Christine Ostroski ‘86 is following her calling — helping individuals with special needs live out a life of faith and devotion.
Her son is part of that community and played a large role in her inspiration to begin a tailor-made curriculum and program to help people with disabilities work toward their first Holy Communion and sacrament of Confirmation.
Ostroski has served on the Holy Family Special Needs Foundation board for years after being invited by the diocese. Beyond sacramental preparation, she is also highly involved in her parish, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, volunteering with events and leading support groups.
Her ministry work began 10 years ago when her son needed to make his first Holy Communion.
“When my son was little, I didn’t even know if that would be a possibility,” Ostroski said. “Our pastor helped me to find the resources at the parish to make that happen and my son was invited to join the parish School of Religion communion prep class. But in order for him to do that, I had to go to class with him.”
Ostroski knew she would need to put together a specialized confirmation class and teach it in order to accommodate her son’s needs. With the blessing of the diocese, she did just that.
After her son made his first communion, Ostroski decided she needed to keep the customized training going. After speaking to her pastor and getting the go ahead, she honed the curriculum and soon had a handful of eager learners with moms willing to help out.
She continues teaching the class today, 10 years later, on an as-needed basis.
The teaching can be difficult at times, she said, noting that teaching the sacraments simply takes time. She recalled working with one particular student for a little more than a year.
“You have to have time and be patient and push along — as long as it takes to get them to the goal,” said Ostroski. “Even though it took a year with this student, that was twice as fast as I thought it would go. I truly believe it was because of the grace of the Holy Spirit that he went through it and learned so quickly. Not only did he make his First Communion, but he was also confirmed the same day.”
She added that working with the students is a blessing and the results have been astounding.
“At the end of these, in those moments, I feel so blessed to have even known these kids, let alone work with them. Every single kid I’ve worked with amazes me. They are so smart and learn so well, it’s just a matter of unlocking that potential in them.”
Ostroski said that at the core of it all, the reason she does what she does is because she is the parent of a special needs child. Her passion is to help other students like her son obtain the sacrament “because that’s where they meet Christ.”
She added, “They have every right to the sacrament as anyone else — their disabilities don’t disqualify them from the sacrament.”
Ostroski’s son often comes to the classes with her and enjoys being helpful. And the students benefit from his presence much of the time and enjoy being around him.
The students in her class also get to meet Most Rev. Bishop Carl Kemme. Ostroski said Bishop Kemme will attend at least one class per session to meet and interact with the students.
“I don’t think people in the diocese understand how blessed we are that our bishop and local church really value special needs persons,” she said. “There are archdioceses way bigger than this one that don’t have nearly the offerings we have.”
“Many times, my students have to be shown something rather than be told,” she continued. “When I came up with this curriculum, I realized they would have to see and experience what a bishop is and who he is. It started with Bishop Gerber. He was retired at the time, but he would come to a class to meet the kids. And now, for the last few years, Bishop Kemme has come to a class. He lets them hold his crosier, mitre and ecclesiastical ring and they get their picture taken with him. This helps them really understand what a bishop is.”
The Newman experience and influence
Newman University was known as Kansas Newman College at the time Ostroski attended. She entered the college directly out of high school and chose Newman for many reasons — the top two being its location and its small size and atmosphere.
The experience brought out skills she didn’t realize were there. Public speaking and community involvement were two experiences that have stuck with her throughout her professional life. She loved Newman so much that she jumped at the opportunity to become part of its staff shortly after she graduated.
Starting as an admissions counselor, Ostroski worked her way up to the admissions director role.
“I really enjoyed being a student but I probably enjoyed being an employee even more,” she explained. “It was a great time. My office really worked hard to try and help the school grow and we had been through some tough times.”
Ostroski said even though she worked many weekends and traveled for a great deal of her time, at the end of the day she loved her work. She said it all tied into the motto of the university’s founder and sponsors, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, which is “The charity of Christ urges us on.”
“When it came time to leave, I didn’t want to. But I had this internal sense that something big was going to change in my life and that ended up being my next job, which was as director of Youth and Young Ministry for the Diocese of Wichita.”
Her calling to switch careers led her to meeting her husband and starting a family. She said God was definitely leading her and she didn’t mind following that lead because she had faith that there was a reason for the change.
“Newman played a huge part in my career path. Being a student and then an employee, it taught me that the only way I can feel fulfilled as a person is to work, either as a volunteer or professional, toward what the church teaches us or what Christ is calling us to do in the world.”