it took me months and another friend who joined it with me because she had the same thought. And it was a joy beyond what I can ever express. It was just—I know, I've already said that once about my, my children!—but it's really true. It was just incredible experience.
And then eventually I decided I should be a lector, because I love to read. My father loved to read, read to us growing up. When, as soon as I learned to read I just devoured books. So I thought, I should become a lector. I was very nervous about it, and I didn't know what to do. But one day, I met the woman who was the head of the lectors, who was in charge of scheduling. I met her on the bus when I was coming from work, and I thought, well, this is probably a good thing. And so I started talking with her about it. And I said, "I know you need lectors"—because we just heard that in mass—and I said, "I'd love to read, I would love to do it but I'm not sure I could work it out." And I said, "I can't lector at choir masses, because there's no way I'm missing choir." And I said, "My son is an altar server, so I want to go to his masses. And CCD was at the same time as choir, so he always had a different mass." So she said, "We'll work around that or you can read at his masses if you wanted to do that."
The thing that I was also worried about was that I read from a Braille booklet that we get every week. It's the propers of mass, and I get them from the Xavier Society for the Blind. I said, "I don't want people to focus so much on my reading that they can't focus on the reading. I'm there to convey the message not be the message of 'I can read Braille, so look at me!'" You know? I didn't want them. And so, finally, the woman with whom I was speaking said, "Wow. That I probably should take to the pastor!"—who by that time was the man I mentioned earlier, he was the brother of the person who used to work for. We all got to know him quite well, and he's just wonderful, wonderful, wonderful pastor who loved music, loved our choir, just gave as amazing homilies. We've been so blessed, as we all are, with the priests who are at our churches. And so, she called me that night and said, 'Listen, I don't think it would be a problem!" And I thought, Oh, now I really have to do this! So, I have, and I have been a lector for more than 20 years, because it was shortly after I joined the choir.
Being a lector was one of the things I did when our church finally re-opened in June, we have a different pastor now and he's just done an amazing job with the re-opening. And I still didn't feel really comfortable being in church because being a blind person during the pandemic has not been easy, because it's hard to maintain social distance because you don't know where people are. And people are always trying to be helpful, which is a wonderful trait, but not possible during the pandemic because I don't want someone grabbing my arm or offering to walk with me. And I was talking to the person who's now head of the lectors, and I said, "I want to read so much, but I don't see how I could do it." And my friend said, "You know, the lectors stay on the altar." And I was just elated, thinking, I don't have to walk with anybody, I'll be right at the altar! And I said, "Yes, but I'll have to figure out how to get to, you know, the ambo, the podium!" And she said, "Sit on the side, two steps forward, turn 45 degrees to the right, and keep on walking, and you'll get there." And to this day, I'm so grateful to her! So I practice walking, I practice with my neighbor and practice with this man who's super helpful, he's always walking up to the front with me, and he stays ahead of me so I don't have to walk. And so I've been able to be a reader, and so I feel that being in the choir has offered me a way to pray through music in addition to praying at mass, and that being a lector helps me focus much more than I might otherwise. I have to practice them, so I focused on the wording. I actually listen to the A Shower of Roses podcast? Yeah, so listen to that you know every week, so thati's great. It provides great insight into the readings. Anyway!
26:35 RACHEL: Oh, that is beautiful and I want to briefly touch on just like, I want to give you the space to speak to it. Just because I think it's a wonderful segue into the work that Xavier Society for the Blind does. And I want to give a big thank you to Aisling [Redican] for connecting us! In terms of just being able to participate, you had that self-awareness about you that you wanted to ensure that when you were conveying the message, the people of God are hearing the message but understandably so, the way that you would be reading it is different from other folks. So I wonder if you could talk about the work that Xavier Society does, how you got in touch with them and just how that's helped you to more fully participate in the mass.
27:22 KATE: Sure. The Xavier Society is in New York. They were founded in 1900. Braille wasn't even standardized when they were founded! The National Library Services for the Blind was founded in 1931, so they were one of the first! Their mission was envisioned by a blind woman and a priest, and she donated, how much... $350, I think, something like that, of her own money to begin the organization. They serve clients in 20 countries. Aisling just sent this to me, I had no idea! From the number of clients that they serve, they're just an amazing organization. They are, even long before I became a lector, I have received the propers of the mass. They send one every single month. Every month! They have a transcriber named Terrence... I just could not be lector without them. And the propers of the mass is—like, the one for March is 111 pages in Braille! So that takes up a ton of room, a ton of room. But it's beautifully formatted. They do all the formatting, Terrence does I'm sure, and then the National Braille Press in Boston, which is another unbelievably good organization, but they emboss it because the embossing involves a lot of production, and it's done on what's called interpoint so that both sides of the page are in Braille. I couldn't lector without it.
