Educator brings Gospel message to those with intellectual, developmental disabilities


Like many of the educators honored through the years with a diocesan Lumen Gentium award in the category of Catholic Education, Catherine Turbitt has found the classroom to be the perfect setting for spreading the message of God’s love.
Unlike most other teachers, however, Turbitt has been able to share this lesson with two very different types of student: in addition to her lengthy career teaching at local Catholic schools, she has also served the diocese as a major figure in the Special Religious Education (SPRED) ministry, which focuses on helping Catholics with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a fulfilling spiritual life and grow closer to God.
“Our goal is to help them understand that baptism has made them holy,” Turbitt explains.
“The Holy Spirit dwells in them and they are just as much a part of the Body of Christ as anyone else in their parish.”
The origins of SPRED are in the Archdiocese of Chicago 60 years ago, when French priest, Father Jean Mesney first began to implement his Method Vivre approach to religious education. When the program made its way to the Diocese of Providence in the 1980s, Turbitt’s own parish of St. Matthew in Cranston was chosen to be the first church to host it.
At the time, Turbitt was working at the parish school teaching English (as well as “religion, social studies and also some math from time to time”), and was happy to offer her talents as an educator to the fledgling program. She describes the Method Vivre used by SPRED as being an “affective way to share faith in community” which focuses on encouraging students to “share meaningful stories from their lives and to meditate on a Biblical message.”
Turbitt currently helps to train catechists for the SPRED ministry, a role which allows her to work with “some of the most compassionate and spirit-filled people I’ve ever met.”
By volunteering with SPRED, these catechists not only become teachers to the “special friends” enrolled in the program, they become close with their families as well.
“The parents become our friends as well,” Turbitt explains. “It helps the whole parish become closer as a family.”
Family, as it happens, is extremely important to Turbitt — hers includes eight children, 17 grandchildren, and three great-grandsons. Her late husband, Jack, was one of the most significant inspirations in her life of faith and service.
“He shared both my faith and my desire to share it with children,” Turbitt recalls. “As a Knight of Columbus, he helped raise funds to make the SPRED ministry possible, and he was a huge supporter of Catholic education as well.”
Another major inspiration for Turbitt was her own education with the Sisters of Notre Dame, who instilled in her a lifelong love for the Holy Sacrament, and also taught her the famous moral triad of the Baltimore Catechism (“know God, love God and serve God”) that served as a touchstone for her throughout her career as a Catholic educator.
Together with Irma Rodriguez, the current director of the Apostolate for People with Disabilities, Turbitt hopes that the near future will see the SPRED ministry expanding to additional parishes throughout the diocese.
“We’d really love to see more parishes set aside space for it,” she says. “It’s so important to make sure we welcome our special friends into active participation in the liturgy and full involvement in the social life of the parish.”

The honorees will be awarded during a dinner at Twin River Event Center in Lincoln on Wednesday, May 15.

Guests wishing to purchase tickets to the dinner — whose proceeds will support Diocesan Youth Ministry — are asked to register online at

For more information, please call 401-277-2121.