Farewell Mass celebrated for VanSpec director
By Nathan Rumohr
Former students, friends, and colleagues came together for Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church Aug. 23 to wish farewell to Sister BethAnn Dillon, DSMP. Sister Dillon was the director of Vancouver Special Catechetical Program (VanSpec). They also welcomed her replacement, Sister Kathy Stark, DSMP, into the VanSpec family.
Sister Dillon has been named vocation directress for her order, the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence, in Chicago.
"This evening the Lord gathers us as His people at this Eucharist to give Him thanks and praise for what He has accomplished at VanSpec," Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, said during his homily, "especially for the ministry of Sister BethAnn Dillon and the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence."
Archbishop Miller said VanSpec has been an enormous blessing for the archdiocese and thanked Sister Dillon for her hard work improving the program.
Started in 1982, VanSpec offers children with special needs a Catholic education based on their individual needs and prepares them to receive the sacraments. According to Archbishop Miller the program has enrolled 600 children.
"I hope Sister takes consolation from the fact that she leaves behind a great legacy, a living legacy. Boys and girls, many of whom are now men and women, have had an opportunity to grow in their faith through her encouragement and hard work."
One of those young adults is Mary McLaughlin, one of Sister Dillon's first students in 1994.
"We were looking for a program to prepare Mary for communion," said Mary's mother Margot. She said her parish, Holy Trinity, didn't have the resources to prepare Mary for her confirmation.
"She wasn't able to grasp the lessons," Margot said. She credited Sister Dillon for accommodating Mary in the VanSpec program.
At VanSpec Mary received a one-to-one religious education from a patient volunteer.
"I loved the classes," Mary said. Now 24, she belongs to VanSpec's young adult group, where they talk about faith and religion and how to help the world.
Jacob Frescenzoa started attending VanSpec as a 10-year-old. He credited Sister Dillon with teaching him the faith and getting him through his first confession, Communion, and confirmation. Frescenzoa also thanked Sister Dillon and the VanSpec program for helping him become an independent adult.
"Jacob was one of my high-functioning autism students," Sister Dillon said.,"but you wouldn't know that by looking at Jacob today. When I first had him he was one of my hand clappers."
Frescenzoa, 24, now works at a full-time job but finds time to give back to VanSpec. "Here I am today, an independent person giving back to VanSpec. It's in my blood."
VanSpec chaplain Father Rodney Nootebos said Sister Dillon did more than just look after children and young adults with special needs.
"She is awesome to work for because she loves priests and takes care of them," he said. "She is like a second mother to me.
He said Sister Dillon's dedication and hard work are incredible, and joked that she puts him to shame.
That hard work allowed VanSpec to grow under Sister Dillon.
She became VanSpec director in 1994. After laying the groundwork for parish programs she left in 2000 to study in Rome. She obtained a Licensa in Pastorale Giovanile e Catechetica (Master's degree in Young Adult Ministry & Catechetics) from the Pontifical Salesian Univeristy in Rome in 2004. Believing she would be embarking on a new ministry Sister Dillon arrived back in Vancouver 2008 and was reassigned as director of VanSpec.
"I believe God has a sense of humour," she joked.
But returning to Vancouver with a new world view allowed Sister Dillon to see a new need for the program. "It was time for a new direction, and that was autism."
While VanSpec had worked with autistic children and young adults throughout its existence, Sister Dillon felt it was time to specialize. She took courses at UBC in 2009 and 2010 focusing on the condition.
Sister Dillon said she is leaving VanSpec in capable hands with Sister Stark. The two have known each other since 1996, when Sister Stark spent three months working at the program.
"God sent the right person to take over," Sister Dillon said. "She's an educator and was a Director of Religious Education for seven years. She is a sweet, engaging person."
Sister Dillon also asked her students and volunteers in attendance to welcome Sister Stark and to "love her twice as much as you love me."