Blind lector sees God's love, mercy

March 14, 2023

Mary Clarke practices reading for Mass

By Elizabeth Elliott

Blindness doesn’t keep Mary Clarke from fully experiencing and sharing her faith.

Clarke was in her 20s when she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary eye disease generally resulting in total blindness. 

“As I see it, there are three kinds of sight. There is the physical sight which I don’t have although I have my other senses,”Mary Clarke's hand goes over braille letters Clarke said. “Then there is the sight brought on by reasoning which we all share and then there is the contemplative sight which to me is the most profound sight because it opens our soul up to the magnificent Spirit of God’s love and mercy.”

She learned Braille as an adult and said her Braille reading is slower than those who developed the skill at an early age.
“When I am preparing a reading for Mass, I will read it over many times before I read it at Mass,” she said. “This has proved to be a tremendous spiritual blessing for me since as I read it over and over, I gain new insights into the deeper meanings of the readings.”

Clarke said she believes she can help others struggling with their challenges by accepting her challenges through God’s grace.  

“This may sound rather strange, but by not being able to see distractions around me, I find myself focusing on my spiritual sanctum as I participate in the Eucharistic celebration,” she said.

Her role as lector began when she was attending Mass at Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Catholic Church in Ankeny. Monsignor Steve Orr had asked parishioners to consider volunteering to be lectors. 

She said she had an overpowering urge to volunteer: “At the same time I was saying in my heart, ‘God, this is crazy... I had not read in front of people since I had lost my vision.’”  

The thought persisted so she was put in touch with individual training lectors. 

“I contacted the Xavier Society for the Blind. They sent me the Proper for the Sunday Masses and I began to lector atMary Clarke lectors at Mass Sunday and daily Masses,” Clarke said. “For the daily Masses, the staff at OLIH would send me the readings on my computer and I would transcribe them into Braille.”

Clarke has been able to enter into many aspects of the church, with the help of materials that are made for the blind. 
After becoming a widow in 2012 and through 2020, Clarke managed her own home in Ankeny before moving to Waukee. She continues to lector at St. Boniface

The Xavier Society has provided her with many different materials.

“It’s inspirational to see the commitment of our patrons to their faith and some of the barriers that they’ve overcome to actively participate on a daily and weekly basis in their parishes,” said Malachy Fallon, executive director of the Xavier Society for the Blind, a nonprofit organization founded in New York City in 1900. 

Its co-founders were a blind teacher of blind children, Margaret Coffey, and Jesuit Father Joseph Stadelman. 
To learn about the services offered by the Xavier Society for the Blind, go to