Paralyzing diagnosis, amazing child

Fr. Pat Angelucci was director of Salesian High School in New Rochelle, but he’d cross the border to celebrate a mass or two on Sundays at St. Michael’s in Greenwich. Dan and Susan Schuller always made it a point to say hello. They loved his homilies.

One Sunday, Fr. Pat read Claudia Minden Welsz’s poem, “And God Said ‘No’”: 

I asked God to take away my pride,
And God said “No.”
He said it was not for Him to take away,
But for me to give up.
 

It made a big impression on the Schullers. They were shortly expecting their fifth child and there had been a hiccup in the pregnancy. A doctor saw something wrong with the baby’s heart.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole,
and God said, “No.”
He said her spirit is eternal,
While her body is only temporary.
 

Worried, Susan started going to daily mass at St. Michael’s. “I was clinging to the basics,” Susan told me recently. “I was clinging to the faith. I thought that if I took communion, then the baby did, too.”

I asked God to grant me patience,
And God said, “No.”
He said patience is a by-product of tribulation.
It isn’t granted – it is earned.
 

A week later, the Schullers were in the delivery room. They were stunned when the doctor said he saw signs of Down syndrome. Even though Susan was over 35, they had refused all prenatal tests. They knew they would never abort a child.

I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said “No.”
He said He gives blessings,
Happiness is up to me.
 

The diagnosis was so sudden, so final, that Susan found she couldn’t speak. For a few days, Dan had to do the talking for the both of them. Doctors filed in and filed out. Baby Michael was taken to the NICU. “I think we need a copy of that poem,” Dan said.

I asked God to spare me pain,
And God said “No.”
He said, “Suffering draws you apart from
Worldly cares and brings you close to Me.”
 

The Schullers were back at St. Michael’s the following Sunday. Dan joined the receiving line to tell Fr. Pat what had happened. But before Dan could speak, Fr. Pat pulled out a copy of the poem. “You asked for this?” he said. Dan was dumbfounded. “I didn’t ask for it, but I do need it,” he answered.

I asked God to make my spirit grow,
And God said “No.”
He said I must grow on my own,
But he will prune me to make it fruitful.
 

After a week or so, things began to stabilize. Susan got her speech back. Michael’s health improved. To this day, Fr. Pat says he truly thought Dan had asked him for a copy of the poem. Susan took it as a sign that God was planning to walk with them on their journey.

I asked God if He loved me,
And God said “Yes.”
He gave me His only Son, who died for me,
And I will be in heaven someday
Because I believe.
 

But what surprised the Schullers was just how many others would join them on the journey. They met countless families in Fairfield County who’d been through the same thing, so they decided to form a group to help, inspire, and support. Since Down syndrome is caused by a third copy of the 21st chromosome, they called the group 21 Strong.

“Giving someone hope is the greatest blessing,” Susan told me. “I benefitted early on from other families who gave me hope. To be able to share that blessing with others is such a gift. The diagnosis is paralyzing, but the children are just amazing.” 

I asked God to help me love others
As much as He loves me,
And God said,
“Ah, finally you have the idea.” 
 

 October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. If you or someone you know has had a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome, don’t hesitate to reach out to Susan at 21Strong2010@gmail.com. Or visit www.21Strong.org to learn more about the happy, healthy families in our area who know the joy of raising a child with Down syndrome.

Oh, and get yourself a copy of that poem. You didn’t ask for it, but you need it.

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