Tell us about your growing up years and family.
My brother Armando (Mando) was born with Down syndrome. I am his sister and legal guardian, Lourdes. We are both associates of the Sisters of St. Francis. Soon after Mando was born, doctors told our parents that their expectations for him to live beyond his toddler years were very low. They said the same during his adolescence and after his teenage years. Eventually, our parents and my siblings and I stopped listening. Today, Mando is in his 50s and the life expectancy for a person with Down Syndrome is beyond 60 years. Mando was born with gastrointestinal issues and a major speech impediment, though he has never had a problem communicating with us. As the youngest, he shadowed my mother, a devout Catholic, who volunteered daily at our parish church. At the church, he helped with various chores and joined ministry groups in prayer. I can remember family members referring to Mando as “póbrecito” or “poor boy,” to which my dad would reply, “He’s got a roof over his head, a family that loves him, and he never wants for anything. So, what’s there to feel sorry about?” Mando was an active little boy and raising him presented many challenges and blessings. Our parents had the patience to redirect and change behavior, include him in all family activities, and search for the resources he needed to thrive. We’ve all had our moments, some scary, and some more than challenging; however, they are outnumbered by the love, joy, and grace that Mando has brought to us.
Please share a favorite story about your early community service.
Early on, Mando learned about church and the reverence that one must show while in God’s house, a common challenge for every child. He loves to pray and sings straight from his heart. Every day amidst our daily routine and, especially, when we’re at Mass together, he reminds me that he has been God’s most transforming influence in my life. My parents had a checklist of developmental milestones for all of us. Mando may have skipped a few milestones but receiving our sacraments was a scheduled milestone for all of us and, according to my parents, a disability wasn’t going to be a barrier. A Dominican Sister whose family lived in our parish came to know my mother and shared some helpful details about her ministry serving the spiritual needs of children and adults with developmental disabilities. With this sister’s help and that of that of our entire community, the challenging road to Mando receiving the eucharist and being confirmed was met. Drivers were found for catechism classes across town where skilled teachers guided Mando through the sacraments that support all of our lives.
Why did you decide to become an Associate?
Mando accompanies me to all of the community gatherings and the sisters, and the Associates welcome him with open arms. We practice the Franciscan Way together.
How do you share your Franciscan values and spirituality now?
Spending time with family is one of Mando’s favorite past times. During the week, he spends a day or two with our dad. They have a close bond and often take bus rides around town, stopping for coffee at McDonalds and to get haircuts and shaves. With his brother Beto, Mando walks the dog and serves as an apprentice when doing chores. Our nephew and niece are, by far, Mando’s favorite people on earth. He carries their photos in his wallet and his eyes fill with pride and joy when he sees them. We love him unconditionally and he shows us that same kind of love in return.
What would you like us to know about being a Franciscan?
Because it does take a village, I know there is no reason why Mando cannot continue to live a full life.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
When he’s happy, Mando sings his favorite go-to song:” He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”