Nationwide deaf community gathers for Mass at St. Patrick in Seattle

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Noleen Dunn, left, Sam Posakony and Arlette Huxtable help sign the responsorial psalm during a Jan. 21 Mass at St. Patrick Church in Seattle. The Mass was held in conjunction with a five-day conference of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf. Photo: Sharie Bowman Noleen Dunn, left, Sam Posakony and Arlette Huxtable help sign the responsorial psalm during a Jan. 21 Mass at St. Patrick Church in Seattle. The Mass was held in conjunction with a five-day conference of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf. Photo: Sharie Bowman

SEATTLE – Children, both deaf and hearing, “signed” the responsorial psalm during a recent Mass at St. Patrick Church in Seattle, held in conjunction with a national conference for the deaf.

But deaf ministry at St. Patrick’s is more than a special occasion — it’s been part of the Seattle parish since the 1980s, said John Dunn, a parishioner who is involved with the ministry and serves as an interpreter.

“This just doesn’t mean liturgy, but everything else hearing people have,” Dunn said. “We try to meet everybody’s needs.”

Deaf parishioners serve as lectors and participate in the parish council, and the parish choir can sign songs, Dunn said.

The Jan. 21 Mass, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, was part of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf pastoral week held in downtown Seattle. Leaders in deaf ministry from across the country came together for the five-day conference.

“We had deaf, deaf/blind, hard-of-hearing and interpreters gather here from all over the U.S. and Canada,” wrote St. Patrick’s parishioner Branden Huxtable, who is deaf.

Participating in the Mass were 11 priests and three deacons, including Bishop Steven Raica of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, the episcopal representative on the NCOD board. Bishop Raica has worked in deaf ministry and can converse in American Sign Language.

deaf Mass signingBranden Huxtable, a deaf parishioner at St. Patrick Parish in Seattle, proclaims the first reading at a special Mass Jan. 21. In the background are Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, right, and Bishop Steven Raica of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, a board member of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf. Photo: Sharie Bowman

The Mass, attended by some 90 people from the conference, included interpreters scattered throughout the congregation, according to parish organizers of the event.

The National Catholic Office of the Deaf serves the approximately 5.7 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Catholics in the U.S., promoting “the full and active participation of deaf and hard-of-hearing Catholics in the mission of Jesus Christ,” according to its website.

The office collaborates with bishops, diocesan leaders and pastors; provides support to pastoral workers in deaf ministry; and assists catechists and families with deaf children. It also provides information and creates media resources.

Jennifer Huxtable, another parishioner who is deaf, wrote that it was the first time she attended the national conference. She said she learned a lot from the presentations and enjoyed meeting both deaf and hearing people from around the country. “It is so nice to be part of the deaf and Catholic community from all over the USA,” she wrote.

Branden and Jennifer Huxtable are among some 10 deaf people who attend St. Patrick’s, said Dunn, adding that the number of deaf parishioners has fluctuated over the years.

deaf Mass signingChildren from Seattle’s St. Patrick Parish “sign” the responsorial psalm during a Jan. 21 Mass held in conjunction with a pastoral week conference sponsored by the National Catholic Office for the Deaf. Photo: Sharie Bowman

It can be challenging to find interpreters for Mass, especially those who are familiar with the liturgy and the religious signs needed to translate, Dunn said. Sometimes the parish must find four interpreters — some parishioners are deaf and blind, and each of them needs a tactile interpreter, he explained.

Still, “we’ve always managed to have enough interpreters,” he said.

The deaf ministry and the parishioners it serves are an integral part of life at St. Patrick’s, Dunn said.

As a result of the ministry, he said, “the hearing people have become more involved in signing the responses.” Looking around during Mass, he added, “you don’t know who the deaf people are.”