Father Michael Depcik, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and one of a few deaf priests in the United States, ministers to a flock that is far-flung and vibrant. But growing up in a deaf Catholic family, he never imagined he would be a priest, let alone one who evangelizes within and outside of deaf culture.
In his childhood, clerical role models were nonexistent; the first deaf priest in the United States was not ordained until 1977. And a teenage experience as an exchange student with an evangelical Christian family in Australia very nearly prompted him to join their denomination.
“The family helped me experience God’s love in a different way,” said Father Depcik, “But, I had to go back home. So, I thought, I will go to college and then I’ll leave Catholicism.”
But, God — and the Blessed Mother — had other plans.
At orientation week at Gallaudet, the only university in the United States for the deaf and hearing impaired, the campus Catholic chaplain intercepted the young Michael, who was gravitating to a Baptist group, and drew him into Catholic life on campus.
“Later, when I was 20,” said Father Depcik, “I lost my faith again. I went to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. I prayed, ‘God, please help me find my way back to you like I knew you in Australia.’”
After praying, he went to the shrine’s bookstore and found a volume about Medjugorje, the site of reported Marian apparitions in Bosnia-Herzegovina that began in 1981.
“I couldn’t put the book down,” said Father Depcik. “The Blessed Mother calls us to pray, pray the rosary, fast, read the Bible diligently. … All of these things centered on having your heart in the right space. I called myself a ‘born-again Catholic.’ And then I found myself called to be a priest.”
The road to ordination is not easy, especially if there are no other deaf priests or teachers available, or other support. With the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, he found the community he needed. He was ordained a priest on a date that reflected the full-circle arc of his journey of discernment.
“I waited until June 24, 2000, to become ordained,” said Father Depcik. “I didn’t know it until I went to Medjugorje — Our Lady made her first appearance there in 1981 — on June 24!”
Today, Father Depcik is the director of the deaf ministry of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He acknowledges pressing needs — interpreters, priests who sign so sacraments are accessible, vocations and catechesis for deaf children who grow up in hearing families.
“But I feel a strong need to show up to hearing individuals, too,” said Father Depcik, “to show how or why deaf ministry is important and share our culture.
Most important, Father Depcik said, “whether you’re deaf or hearing, is to have an open heart and an open mind.”
Father Depcik, who likes to be called “Father MD,” makes creative use of social media.
His ministry livestreams the Sunday American Sign Language Mass from Holy Innocents Church in Roseville, Michigan, at 11:30 a.m. EST on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/deafmass) and maintains a website, Fr. MD’s Kitchen Table at www.frmd.org.
His Facebook page includes many pictures of churches and Marian shrines that continue to inspire him and, he hopes, others, too (https://www.facebook.com/michael.depcik).
“About 96 to 98 percent of deaf individuals are not affiliated with any religion or church,” said Father Depcik. “I want to encourage people to go to church. You can go and pray, and feel a peace.”
That peace, said Father Depcik, is key to living faith. “For deaf individuals, it’s important for us to be comfortable with who we are. I have to first be at peace with myself, and then I can share that love and peace with others.”