By Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer | Published February 11, 2015
During Catholic Day at the Capitol, Feb. 3, I noticed a student from Atlanta’s Sophia Academy who appeared to be having the time of her life. The bespectacled teen, dressed in her school uniform skirt and navy blue blazer, was confined to a wheelchair. But that’s not what caught my attention. With a smile across her face, she was bursting with enthusiasm and her spirited personality drew friends and other Catholic Day participants to her side.
After photographing the Sophia Academy contingent of staff and students with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, she requested her own photo with the archbishop, and that’s when I learned her name was Noelle Ford.
Noelle is a 15-year-old freshman and a triplet. Her two sisters, Anna and Sydney, attend St. Pius X High School in Atlanta. While a typical pregnancy last around 38 weeks, the Ford triplets were born at 25 and half weeks. Noelle was one pound, nine ounces at birth. Noelle lives with cerebral palsy, but anybody who knows or has been around her can tell you, she never allows her physical limitations to inhibit her. Noelle’s mother, Nancy, said she’s “full of energy and she wants to try everything.”
Marie Corrigan, founding director and head of school for Sophia Academy, describes Noelle’s personality as bright, cheerful and welcoming. “Noelle embodies everything Sophia Academy is about,” said Corrigan. “She also has a great compassion for others.”
“I have certain role models I look up to. I just think God gave me a gift to be happy and I use it,” said Noelle. Noelle is an altar server at her school and parish, All Saints Church in Dunwoody. In fact, she was one of the first servers at her parish with a disability. A number of people at the parish made it possible for her to do so, and that’s why many of her role models, are deacons or priests at the church.
Noelle was surprised and excited to see one of her parish deacons, Deacon Bill Garrett, during Catholic Day at the Capitol. Deacon Garrett, who is president of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School in his day job, was accompanying nine of his school’s students.
Noelle enjoyed the complete experience of her first Catholic Day at the Georgia State Capitol. In addition to taking photos with Archbishop Gregory, she also took photos with Deacon Garrett and Governor Nathan Deal.
When asked if she had an interest in politics or being an elected official, Noelle said if Pope Francis allows women to become permanent deacons, that is what she would like to be. Noelle loves people and she loves the Catholic Church, so she has at least two significant qualifications, if it ever comes to fruition.
Read more about Catholic Day at the Capitol in Andrew Nelson’s story appearing in the Feb. 19 issue of The Georgia Bulletin.