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!