When I first started getting these many, many years ago, long before I became a lector, it was the only way to get them, because I didn't have a notetaker. You know, I could conceivably get readings from the internet and put it on my Braille notetaker, which is a way you can download things, it has a Braille display on the bottom. But, having that extra thing at church, it just is one more thing for me to be anxious about, because I still—even though I've lectored for a long time—it's not something I take lightly, and I still get pretty anxious about it, about speaking and reading. So having this book in front of me, where I can physically have the page and turn the page and all that is huge! It's a huge thing.
And just to give you an example of how incredibly helpful they can be. We switched choir directors a few years ago. You know, now I'm working full-time, I don't have the same number of readers that I used to have, and I don't have readers at all now during the pandemic! Because obviously, people can't be in and out of houses. So our new choir director, of course, has different hymns that he wanted. Just so you have an idea of what Braille is like and the space that it takes up. I have three binders with 8.5 by 11 pages in them that have just hymns in alphabetical order. I have another huge binder, like a three inch binder, with anthems in it. And then I have another one with just Christmas music in it, and then I have another one that just has the hymns for mass with dividers. Now that we have a new choir director, he's doing different hymns. And I was panicking about how I would possibly keep up!
So I called Terrence, the transcriber that I mentioned a while ago at the Xavier Society. And he said to me, "You know, I have some hymns already as Word documents." He said, "If you could use some of those, just send me the new ones, and if I have them, I'll send them to you. And if I don't then I will put them in Word, or Braille them, whichever you want." And I said, "Word documents are fine, I can either copy them or emboss them at work." And so, every week, or you know, a few times a month or whatever, I would I would send him the list. And like, literally within a day, he would send them to me.
31:24 RACHEL: Wow!
31:24 KATE: And I can't even tell you how much that meant to me. It was huge! It was a huge weight off of my mind to know that I could depend on him to do that. And then I'm also on our parish council, which there are people who do much, much more than I at my church, I don't want to sound like I'm just constantly blowing my own horn! But I have the parish council. A few years ago we had a book that we needed to read, and I didn't have it. Couldn't find it anywhere. And so, Terrence did it! He got the book and did it, and now it's in their catalogue. So they really, really try to respond to individualize requests as best they can, and they're just huge!
32:08 RACHEL: Yeah, and I love that it's the mission of a priest, like you said, but also a woman!
32:13 KATE: Yes, it's true!
32:15 RACHEL: Like of course, just given that it's The Feminine Genius Podcast, I'm like, how cool is that? And...
32:18 KATE: Yes, it is! That is true! Yes, yeah!
32:24 RACHEL: But what a blessing it is, because when we think about the church and just being able to fully participate. And I think like you even like kind of touched on this as well. The transition, I guess it was post-Vatican II you're mentioning masses in Latin. And then, you know, going into English. So you were part of that transition!
32:42 KATE: Yes, in the sixties!
32:43 RACHEL: Wow!
32:44 KATE: Yep. Yes. The other thing about anything connected with Braille is it just involves so much planning. Even with QR codes and that kind of thing, even if we can read them with our phones, which is a great, great blessing. I mean, it's an amazing thing! If you really need the words to Braille or that kind of thing and it really does involve a lot of planning. And for instance, our church, just switched to a different publisher and when I got the email about that, I was just devastated, you know? Systems in place, it's very hard to imagine how all that, that can be unknown in literally seconds. And so, I don't totally for sure know what I'm going to do, except that eventually I got the website for the publisher contacted them and they said, "We can't possibly, you know, we have a digital database, we can't... we just can't give you the stuff." And then I wrote and I said, "I'm really... it's very disheartening for me to know that I have 25 years almost of music that I've copied that I won't be able to compare it to what you have and, you know..." Anyway, the next email that I got was that he could send them to a Google Doc and then convert them into a Word document, which was a huge thing. And I immediately, I contacted Xavier Society because I want them to be connected, because I don't want to just to be for me. It needs to go out to everyone. And knowing how good they are at the Xavier Society with their eight employees—I just found that out two days ago. It's astonishing to me that they only have eight employees and they do so much work! But I know that they will, to the best of their ability, if they have contact with the same publisher that they will do their utmost, they'll do their best to accommodate.
