by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — You could say that Josh Ruoff became the archdiocesan lead consultant for special needs through three H’s: heritage, heart and the Holy Spirit.
Ruoff, 26, a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, succeeded Tom Racunas as lead consultant of the archdiocesan office on Aug. 2. Racunas led the ministry since 2016.
In terms of heritage, Ruoff comes from a family deeply involved in ministry.
His father, Deacon Tim Ruoff, was ordained a permanent deacon in 2017. Before that, he was involved with the parish Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) ministry for many years.
His mother Nancy is the youth minister at Mother Teresa Parish and has been involved in youth ministry for 30 years.
“My mother has been a youth minister for all my life,” said Ruoff. “I grew up around it. I’ve been on so many youth group events and trips, even when I was in utero.
“I’ve been lucky enough to go all over the world for youth events. I’ve been to Poland and Spain for World Youth Day, and to Jamaica for Catholic Heart Workcamp. We built houses and latrines. I’ve been all over the country for the National Catholic Youth Conferences and Steubenville Conferences.”
“And I’ve been involved in a lot of local things,” he added. “Teens Encounter Christ and events at Prairie Star Ranch. I called [the camp] my second home because I’d go there two or three times a year, but I never got involved in Camp Tekakwitha.”
His sister Kate Andrzejewski is a part-time youth minister at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.
In terms of heart, Ruoff has always had a heart for those with disabilities. He himself was born with a physical disability called spina bifida. This is a birth defect where the spinal column doesn’t close all the way, exposing nerves in the spine. This exposure leads to permanent damage and paralysis. Consequently, Ruoff uses a wheelchair.
Ruoff graduated from Seaman High School in Topeka in 2013. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in social work in 2018 from Washburn University, Topeka. He then completed a master’s degree in social work in 2019, also from Washburn. He is a licensed social worker in the state of Kansas.
After receiving his master’s degree, he worked at Midland Care Connection, a hospice and home health facility in Topeka. He also worked in PACE: Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. He specialized in mental health case management.
And this is where that third H — the Holy Spirit — comes in.
Ruoff was also a volunteer parish advocate at Mother Teresa Parish for the archdiocesan special-needs ministry, a program established by Tom Racunas. Parish advocates serve as the “eyes and ears” of the archdiocesan special-needs ministry.
“When [Tom Racunas] announced in March he was retiring and the position was opening, the Holy Spirit nudged me that I should apply for it,” said Ruoff. “I’ve always had a passion for disability and mental health [ministry], so this was a perfect opportunity for me.”
Racunas praised Ruoff for his passion and commitment.
“He’s very passionate about the ministry and about trying to ensure that all parishes are inclusive of people with disabilities,” he said. “He’s passionate about the church’s need to extend outreach and support to people with mental illnesses and their families.”
“My four nonnegotiables for a new person coming in,” continued Racunas, “were [they needed] to continue to support the current parish advocates and find others for parishes that don’t have them; to continue the BREATHE respite program; to continue the outreach to people with mental illness; . . . and continue to work with Pam Riordan in the office of children’s catechesis . . . to ensure that children and adults with disabilities who haven’t received the sacraments will receive the sacraments.”
Ruoff has, indeed, expressed support for all four of these things. He said he’d like to continue to expand resources for mental health and encourage parishes to establish support groups. He also wants to involve more persons with disabilities in parish liturgical ministries.
“I would say, don’t be afraid to reach out for help,” said Ruoff. “There is still a stigma that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but we can’t do this life alone.
“This ministry is here to help all, and that means all. We’re not going to turn anyone away. We will help to the best of our abilities, and if we can’t help them, we’ll find someone, somewhere, who can help them.”