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Catholic Life Parish Life Youth

Nothing deters young blogger from spreading God’s message

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From a well-researched history of the rosary to heartfelt concerns for others during the early days of the Corona pandemic, John Nemmer blogs from the heart about his faith. His love for Jesus and the Catholic Church is evident. What makes this young man different from any other millennial with a laptop and an opinion is the fact that John has severe cerebral palsy and requires 24/7 care. Although the disorder restricts body movement, muscle control and coordination, his mind has no such limits.

John Nemmer, a blogger for St. Gregory the Great Parish, rests in his living room before typing up his next thought. The 21-year-old uses a wheelchair to get around and elctronic devices to communicate due to cerebral palsy. Photo courtesy of the Nemmer Family.

“I think, reason, learn and understand just like any other adult,” he said via a Dynavox device that allows him to speak, write and surf the web. “I love God so much. I want to offer my whole life to Him by becoming a religious brother in the future. I love to go to Mass and receive Jesus every Sunday.”

A difficult birth left him with a deep brain injury that affects his muscle control. He twitches and jerks around as he types out his thoughts. He controls his Dynavox with his knees, scrolling through words or letters to form a sentence in a message bar that can be synthesized into verbal speech. He got the device when he was 4, and picked up on it right away.

“It’s pretty cool the way an occupational therapist figured out which parts of his body worked best. He was able to get switches that would activate from his knees,” said his mother, Marianne Nemmer. “When you look at someone in a chair who’s non-verbal, that maybe moves or looks a little different, you think that they’re not there. They’re just that physical being. But once you can give them the technology of speech, that gives us our humanity. Speaking and being able to communicate gives him humanity.”

Three years ago, he enquired how he could serve his home parish of St. Gregory the Great in Williamsville, and the larger Church community. Adam Jarosz, youth minister at St. Greg’s, suggested writing a blog. He continues to write his timely thoughts on God’s plan, being thankful, and the Eucharist every month or so.

“I want to touch people’s hearts and bring them closer to God,” he said of his column, which can be read at http://www.stgregsym.org/blog.

Jarosz calls John a “remarkable kid of faith.”

“He wants to take the time to share his thoughts about the faith. That’s actually kind of rare,” he said. “The fact that he is a faithful kid, who takes his faith very seriously – tying that in with his disability, I think it could be really easy for someone to be angry and maybe be dismissive of faith – but he really takes hold of his faith in ways that I think are rare in youth and young adult ministry.”

The blog ideas come from discussions between John and Jarosz who search for the right topics for the season.

“It takes him a little time to prepare it. He’ll submit one then ask, ‘What else do you want me to write on?’ We’ll kick around some options depending on the time of the year. He asked, ‘Can I write something on Lent?’ Sure, sounds good.”

When the 21-year-old shows up at church with his family, that includes four older brothers, he gets noticed due to his wheelchair. Fellow parishioner Joe Dispenza noticed him for his grasp on the faith. Although too young to be familiar with the Baltimore Catechism, Dispenza found everything John wrote in a recent Lent blog to be from those teachings.

“When you read his text, it’s all about preparing for being with God in this life for when we are with Him later,” Dispenza said. “I believe he is a true evangelist. He can’t talk and he can’t walk. He can’t eat. But, he’s a true evangelist. We live in a great time that he has a machine that helps him get the words out of that head of his.”

Dispenza finds his time with John as fulfilling as adoration.

“He teaches me humbleness, humility. He teaches me that you must have 100 percent commitment to faith and anything is possible. I see a young man sweating just to type 10 words, and yet he can’t wait to type the next 10,” he said. “Faith is strongest in those who should have the least of it. That’s what attracts me to John Nemmer. I’m his student just by watching him live.”

For others who have struggles in their lives, John offers simple advice.

“Trust in God with all of your heart because He will bring a better good out of all your sufferings.”

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