By Kathy Desmond* | The Advocate
Hazel Pulliam has been coming to Sunday Mass at OLQP since 2006. That year she joined the L’Arche community when it expanded into Arlington and opened Highland House. L’Arche Greater Washington DC is an inter-denominational Christian community of people with and without intellectual disabilities who live together. It is one of an international federation of 147 communities in 35 countries that began in France fifty years ago. Two of its four communal homes are in Arlington where eight core members and roughly an equal number of assistants live, work, pray and celebrate together.
The youngest of 13 siblings, Hazel lived with her parents until they died and then with her oldest sister until she died, too. Her other siblings were unable to meet her needs, so they reluctantly sent Hazel to the state-run Northern Virginia Training Center. In 2005, her social worker introduced Hazel to L’Arche and it was a perfect match. L’Arche remodeled the house and made the first floor accessible. Hazel moved in. Members attend the church of their choice.
Hazel’s face lit up when I asked if she likes coming to Mass. “Yes.” She likes sitting with her friends and shaking hands with Fr. Tim and Fr. Tom before and after Mass. She loves the music, and baptisms and babies. Hazel also participates in L’Arche’s monthly prayer night at Queen of Peace on the first Tuesday of each month. Hazel invites anyone from OLQP to come.
Hazel and OLQP member, Liza Karlin, became friends several years ago. Liza also likes to sit up by the choir and was surprised when a L’Arche assistant said “No” when she asked him to move over. Her surprise turned to embarrassment when she realized how difficult it would have been for them to do so.
The next time they met, at Fr. Joe’s 80th birthday party in the parish hall, Hazel and James Schreiner, a L’Arche assistant, waved Liza over to their table where the three chatted and got to know each other. (It turns out, both Hazel and Liza love champagne!) Hazel invited Liza to dinner at her house –“delicious” — and wanted to sit next to her. Then, Liza invited Hazel to her house for dinner. They own matching bracelets and sit together at Mass.
Selfie of Hazel and Liza, good friends
A few years ago, Hazel joined the Haiti Committee. She seemed interested in the announcements about Haiti and a L’Arche community member asked if she wanted to go to the meeting. She said, “Yes,” and now attends monthly meetings regularly. She’s helped in many ways: bagging note cards, selling Christmas cards, and designing bulletin flyers with Liza. Liza writes the text and Hazel, who is a photographer with an eye for color and design, selects the photos, their size and order, and font colors. Hazel and Highland House hosted Fr. Luckson and Liza for dinner during his last visit. Fr. Luckson came away very impressed with the L’Arche community.
Hazel welcomes Fr. Luckson to her L’Arche home
Hazel communicates in many ways. She asks her friend John Cook to text Liza about when the next Haiti Committee meeting is scheduled and “are you coming?” to Mass. When Liza traveled to New Orleans when her father died, Hazel asked John to text her sympathy. Her understanding assistants help translate Hazel’s words and body language effectively.
John enables Hazel to participate in OLQP activities
Hazel has suggestions for the church to consider (some of which may be part of the renovation plans): she likes to shake hands with the priests and greeters before and after Mass and a ramp up the front stairs would help; power doors would make it easier for people in wheelchairs to get in and out; and replacing a front pew with folding chairs would allow people in wheelchairs to sit with others and create more room in front. She’s also thinking about carrying the cross during processions or bringing Offertory gifts forward or being an altar server. Her dreams raise a question for our OLQP community: What adaptions would those things require?
What does Hazel feel about OLQP? It makes her “happy.” She refers to OLQP as “my people” and “my place.” “Yes,” she feels loved here.
*With assistance from Liza Karlin and John Cookdisabilities, L'Arche, Our Lady Queen of Peace, The Advocate