St. Robert Bellarmine:

A Patron Saint for Individuals with Down Syndrome *About the picture: Alexander Kostner, Italian artist and sculptor, was commissioned in 2016 to paint the image of St. Robert Bellarmine embracing children with Down syndrome for the St. Robert Bellarmine Apostolate. His studio is in Ortisei, Italy. Copyright

The story of the St. Robert Bellarmine Apostolate

In 2010, we learned early in my pregnancy that our baby had Down syndrome. We feared the unknown but embraced the news with trust in God. We focused on the blessing that the Lord would choose us to raise this special child.  Like most parents, we spent the remaining months of the pregnancy praying for our baby and deciding on his name.   We chose Robert.  That name held many family connections for us. 

During an ultra-sound conducted in the second trimester, we learned that Robert had a hole in his heart.  With the prognosis of needing surgery shortly after he was born, we reached out to all our family and friends to pray for our little baby still in the womb.  My own prayers for our baby led me to search for the patron saint of people with Down syndrome.  To my surprise, I did not find one.  I had a fleeting thought that perhaps St. Robert Bellarmine should be the patron saint of individuals with Down syndrome.  Just as quickly as that thought came, it left.  In addition to my 

About Us: The story of the St. Robert Bellarmine Apostolate, letters of support and a testimonial. A retreat for teenagers with Down syndrome from New Haven, Indiana. Pictures from the retreat are on the 'photo page'. 

prayers to Our Lord, Jesus, His Most Blessed Mother, and St. Raphael the Archangel, I began to ask St. Robert Bellarmine to intercede for our baby.

Weighing in at just 3 lbs. 7 oz., our son Robert’s birth came seven weeks early.  At birth, the doctors diagnosed Robert as having a blood disorder, a stroke on his occipital lobe and a congenital heart defect called a VSD, which eventually caused him to go into heart failure.  Our neonatologist, also named Robert, worked on our baby for 9 hours to stabilize him.  He told us our baby was a fighter and that he wouldn’t have survived in my uterus any longer. The decision that day for a C-section was our first miracle. There were many that followed. We attribute these to the many prayers and surely the blessings baby Robert received with the first class relics of St. Philomena, St. Sabina, St. John Neumann, St. Gerard, and St. John Vianney.

Robert had two open heart surgeries before he was four months old and spent 121 days in the hospital.  It was a challenging time for us and our five other children but all of the prayers and love we received sustained us.

As Robert’s health continued to improve, my own personal curiosity into the life of St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, grew. The more I learned about him, the more my devotion through him increased.  I cannot express the joy I felt when my research revealed that his Feast Day is September 17.  That is the day of my Mother’s birthday!  She passed on November 25, 2003. I prayed to both throughout and I am confident that my mother worked closely with St. Robert Bellarmine interceding for her Grandson.  The fleeting thought I once had about St. Robert Bellarmine being a patron saint of people with Down syndrome was far from fleeting now.  It was always on my mind and I began to ask many priests how a saint gets designated to be a patron.  All agreed that it is through prayer and word of mouth that this designation becomes known to the faithful.  At a minimum, it is good to share the power of St. Robert Bellarmine’s intercession.

Desiring to do the will of God, I prayed for a sign to confirm whether Our Lord wanted St. Robert Bellarmine to be known as a patron saint for individuals with Down syndrome. I made this fervent prayer on a Saturday. The next day after Holy Mass, as I talked with two close friends, Robert, an usher who has Down syndrome walked from the other side of the church to greet us.  This was not something he customarily did.  We conversed and his words to us were, “I want you to know that Jesus and I talk all the time and St. Robert Bellarmine is my patron saint.” I turned to my friend and said, “That’s my sign from the Lord!”

 Believing that I received my sign, I knew it was time to respond. I prayed to the Holy Spirit asking Him to please help me write a prayer for St. Robert’s intercession. Through His inspiration came three prayers; one for an expectant mother whose baby has Down syndrome, another for raising a child with Down syndrome, and the third for an individual with Down syndrome to pray. In 2011, my parish priest at the time, Fr. Leonard Klein, Director of ProLife Activities and Respect Life Committee for the Diocese of Wilmington, gave his support by reviewing the prayers and giving his approval. They were printed and distributed to all those the Lord put in my path.

With Fr. Klein's continued support, he agreed to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the Feast Day of St. Robert Bellarmine (September 17) for the intentions of individuals with Down syndrome, their families and friends. The attendance at the Mass was spectacular. Each year since then, and now in four different parishes located in four different states, Mass has been celebrated on the Feast Day of St. Robert Bellarmine for this intention. 

