For years, resources for the Catholic Deaf and Hard of Hearing ministry were limited. However, the launch of the diocese’s first website dedicated to the community is the beginning of a journey to rebuild and meet the needs of parishioners with partial or no hearing ability.
Last August, Fr. Scott Allen, parochial vicar at St. Hedwig Parish in Los Alamitos, assumed the additional role of leading the Catholic Deaf Ministry in the Diocese. He and Fr. Steve Correz are the only priests in the Diocese fluent in Sign Language. Fr. Allen learned American Sign Language (ASL) at Santa Ana College, Mt. Sac and Gallaudet University while working as a tutor and teacher’s aid, teaching English to the deaf in American Sign Language. He also completed the Interpreter Training Program at Mt. San Antonio College in 2011 and has been involved with the Catholic deaf community for 15 years, including teaching Confirmation classes in the Diocese.
His first task was to create a website, now available at occatholicdeaf.org. It includes the latest news and events, resources for parents of deaf children, tutorial videos, a list of schools and programs in Orange County to learn ASL, spiritual books list, volunteer information, confession schedule, a list of Mass times (in-person and livestream) and much more.
Mass in English with an ASL Interpreter is offered in-person at 4 p.m. on Saturdays at Christ Our Savior Parish in Santa Ana and 2:30 pm on Sundays at St. Mary’s Parish in Fullerton. The 9:45 a.m. Mass in English with an ASL Interpreter is livestreamed on the Christ Cathedral website. The 11:30 a.m. Spanish Mass also offers an ASL Interpreter and is also livestreamed on the Christ Cathedral website. Links to the livestream Masses are available on occatholicdeaf.org.
Confessions with Fr. Allen are offered at Christ Our Savior parish. The schedule is updated monthly on the website. Soon, he hopes to add Zoom ASL Socials and First Communion classes.
“In the last week, I sent an email to all the dioceses in California and asked what churches do they have that are offering services to the deaf, where are they and what not… but most of the dioceses that I’ve heard back from say that they don’t have much of anything. So, the little we’re doing is actually more than half our state. We could do a lot more,” said Fr. Allen.
Currently, the ministry is made up of himself and a few volunteers. Neighboring Dioceses have echoed similar circumstances but despite challenges, the global Catholic deaf community has learned to rely on each other and share resources. One of them is the Ministry Formation program for Catholic Deaf Adults through the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Allen envisions that participants who complete the program would return and serve in the ministry.
According to the National Catholic Office for the Deaf, there are 5.7 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Catholics. Fr. Allen estimates there are about 200 in the Diocese.
“In Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange there’s a good amount of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. While other religious organizations have full fledge support and monetary donations, we don’t have the resources yet, but I bet if we did, we would be able to offer so much more,” he said. “Right now, it’s a skeleton crew in terms of piecing things back together since July and since Covid.”
On Easter, Pope Francis’s general audience and the Angelus went live for the first time in American Sign Language on the Vatican’s YouTube account. As part of the “No One Excluded” pilot project, a channel in Italian Sign Language and a second in American Sign Language offers translations of Pope Francis’s general audiences and Angelus and Regina Coeli addresses. The translations are live and the deaf community will no longer have to wait for the pope’s addresses to be transcribed. The Vatican continues to invest in digital transformation and utilizes tools to reach out to deaf Catholics with an upcoming mobile app for individuals with sensory disabilities and hopes to add other languages to the Vatican YouTube account.
Sr. Veronica Donatello, who coordinates the Sign Language translations for the Vatican channels and who is director of the National Service for the Pastoral Care of People with Disabilities in Rome, spoke to SIR News Agency. She said that the new services were “a concrete sign of response and closeness to many people, especially in this historic time in which those who were already living in a condition of fragility are even more severely tested.”
Fr. Allen met Sr. Donatello in Rome while attending Mass at Santa Maria parish in Trastevere. He resided there in 2013 to 2016 and 2018 to 2020 while studying at the Pontifical North American College.
“A few times a year while in the seminary, I would be able to attend their Sunday Mass. I was there in Rome over the course of five years, and they remembered me each time I visited them,” he said. “I believe this a great initiative from the Vatican to address as well as to make further preparations to satisfy the spiritual needs of deaf Catholics around the globe. Likewise, we aspire to do the same on a local level in the Diocese of Orange.”
Links to the Vatican channels are also available on occatholicdeaf.org.