Xavier Society for the Blind Remains Committed to Founder’s Vision
Tags: Jesuit, Jesuit Father John Sheehan, jesuits, Society of Jesus, Xavier Society for the Blind
The Xavier Society for the Blind was started in 1900 when a group of laywomen asked Jesuit Father Joseph Stadelman to help them supply free religious materials to the blind. Over 100 years later, this Jesuit-run ministry continues to deliver the good news to more than 10,000 blind, visually impaired and physically restricted people throughout the United States.
Jesuit Father John Sheehan currently leads the organization, and he says that when Fr. Stadelman started Xavier Society, “If you wanted to get God’s word to the blind, you either had to be a publishing house or you had to read to individual blind people.”
Today Fr. Sheehan, a staff of seven and numerous volunteers continue the ministry, which is based in New York City. The organization provides spiritual material in Braille, large print and audio formats free of charge. It’s no small task: the Braille edition of the New American Bible fills 45 volumes.
Fr. Sheehan has over 80 volunteers who help transcribe materials into Braille and retype text using large-print typewriters. Some are young actors and retirees who record books and Catholic periodicals for distribution via current technology.
“What we do has not changed since 1900, but the technology and delivery systems have,” Fr. Sheehan says. The Xavier Society is putting more emphasis on Braille texts as large-print and audio subscribers are able to access material from other sources or use computers to enlarge type.
Because of financial constraints and changing technologies, the Xavier Society is restructuring. Fr. Sheehan has reduced the paid staff and is preparing to sell the society’s building. “We’re not in a crisis, but we are moving before we are,” he says.
Proceeds from the sale of the building will be used to develop new ways to engage the blind and visually impaired, Fr. Sheehan says. Among the possibilities are retreats for the blind, outreach to younger users and translation of materials into Spanish.
“The key word is evangelization, reaching out with information about our faith. The blind community needs to have access to this material, and opportunities are few and far between in the Catholic Church.,” Fr. Sheehan said. [Catholic News Service]