34:34 RACHEL: And it makes me keenly aware of the need for accessibility in the church, because as I mentioned, it's something that, you know, I wouldn't think much of and to be quite honest, I don't think I've ever had as in depth conversation about this as I've had with you because, since, you know, you touched on the fact that you witnessed the transition after Vatican II, how the church like they were trying to become like more inclusive in a way, with ensuring that masses could be said in the language that is local to the area. So whether it's English or in other parts of the world, as opposed to Latin. So naturally it opens up more opportunities for people, but to your point, and like the work that Xavier Society and I'm sure there must be other organizations that help, whether it's like folks who are blind or maybe folks who are deaf or hard of hearing. I guess like, what does it mean to you to have this level of inclusion in the church? To be able to really be welcomed in and valued? Because, I know that you were very humble about it, but I want to just reiterate for listeners that you sing in the choir, you lector, you're on the parish council, you do a lot of advocacy work for the parish and for other Catholics like yourself. So I want to commend you for that, but just in terms of inclusivity, I was wondering if you could maybe share some thoughts on that, inclusivity in the church.
36:00 KATE: Yeah, it's a difficult topic, because again, without the Xavier Society, I don't know what I would do. In terms of the hymns recently and the propers of the mass. At one point we had another person in our choir who was blind. And my choir director mentioned it to me, this was many years ago. I said, "I will do whatever I can to help." And my guess was, I didn't know this person at all and he said that he could read music. So to me that meant, he probably still had enough vision to read print music, but that's not what it meant! [laughs] It meant that he knew how to read Braille music and I thought, whoa! That is a wonderful skill to have, and I'm grateful that I can read Braille music, but he wouldn't be able to get any of these hymns unless he knew how to contact the Xavier Society. I mean, there was no point, I was there. So, because I had them all in because I had a working embosser at home, I was able to, and I was happy to be able to do it. I could just pass on all that I had in terms of music, and keep up with it. And he was really, really, really appreciative. And he had probably had one of these memories that I don't have that you could memorize the lyrics easily, he was super musical. But I was so glad that I was there and was able to help. Because, honestly, it's something that I'd like to have more of a conversation about with other people who are blind, just to see what they do.
Interestingly, I had a student at the Carroll Center many years ago who sort of knew Braille, but she was learning the contracted Braille code, and she was from a different country. And she really wanted to go to Mass, but she didn't have any of the prayers. So I said, "I'll Braille them for you so you can read them in English!" So I did that. And this is crazy to say, but one of the hardest things for me to do was the Creed, because even though I say it every single week, and I do have it written now, but I didn't then. To try to recreate it from memory, as I was writing it, I couldn't do it! I had to look it up, as crazy as it sounds! But accessibility is a huge issue, but what one anecdote that meant, the whole thing meant so much to me at the time was... do you remember the number of years ago when the mass responses changed a little bit?
38:18 RACHEL: Yes, yeah.
38:20 KATE: Well, I have the old ones in Braille—or I didn't even need them in Braille, because I memorized them all! But one morning, I was reading my email, and a pastor at the time, the one whom I mentioned a while ago in our conversation, who was the brother of a person I used to work for. He sent me, in an email, all of the new mass responses. And he said, "I just wanted you to have this a few weeks before we're actually going to be using them." And that was just huge for me. I ended up taking them to work and embossing them and I didn't do a great job because I'm not, you know, when we transcribe in Braille, it's a whole different skill. And I can do it it's really simple, but this was, you know, I had a few blank lines that shouldn't have been there. I didn't even care! I cherished that so much, I still have it in my Sunday choir book because it just meant so much to me that he was thoughtful enough to send them.
A few years ago with our new pastor, he was thoughtful enough to send all of us Word documents of the new format that he was using for the Stations of the Cross and I was reading for that. And I thought, this is great in a Word document, but I know when I transcribe it, I won't be able to format it correctly. So I sent it to Terence and he said, "If I don't have it,"—because he had about five different ones, I think. He said, "If I don't have this one, I'll just Braille it for you." And he did. He sent it to me initially as a Braille file so I had it in my notetaker in a booklet, so I could just, you know, turn the pages and read paper Braille. And before he sent it, he emailed me and he said, "What is the name ofyour church? I wanna look it up." And I thought, that's weird. I wonder why he's doing that! He ended up putting a picture of our church on the cover of the Stations of the Cross booklet that he Brailled.
40:08 RACHEL: Wow!