In 2012, inspired to make St. Robert Bellarmine's intercession and patronage for individuals with Down syndrome more widely known, we developed the website,

Then, in 2014 under the encouragement and support of Fr. Greg Markey, pastor of St. Mary Church in the Diocese of Bridgeport, the MOMs+DADs (Mother of Mercy spiritual Divine Advocate for Down syndrome) prayer/support group began. Two more prayer groups are anticipated this year, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Virginia.

Through this Apostolate I have met so many wonderful families who have children with Down syndrome. Each year, one or two stories find their way back to us about how the prayers have helped either strengthen or console someone or bring together a small group in prayer. Most of us never thought we would have a child with special needs and all of us agree we would never change having a child with Down syndrome. We all concur that it is by the grace of God that we are able to be good loving parents even when times are tough. Children with Down syndrome give our families and communities so many blessings and graces that we could never imagine. They teach us how to live and how to love beyond measure. God has stretched our hearts so big with such gentleness, that we are able to raise these beautiful children with heavenly help.

We hope and pray this Apostolate will touch your heart and soul and help you to implore St. Robert's intercession for all your needs. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Apostolate through our website. We are so grateful for all those who have helped the Apostolate grow, especially, Father Leonard Klein and Father Greg Markey.

May 2015, Robby is now 4 years old and is growing and learning so much these days. He is truly a beautiful gift from the hand of God (Jas 1:17) and we are so thankful! The love that illuminates from Robby is so pure and is a piece God Himself. His hugs and kisses are the best! I pray that all mothers who learn their baby has Down syndrome experience this joy and love of God! God bless you!

Praise be to Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Letters of support:

I am happy to support the movement to name St. Robert Bellarmine the patron of people with Down syndrome and to promote the invocation of this great saint on their behalf.

The effort has come about through circumstances that are beautifully providential. A baby with Down syndrome was introduced to an adult with Down syndrome. Both of them are "Robert," and the adult at once said that his patron was Robert Bellarmine.

Robert Bellarmine, who died in 1621, is a Doctor of the Church. He was a cardinal archbishop, a brilliant theologian, and as such a leader in the Catholic Reformation. His work was not for the most part care for those in need, and this fact might make him seem an odd choice. But perhaps a Doctor of the Church is the kind of patron that the Down syndrome community needs, for love of the truth is critical to defending the life and worth of persons with special needs.

That commitment to seeing and spreading the truth is already acknowledged in his patronage of catechists and catechumens. St. Robert Bellarmine strove for Catholic truth, just as those who know and love persons with Down syndrome begin by recognizing the truth about the dignity of every human person. I therefore hope this movement will grow and find many supporters.

Fr. Leonard R. Klein
Director of ProLife Activities and Respect Life Committee
Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware


Our Lord's peace! It was my pleasure to welcome your prayer group, MOMs+DADs (Mother of Mercy spiritual Divine Advocate for Down syndrome), to St. Mary Church this past year, which supports families who have members with Down syndrome. We cannot deny the often-enormous challenges that these families face. I know this prayer group has been a great source of encouragement and strength to all of these families, and a blessing to St. Mary Church. I pray that it will continue to grow.

Your work helps us to realize that these special children are not just an opportunity for us to show compassion for the least among us, however important that may be; these children become our spiritual guides in the path of holiness. I know that having Robby in the parish these past couple of years has been a great blessing. Whenever you showed up at Mass or a parish event with Robby, he became the center of attention and love, bringing light to everyone around him.

Your work in promoting St. Robert Bellarmine as the patron saint of people with Down syndrome has also been enriching because it increases our appreciation for this sometimes forgotten Doctor of the Church, and shows how even the greatest intellects in the history of the Church are ultimately people with compassion for the most needy among us.

I support your good work promoting St. Robert Bellarmine and Servant of God, Dr. Jerome Lejeune as the patron saint of those with Down syndrome. May your efforts bear abundant fruit in helping all of us build a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love.

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Greg J. Markey


My son's first birthday is approaching quickly, February 20, 2015 and I look back on this past year and quite frankly I can't believe I made it! I sometimes ask myself, how did I make it? The answer comes quietly and quickly through my heart, soul and mind; I made it through the Grace of God! One of the many Graces I received this past year, and the word many is stressed, is coming across a very special website after the doctors told my husband and I that our unborn baby was Trisomy 21.

