A Sensory Friendly Room for Mass Near Buffalo, NY

St. Bernadette’s Church in Orchard Park, NY has a sensory-friendly room at Mass and a whole sensory-friendly Mass on occasion. This parish is rather unique as they got mentioned in local news in Buffalo, not just in the diocesan paper like most others. I will cite the diocesan paper on their sensory-friendly room and the local news on their sensory-friendly Easter Mass.

The Paper of the Diocese of Buffalo on Their Sensory-Friendly Room

View from the sensory-friendly room into St. Bernadette’s Church (Sharon Urbaniak, parish staff, used with permission)

This was developed in large part as an Eagle Scout project. WNY Catholic reports:

Thanks to Drew Newberry, St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park has a way to accommodate people with autism. Drew has autism, as do his three siblings. His younger years at church were very difficult for him. When he made his confirmation last year, he asked if he could redo our sensory room as his Eagle Scout project to offer children with autism ways to be more comfortable at Mass. Thus, his journey began with researching ideas online, drawing up his plans and then soliciting assistance in funding his project. It was a gift he wanted to give back to his parish, so he raised chickens to collect $500 from the sale of the eggs. He went to stores to feel fabrics, select manipulatives (latches, zippers, switches, paint brushes) and various textured items. Home Depot and AC Moore offered discounts on his purchases. Rucker Lumber donated the magnetic paint.   

Drew’s fellow scouts and his parents assisted in painting the room a soft blue color and a corner of  magnetic paint. Drew selected round wooden boards to adhere items to for easier placement on the walls. Jesus and his companions magnets were added to the board. Coat hooks have various pieces of ribbon and material for people to twirl.

The room has one short pew and two rocking chairs as this motion aids in calming.

You can find more on the parish website.

EDIT (May 6, 2022): it was not clear to me from the website or diocesan paper, but via email, they clarified that the sensory-friendly room is available at every Mass.

Spectrum News 1 on Their Inclusive Mass

The local news had a story on the inclusive Mass for Easter:

Bridget [Hudson, who has an autistic son,] said the amount of time Masses take up can also be challenging. That’s why having an inclusive Mass, with dimmer lights, a shorter duration and softer music, is helpful. In fact, the Hudson’s aren’t parishioners at St. Bernadette’s, but they do come specifically for the holiday inclusive Masses held here.

“We’re always so stressed that people are judging and watching everything that’s happening,” Bridget said. “When they’re younger, especially when he was younger, it was a lot tougher. If there were noises and things like that, we were always paranoid.”

St. Bernadette Church Faith Formation Director Sharon Urbaniak organized the first inclusive Easter Mass eight years ago.

“We invited Brielle Stewart and her mom, Toby. Brielle is now 14 years old with non-verbal autism and her mother approached our open doors committee asking if we could have a special Mass,” Urbaniak said.

The Mass will be on Tuesday at 7pm. You can see the flyer on the parish’s site.

8 Years of Inclusive Masses in the Buffalo Area

Regular readers of this site will likely not find too much of this surprising as this matches many other Masses in the Sensory-Friendly Mass Directory. I added this parish to the directory. One thing that I find particularly hopeful is that they have had inclusive Christmas and Easter Masses for eight years! That is one of the longest-running I’ve seen, thus showing how these can go on for a long time.

EDIT: Here are two more images from inside the sensory-friendly room (Sharon Urbaniak, parish staff, used with permission)

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