Blind trust

Faith in God guides Lawrence woman through life

Susan Tabor has never seen a sunset.

She doesn’t know what her three cats — Friar Lawrence, St. Vincent de Purr and St. Felix del Gato — look like.

And the simple act of crossing the street is, for her, a perilous journey.

But, though blind, Tabor is able to detect the most important aspects of life in a way that eludes many people who have their sight.

That means helping others whenever she can, fighting for social justice issues and trying to emulate the example of a loving, accepting God that she reads about in her Braille-version Bible.

“I’m very committed to making this world a good place, a just and peaceful place. For me, that means living the Gospel message. So that’s what I try to do,” says Tabor, 53.

It keeps her busy.

Tabor, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky., spreads her energy around town in many ways.

She regularly serves as a lector at St. John, reading passages from Scripture (translated into Braille, a writing system of raised dots used by the blind) during Sunday Mass.

She also co-writes a column, “Social Justice, Social Action,” for the church bulletin.

Outside the parish, Tabor is assistant volunteer coordinator for KU Audio-Reader, 1120 W. 11th St., a radio and audio service for blind and print-disabled people.

And, for the past three years, she has served as the volunteer chaplain at the Douglas County Jail, offering spiritual support to inmates of different faith backgrounds. She receives a small stipend.

“Sometimes they have to educate me (about their faiths),” says Tabor, a practicing Catholic since 1994. “So we teach each other.”

All these activities are outgrowths of her strong sense of faith, which is her guide.

“It’s very much a part of my life every day. Prayer and action are connected. It’s like one flowing motion,” she says.

Work: Assistant volunteer coordinator, KU Audio-Reader; chaplain, Douglas County JailEducation: bachelor’s of social welfare, 1973, Kansas University; master’s of social welfare, 1974, KU; master’s in pastoral studies, 1999, extension program of University of Loyola, New OrleansFamily: Husband, Rob Tabor, 48Religion: Roman CatholicCongregation: St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky.

Intense desire to learn

When it comes to helping people in the social and spiritual realms, Tabor brings much more than just eagerness to the table.

She has plenty of credentials to back her up.

She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social welfare in 1973 and 1974 from Kansas University. She worked as a benefits advocate from 1994 to 1999 for Independence Inc., 2001 Haskell Ave., which serves people with disabilities,

Her husband of 23 years, Rob Tabor, 48, is an attorney for the organization. He also is blind.

Susan, who was raised in the Presbyterian Church, felt herself being drawn to Catholicism after she and Rob attended a Catholic marriage-encounter weekend in 1993. She has attended St. John for 10 years.

In 1999, Susan earned a master’s in pastoral studies through an extension program offered by the University of Loyola in New Orleans.

And in May, she completed an Atchison-based program called Souljourners, which trains people to serve as spiritual advisers.

“That’s what’s so amazing about her. She just has this intense desire to learn about things and to make things better for people,” says longtime friend Pam Casagrande, who co-writes the “Social Justice, Social Action” column in St. John’s church bulletin with Tabor.

“She’s extremely educated, and the education has never stopped. She just blows me away.”

Pam Casagrande and her husband, Peter Casagrande, live in Eudora but attend St. John.

Tabor is driven by a hungry mind, always eager to learn more and expand her intellect.

“Knowledge and spirit feed each other. Knowledge informs my prayer life, and it informs my action,” she says.

The Internet, and special text-to-speech software, have opened doors of opportunity for Tabor, enabling her to explore a world of interests.

“I can surf the Web. I’m like a kid in a candy store when I’m on the computer,” she says.

Blindness ‘not all of me’

There’s no need to choose words carefully, or rely on euphemisms, when asking Tabor questions about her disability.

“I am blind. I am comfortable with that word, because that’s reality. I was born two months early at Lawrence Memorial (Hospital). My eyes began not to be able to grow, so that’s what happened to me,” she says.

“When I was a baby, I had light perception. But when I was 2 years old, I had encephalitis with my chicken pox, so that’s when everything (any vision) left.”

Those who know Tabor say she doesn’t seem to let being blind limit her, or even get her down.

“She’s amazing. She has such a positive attitude,” says Diana Frederick, Audio-Reader’s development director.

“She has been such an asset to our staff, and my life has been so enriched by having known her.”

Maybe it helps that Tabor, though blind, is still able to sense the bigger picture.

“It’s just the way things are. I went through a time when I grieved and I was angry. But I realized that the fact that I couldn’t see, and that I did things differently sometimes — that was just part of me, not all of me,” she says.

“When I made that connection, it was very liberating.”