Special Religious Development

SPRED is an organization that supports the religious, spiritual, social and emotional development of people with an intellectual disability within the Archdiocese of Johannesburg.

SPRED is an acronym for SPecial REligious Development, but what itstands for is accepting the challenge and the privilege, of aiding persons with an intellectual disability to participate fully in the liturgical life of their Church.

SPRED aims to do this by providing appropriate religious services and experiences, which will enrich their quality of life spiritually, socially and emotionally.

SPRED consists of a group of volunteers who commit to forming small faith communities to support the faith development of people with an intellectual disability by developing relationships of love, acceptance and welcome.


SPRED began in Chicago in 1966 as a Ministry to Serve the Intellectually Disabled.

In 1966, SPRED was established as an agency of the Archdiocese of Chicago. It is the work of Fr. James McCarthy, Sr. Mary Therese Harrington, SH and Sr. Susanne Gallagher, SP. The goal is to inspire each parish to welcome persons with developmental disabilities into a SPRED group where they would become prepared to participate in the liturgical life of their parish. The method of symbolic catechesis (Method Vivre) is in use in SPRED groups nationally and worldwide.

History of SPRED


At the invitation of the late Bishop R. Osmond, Sr. Teresa Marie began the SPRED programme in the Johannesburg Diocese on the 1st October 1997.


We are all “pilgrim people living God’s dream”.
By supporting their religious, spiritual, social and emotional development, SPRED seeks to ensure that people with an intellectual or developmental disability realise this as well.

To integrate socially, psychologically and spiritually in parish worship children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities, recognizing their individual value, attributes and contributions to society and the church.


“I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10:10)

We believe in a loving God who embraces all, and gives us life to share.
We acknowledge our need for nurturing our faith.
We accept the challenge of aiding persons who have an intellectual disability to belong fully to their church.
Together we work with individuals, families, care-providers, staff and parishes in providing religious services for a better quality of life for children, adolescents and adults who have an intellectual or related developmental disability.
We learn about each other’s gifts and talents through commencing and supporting small basic faith groups.
Every person, “created in the image and likeness of God”, has a yearning to become more deeply connected with God and others.
People with an intellectual disability are no different.



The aim of SPRED is twofold:

To accompany people with developmental disabilities on their faith journey.

To enable these people to take their rightful place in the parish community. 

SPRED is a programme for children, teenagers, young adults and adults with a developmental disabilities.

The concept of friendship is central to the SPRED method. Jesus said, “I call you friends”. Friend! What is more precious than a true friend, one who is there for us?

In SPRED we use the word friend of one another.

SPRED  is a life-long programme as we can never stop growing in our relationship with God.

Respectful of the life experience of each person, SPRED groups are formed according to chronological age.


1) Availability
Spiritual developmental shall be available to persons with developmental disabilities.
A person with disabilities who enters a SPRED group is a member of a parish. By sponsoring a SPRED group the parish makes faith developmental available.
The work of the parish contact person is to locate persons with developmental disabilities in the parish, locate faith companions to join the community, see that they are trained and arrange for the use of appropriate space.
Through the SPRED group, the spiritual life of the parish becomes available to the person with disabilities.

2) Total Community Session

a)    There shall be a presentation time during each session with persons with developmental disabilities.
Everyone is welcomed as soon as they arrive.
The prepared environment fosters a sense of belonging, well-being and concentration.
The coordinator is responsible for the over all preparation time.

b)    Symbolic Catechesis
Symbolic and liturgical catechesis appropriate to each age group shall be used t o foster the spiritual development of the community.
The liturgical Presider assumes responsibility for the celebration room. A prepared environment and the faith companion foster a sense of sacred, prayerful awareness and celebration in the faith.

c)    Closure
The session shall be brought to a closure through the sharing of food.
Sharing of food in an atmosphere of the sacred has a significance. A well prepared table involving everyone’s contribution is a shared gift. Flowers, candles, serviettes, dishes, etc. form the elements that convey respect, trust, and affection. Music expresses and deepens the group’s happiness in becoming a community of faith.
Through the guidance of the coordinator, all members participate in the preparation, sharing of food and cleaning up. The good-byes are to be respectful and personal.

3) Faith Companion

Each session that includes persons with developmental disabilities shall be preceded by a preparation session.
The adult community of faith companions gathers together to renew its own appreciation, in faith, of the mystery to be celebrated in the Total Community Session.

United in their experience of faith, through a symbolic method, they form a warm, welcoming community into which persons with developmental disabilities are invited. Preparation sessions take place on the week prior to the week  of the sessions with persons with developmental disabilities. The session closes with the sharing of food – Agape.

4) Liturgy – Worship

There shall be integration into the liturgical and sacramental life of the parish.
Integration into the spiritual life of the parish is goal of SPRED.

5) Area Coordination

There shall be coordination between centers in a given area.
Parish representatives within an area can assist one another in the recruitment, placement, referrals, expansion and advocacy for integration. The area resource person fosters area coordination.