40:08 KATE: Which I thought was the coolest thing! So I showed it to tons of people at church just so they could check it out. Yeah, the accessibility is huge! As I said, the friend who came from a different country and didn't have the mass responses in English or the mass responses that the pastor sent to me. It makes a big, big, big difference but it just doesn't happen. It really needs planning. Yeah.
40:34 RACHEL: And I think that it's just such a powerful call to action because I think on the one hand, it just shows the need for us to be more aware, especially, like I think about the Catholic Church and we are called by Jesus to be aware of our neighbor, to love one another.
40:52 KATE: Yes, yes!
40:53 RACHEL: And it just means to lift one another up, to take care of each other, and you know, all of those anecdotes that you shared about you reaching out to other people, again, just like on your own accord or the reverse being true, where other people have reached out to you and just provided that help. I think it's just a wonderful example of Christian witness and Christian love. So I find that to be just really beautiful, really beautiful.
41:20 KATE: And being a choir director, like, the choir director that we had, I was talking to him about something and I said... he said, "Do you get everything at the rehearsal?" Because I used to record the rehersals, I still do. Actually, I record a lot of it, not the whole thing. And I said, "You know, oddly enough, my recorder didn't hold up, for whatever reason." He said, "Wait a second. Why don't I just record those anthems for you?" And I said, "That's—wait," I said, "I would not want to add!" He said, "I don't understand you! Why don't you just ask me to do that?" I would not even think of asking you to do all that extra work! And he said, "Well, I'm doing it!" And he did that for years, the whole time he was there. He would give me the anthems way in advance of the season, so that I had them. I could copy the lyrics, he read the lyrics to me on, you know, the recording, and then I could copy that and fully prepared for the choir season. I could even try to learn some of them in advance, which I loved being able to do. And our new choir director has given me recordings as well, and I really need to give a shout out! I had a reader at the time when I first started who has since... she died a number of years ago. I can't even tell you how many hymsn she read the lyrics to so that I could copy them. When I first joined the choir, I asked our choir director if he would give me just a whole list of the hymns that we could possibly do over the next X number of years, and he did. And it was huge! Huge!
I started copying hymns, and at one point I thought, I can't do this anymore! After my reader left, I was particularly tired and my—I was married then—and I said, "I just don't know if I can do this. I might have to just quit!" And he [Kate's ex-husband] said, "Well, maybe you should give it a little more time." And I said, "I don't know. It's overwhelming." And my children were upstairs, and if I had said, if I had been talking to them about cleaning their room probably no one would've heard me. But they did hear that conversation! And my older son said—my, there were my two younger sons were home at the time—and one of them said, "You're quitting the choir? You just joined!" And then my youngest son said, "I didn't know you were a quitter!" [laughs] And I said, "I guess I'm not!" [laughs]
Anyway, without my readers and I have a really dear friend who, she is an Episcopalian. Just has an incredibly deep faith, and we're often talking about faith. And she has a hymnal that we used to use, and she would often just send me hymns in, you know, as an attachment to an email. So she's been helpful, my younger son has read a ton of hymns, my neighbours, so... and the Xavier Society for the last few years have been a God-send, so.
44:19 RACHEL: I mean, that is so wonderful to hear! I mean, again like, I think I'm so inspired by you, Kate, and how you've been able to, you know, not only serve other people just out of your time and your own gift, but just the resilience that you've shown over your life. And like you've said, you've had your fair share of crosses. And I think that I couldn't imagine being able to bear, so I do believe that the Lord has endowed on your just so much blessing and strength. So that is really wonderful. It's just such an admirable thing, and I'm really grateful to have met you and to talk to you about that. And I think just, as we tie all of this together, I would love for you to maybe just share with our listeners and reflect on your own feminine genius, Just how you've lived your own unique journey, your unique way, as a Catholic woman.
45:15 KATE: Well, what I said early on about how I suddenly had this horrible feeling as a mother that if I didn't do something about trying to go back to church myself and also help my children become good Catholics, that I would not be doing my job as a mother. The whole juxtaposition of, you know, as I said, they're gonna grow up worshipping superheroes! I need to do something about that! And then after my marriage ended, I was super active in our local school, our local elementary school. And, you know, being with all these parents who I had known for so many years but who all, you know, they were still married, it was just really hard for me to do. And I thought, I'm gonna be more active in our church! I just have to figure out something to do at church.
