Critics silenced by deaf priest's new mission

"We are not the problem, we are the solution," says Fr Thomas Coughlin, a deaf Honolulu priest who has founded the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate with five other deaf men.

Deaf since birth, it was Fr Coughlin's lifelong dream to start a religious community where sign language is the primary means of expression at both the eucharistic table and the dinner table, according to the Catholic News Service.

Fr Coughlin was one of five men who made their first profession of vows as Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate last week at St Albert's Priory in Oakland, California.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," he told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Honolulu Diocese.

"I saw how badly we need a religious community of deaf priests and brothers dedicated to a deeper spiritual life and the deaf apostolate in the language of signs and the deaf culture milieu."

The five men pronounced their vows before Oakland's Bishop Allen H Vigneron, who formally recognised the new community in 2004.

Fr Coughlin will remain a diocesan priest until he make his final vows in a few years. The other four men are in various stages of preparation for the priesthood, and the religious community also has two novices.

Former San Francisco Archbishop (now Cardinal) William Levada, who has since become prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, originally welcomed three deaf seminarians in 2003 and appointed Fr Coughlin as parish priest of St Benedict's parish.

"It felt like a miracle," said Fr Coughlin at the time.

As the first born-deaf man to be ordained a Catholic priest in North America, Fr Coughlin defied many doubters and silenced a long list of critics.

Fr Coughlin had been searching for a US seminary to receive deaf students since the New York Archdiocese ended its program for deaf seminarians in 2000.

"People labelled us as a problem. We are not the problem, we are the solution," he said.

During his 25 years as a priest, Fr Coughlin said he has seen thousands of deaf Catholics join other churches because the "Catholic Church did not have a significant number of priests to minister to the deaf community."

The National Catholic Office of the Deaf agrees that there is a desperate need for deaf priests with between 100,000 and 170,000 people in California who are deaf and only three per cent who are churchgoers.

Other deaf seminarians are from Uganda, Congo Brazzaville and South Korea.

(Catholic News Service)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate
Deaf priest, seminarians add new dimension to San Francisco church (Deaf Today)
Cardinal William J. Levada



4 Sep 2006