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Santa – and then some.

I have never been accused of being a fashionista. Growing up the youngest in a large and poor family, most of my clothes were passed down through multiple older siblings, holes and all. As a result of this, I still find it difficult to replace anything in my wardrobe that hasn’t been worn through.

Director of Founded Ministries and Dominican Associate Mark Butler

That’s not to say that my closet is not filled to capacity. It’s just… filled differently. Next to suits, shirts, and slacks are costumes for all holidays. Collected over the years, I can appear as the Easter Bunny, Cupid, a Leprechaun, a Thanksgiving Turkey, and more. Residents at Mohun Health Care Center and the Columbus Motherhouse graciously receive these special visitors around holidays.

Years ago, I decided to surprise my co-workers with a Santa suit I purchased on a whim. I was amazed by their reactions. Even the grinchiest among them smiled or laughed out loud. Most wanted their photo taken with the right jolly old elf. Many told me that my 30-second visit in their office had turned their entire day, or in some cases week, around.

From that point forward, I have tried to find ways to brighten other’s days. Sometimes it only takes 30 seconds in a costume passing out a cookie.

My favorite costume of course is Santa Claus, which has been upgraded over the years. I often joke that the Santa suit is my favorite because it’s the only time I’m ever told that I’m too young and skinny. The real reason is that it allows me to bring joy to many, especially those in most need.

Throughout Advent, I make Santa appearances for adults and children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I do this in sensory-friendly settings that allow for their full participation. This allows me to share joyful moments with them and their families in stress-free and developmentally appropriate ways.

It helps of course that this Santa is an Associate of the Dominican Sisters of Peace and my Masters in Theology comes in handy. Some caregivers are surprised when this Santa is much more about mercy and forgiveness than putting coal in anyone’s stocking.

Sometimes, I am confronted with challenging moments. One year I met an older adult with Autism who lost her parents decades earlier. She told me that she was excited to go to her sister’s home for Christmas, but that she missed her parents. Within a few moments, she began to weep on my shoulder. I was at a loss for words, fighting back my own tears behind the beard. I took a breath and thought about what I would want someone to say to my daughter Katie, who also has Autism, long after I’m gone. I told her that I was sorry her parents had died, but that I knew that they loved her forever and that they are always proud of her. I assured her that someday they would be together again. Her tears stopped and she gave a long hug to Santa.

A moment of joy shared between two strangers, all made possible by a silly red suit. There are many stories to tell. Stories of patients with severe impairments recognizing Santa as an old friend they remember. Stories of young children who have lost a parent to cancer and want nothing more for them to walk through the door on Christmas. Moments like these have given me a reputation for being a “special Santa.”

I don’t promise miracles or even toys. I know that even the nicest of poor kids get less than the naughtiest wealthy adult. I don’t ask for lists or lap-sitting or any of those other rituals. I listen and give them all my attention in that moment. Joy can be more contagious than any illness if we find ways to share it through loving encounters. Even if those encounters only last 30 seconds with a silly red hat.

Here are some photos from this year, hopefully, they brighten your day. I pray that you will be given many moments to share joy with others this Christmas.

17 thoughts on “Santa – and then some.

  1. Mark, I loved your article, your photos, and above all, your being in a ministry that makes others smile or share a sorrow. Isn’t that what Christmas is about? Thanks for sharing this story. I’m glad it gives you joy, too. Merry Christmas!

  2. Wonderful preaching in word and deed, Mark. I pray that you continue to be a blessing and receive blessings through your care. I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a blessed 2024.


  3. Heartfelt and heartwarming! So glad that your closet is filled with those items that bring smiles to others. Thank you!

  4. Thank you Mark for being such a wonderful model of sharing time and talents. Thanks for the joy you share!!

  5. Mark, what a great story to share with all of us. Working with you on the Associate Council is such a pleasure as you bring a very positive presence to all of us.

    I have experienced a few of you costumes in person and I so enjoyed them.

    Thank you for using your Dominican nature to reach out to those who need it most.


  6. Thanks, Mark for sharing your Santa ministry with adults and children with autism. What a great way to bring joy to their lives! We, Motherhouse Sisters, are looking forward to Santa’s visit here tomorrow.

  7. Your story filled me with Joy and as Marmion said: “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” So, thanks for allowing that gift to flow through you. Diane

  8. wonderful reflection – and wonderful costumed visits as Santa and other individuals or critters on different occasions throughout the year – and the special connection and peace you reflect back to those you visit!!

  9. Mark, I love this! I am so happy you are able to do this and to be there for those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. With your personal insight you must be the best Santa ever!

  10. Mark,
    What a Hero you are touching so many lives, with joy, fun, compassion, love, healing, to persons of all ages.
    I would like to see your make up room for each event.
    You have a big heart. This is a Holy Ministry.

  11. Mark, Thank you for sharing your joyful spirit.
    Your closet is filled with clothes and costumes, but your heart is overflowing with a joy filled spirit and generosity!
    Sr Margaret Mary

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