So I contacted another woman I knew who was also a woman of very deep faith. And she told me about the Children's Liturgy committee, and she said, "You can join!" I said, "But I need a job!" [laughs] So, she said, "Okay, I have the perfect job for you." And it was to schedule the lectors, they are doing it very differently now, but they had a list of kids and you could call them every month so they could sign up to read at the children's mass. So, I said, "I'll do that." And I was so grateful for her! So again, it was connecting with another woman who was super active in the church, and as I said, another woman of very deep faith whom we've talked a lot over the years.
So, she gave me this job. I called her a few weeks later, because it was really a tough job, you know. 'Cause kids would often sign up and then they couldn't do it, and blah blah blah." So, I said, "I don't know if I can do this." And she said, "Oh, you're doing a great job!" And I said, "I don't know!" She said, "Kate, I am not taking this job back!" [laughs] So, I said, "Okay!" And I continued with it, obviously, and it was a wonderful way to connect with families and kids, you know. Occasionally I would run into someone that I would remember, you know, used to be a reader at church, so that was a really, really wonderful thing.
When I was worrying about lectoring during the pandemic, you know, connecting with this other woman who gave me the really perfect directions for how to get from the altar to the ambo was huge. And I have some wonderful, wonderful friends from choir. Wonderful women friends who, we still meet at this little local coffee shop! And we all are connecting over our faith and talk a lot about mass and music and we're always sending each other meditations. One of my friends writes, she takes pictures, she's an incredible photographer. And she and I have this incredible arrangement where I can send her cards that I need to send to other people and want to send to other people, and she will write them out and just will put whatever prayer or whatever I want, she just writes them out. And she has lots of pictures of St. Agnes Church, and it's a wonderful collaborative effort on our part. I try to think of some way to compensate her, so yeah.
48:48 RACHEL: Yeah, it sounds like obviously you have the wonderful gift of physical motherhood, biological motherhood, being able to raise your children and having that care for them, that concern for their own wellbeing and their own faith. But then also having that spiritual motherhood, serving other families and taking care of other children during that time through Liturgy of the World or Liturgy for Children. And just how you've been able to conitinue to really mother other women, and other women to you! So it's a wonderful little community. and it's an absolutely emblematic trait of femininity at its finest. So Kate, thank you for your all that you've shared today. Like I know that, like I mentioned ot you I think many times before, I am so grateful and really enlightened, I think. Because I think like I said, it has taken me almost 25 years to kind of recognize the gift of my own sight and just how important it is. So I appreciate you being a woman of the church, sharing your own gift, your story, and just being who you are. So thank you for being here today!
49:55 KATE: Well, thank you for doing this amazing job that you do with the podcast! It's really pretty incredible and I've really enjoyed listening to many of them. You are a real gift to all of us, so thank you!
50:09 RACHEL: Oh thank you! And Kate, just as we close today, would you be able to lead us in a prayer, in a closing prayer?
50:17 KATE: Sure. I think given that we had St. Patrick's day two days ago, I'll just read part of the "Christ be beside me" prayer.
It's "Christ be beside me, Christ be before me, Christ be behind me, King of my heart. Christ be within me, Christ be below me, Christ be above me, never to part. Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand, Christ all around me, shield in the strife. Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising, light of my life."
And this is really, I love this verse:
"Christ be in all hearts thinking about me, Christ be on all tongues telling of me. Christ be the vision in eyes that see me, in ears that hear me Christ ever be."
So, I just love that hymn!
51:16 RACHEL: Oh, well Kate, thank you! Again, like I can't thank you enough, and God bless you. God bless the work that you're doing, and I'm so grateful for your time today!
51:26 KATE: Thank you, thank you so much!
51:33 RACHEL: My thanks again goes to Kate Crohan for sharing her story with us, as well as for her joy and service to the Church! You probably noticed that I had very little to say in this episode, and I think it's because I was so in awe of Kate and everything that she does: her resilience, her strength, so Kate, I want to thank you for sharing your story and for sharing your unique expression of the feminine genius with all of us!
As well, I want to give a shout out to Aisling Redican of the Xavier Society for the Blind who connecting Kate and I.This episode is over a year in the making, so I'm grateful that I'm able to share this conversation with all of you!
You can learn more about the Xavier Society and the incredible work they do by checking out their website, xaviersocietyfortheblind.org. I’ve left a link in the episode description below.
You can stay up to date with The Feminine Genius Podcast by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, we're @femgeniuspod. And you can listen to this podcast wherever you find your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and many other platforms. All of this information can be found on our home on the web, femininegeniuspodcast.com.
We'll talk to you soon, and God bless, always!