The joy of an expectant mother when she is carrying life in her womb is glorious! What absolute joy, and for me it was my fifth! That joy came crashing down during my eleventh week of pregnancy. I was over the age of thirty-five, so the doctors "encouraged" an old lady like me to get extra tests done, "just to make sure." My doctor knew me very well, it didn't matter what results the tests showed, because I'd never get rid of my baby. Nevertheless, I did as I was told and got all the tests. The results of the Maternity 21 blood test came back positive for Trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome.

I didn't have any experience with Down syndrome other than stories of my Aunt Stella who was Down syndrome and only lived for eighteen years. Memories that are difficult for my Nana and my mother. My first instinct was to find out who was the patron saint for Down syndrome. One night I sat and searched the internet for information and found that there wasn't a patron for these babies or their families. How could this be? The Catholic Church in Her Wisdom has a patron for everyone and everything, but not this little group of people. That night as I searched I came across a website that forever changed my life, it was Saint for Down syndrome, and I was introduced to the family who started the website. The struggles that Robby experienced and his unbelievable fight for life and the desire for him to live were felt reading those pages. I had found a friend in Robby's mother and I found a guide for my soul in the prayers she had composed. I prayed the intercessory prayer for an expectant mother of a baby with Down syndrome every night until my baby was brought into this world. From February 20, 2014 until today I have been praying the intercessory prayer for raising a child with Down syndrome and I always will. I'll teach my James the prayer for an individual with Down syndrome and I'm grateful we have it! Those dog-eared and tattered prayers are on my nightstand and always will be. I am eternally grateful to Robby's mom; she gave me hope and I believe these prayers helped me get through this past year and will help me through the years to come. St. Robert Bellarmine pray for us!


10th Annual World Down syndrome Day "Lenten Retreat" at St. Andrews Church; New Haven, Indiana, brings blessings, hopes, to brighten future

Young adults from the Down syndrome community and their families were blessed by the Franciscan Brothers Friars Minor and Sisters Minor on Saturday, March 21st.  They gathered for the first annual "Lenten Retreat" to celebrate the 10th anniversary of World Down syndrome Day. For these young people, being different is normal. The sad truth is that 61-93% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. The life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased from 12 years in 1949 to 60 years today. Families today are blessed with social awareness and organizations devoted to educating and helping these people dream dreams and reach goals that were before unheard of. Society is slowly becoming aware of the value and worth of these special people, and their families breathe easier and give sounds of relief. The mere fact that there has been a World Down syndrome Day for ten years now is a major victory in the eyes of many. The young adults joined in with the Brothers and Sisters for prayer, fun projects, snacks and all around good camaraderie with each other. The Brothers helped the boys with prayer, a project making a cross of wooden clothes pins, a grand tour of the outdoor premises, explaining the daily prayer and life of a Franciscan Brother. They also answered all the questions the boys had with loving kindness and help them understand their faith more fully. A fun ball game played, kept their energy to the summit. Our theme of "loving one another" (Jn 13:34-35) permeated and surrounded the afternoon.

The Sisters in turn did the same with the girls. They had such fun making what St. Theresa the Little Flower, called her sacrifice or "Good Deed Beads". A small line of beads she kept in her pocket as a child, to help her count the gifts she did, to offer to God. The beads can be pulled and remain in place so they can "count" the good acts of love in a day. With the Sisters they prayed a decade of the rosary and even reflected on favorite decades themselves. It was a time of true blessings for the girls and Sisters, along with proud parents looking on. You could feel the words from Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." Our theme of "Love one another" was assiduous throughout the entire time spent together that day. They played games, and also toured the grounds pointing out the simple beauty of God's lovely creations. Inside once again with the Sisters, the girls made lovely Lenten collages, all the while talking with the Sisters who guided them with gentle hands and loving words. One young girl "said it all" more or less, on her way home. "Mom, I want to be a Sister"! One of the Brothers has Down syndrome also, and on their tour remarked to a mom, lovingly, "Maybe your son could live here when he is 18 years old too? "There are no words to express the pure joy in the heart of these lovely mothers that day. I think all the families were grateful and pleased our first annual Down Syndrome Day was a success.

We are surely in debt to the wonderful Franciscans and their Minister General, Father David Mary Engo F.F.M. for all their help and were blessed indeed with beautiful color photographs of St. Robert Bellarmine the patron Saint of the Down syndrome community along with lovely prayer cards, special rosary intentions and wonderful information about their patron Saint, sent to us by the website. Last, but not least, we are most grateful and send our loving thanks to Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. in Philadelphia, PA for remembering us during his Holy Mass for all people with disabilities at the Cathedral Basilica, celebrated on the same day, for our success. Wonderful memories were savored and tucked away for special keeping by all who attended. 

Alice A. Nolan Obl.S.B.