NEW YORK — Blind since birth, Kerri Regan has depended on special tools and training, as well as her own wits, to navigate a rapidly changing world. The 24-year old is thus prepared to handle the arrival of the new Roman Missal that is making its debut in Catholic parishes throughout the country this coming weekend.
A Braille reader who attended Catholic high school and earned an associate degree at Nassau Community College near her family’s home in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Regan has obtained a “cheat sheet” that provides the new responses the faithful will say at Mass.
Similar materials are available to every Catholic, but Regan’s copy will be in Braille, so it will be too bulky for her handbag. She suggests with a laugh that it “may require a backpack.”
“I have been operating from memory for a long time, so the new translation will be a bit confusing, and maybe a little daunting, at first. But the Xavier Society for the Blind came out with a booklet with changes in the language for specific parts of Mass — with both the original and the changed wording. I’ll bring that with me until I learn the words,” she said.
Like many of the faithful, Regan was caught unawares by the arrival of the new translation. She was relieved to learn that the Xavier Society was distributing Braille transcriptions and large print and audio versions of the new translations of prayers for the Mass approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Indeed, it turns out that Regan first began using Braille materials produced by the society back in second grade, when she prepared for her first Communion.
The Xavier Society is a Jesuit-led ministry that provides a variety of religious materials for priests, religious and lay Catholics who are blind or visually impaired. Based in New York City, it employs 14 full-time and two part-time staff members and directs about 100 volunteers to assure that “those without sight may see.” The nonprofit was established in 1900 and named after St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit evangelist who baptized tens of thousands of people and is the patron of missionaries.
Jesuit Father Jim Joyce, who runs the retirement community at Fordham University for Jesuits afflicted with a range of physical and mental disabilities, said about a dozen priests “receive everything Xavier sends, from large-print versions of the Proper of the Mass to audio CDs.” The large-print materials are produced in a 22-point bold font.
“The Xavier Society has been terrific about supplying us with everything we need. We also have the complete Bible — three huge sets — quite hefty for the readings. We have tapes and CDs of all the Scriptures.”
Men who are totally blind are generally barred from entering the priesthood, Father Joyce noted, but old age, strokes and other health problems lead many priests, as well as other Catholics, to depend on these materials as they advance in years.
Kathleen Lynch, the executive director of the Xavier Society, said the organization has worked with the National Catholic Partnership for the Disabled and diocesan programs for the disabled throughout the nation to make sure those who need Braille or large-print copies of the new Missal receive them by the late November deadline. While most dioceses have ordered large-print “cheat sheets,” Braille materials may need to be ordered specially.
Bigger Than Harry Potter
In 1918, the society reached a significant landmark when it undertook the transcription of the Bible into Braille.
Almost a century later, the Xavier Society has just reached another landmark — completing the gargantuan task of transcribing the New American Bible Revised Edition into Braille, both large-print versions and audio CD.
“To give you some idea of the massive size of this Braille Bible transcription project,” said Lynch, “it’s the largest job ever to be completed by a national Braille press, surpassing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
For the society’s Bible project, a Word text had to be cleaned up of formatting, and then it was run through a Braille transcription program. After that, Braille has to be carefully proofread by a certified Braille transcriber and proofreader. The pages are printed out on a Braille printer, called “an embosser,” which punches holes in the paper. Then the pages have to be bound.
The manufacturing of Braille books cannot be conducted on a mass scale, and Lynch confirmed that a single copy of the Braille version of the Bible cost the Xavier Society an astonishing $1,400. Given the bulky size of a single sheet of Braille, the Bible had to be broken up into 45 volumes.
“Voluntary donations for this project are always gratefully accepted, but all our services remain free of charge. We received grants for the project from a variety of donors and foundations, including the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, based in New York,” said Lynch.
To calibrate the demand for the new Bible, the society distributed a questionnaire that asked respondents to confirm what format they preferred. Ultimately, a total of about 2,000 Bibles were provided in one of three formats, with the majority in the audio version.
The society estimates its audio “readership” at 7,500 to 8,000. And it supplies monthly recordings of 12 periodicals, ranging from scholarly journals to Catholic Digest.. It maintains its own recording studios and depends on a supply of volunteer readers.
“We are very lucky. Our vocal talent ranges from voice actors to people off the street to Jesuit priests with really good voices who are mostly retired and have the time to do this,” said Lynch.
It has also begun providing digital formats to its Braille offerings; in 1995, the society was the first to transcribe the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church, including footnotes and indices, into all three formats.
Kerri Regan hasn’t requested these additional materials. Right now, like most 20-somethings, she is busy job hunting.
But she’s pleased about receiving her Braille cheat sheet. “There might be some people who want a full Missal,” she noted, “but, for me, this will be fine.”
Now she just needs to get out her backpack.
Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.