The Deaf and Hard of Hearing ministry of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend strives to facilitate the practice of the Catholic faith by those who may be left out most when physically attending Mass, due to their hearing loss.
According to Mary Glowaski, special assistant to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades for pastoral concerns, a welcome option for deaf worshippers was created in January: a weekly ASL-broadcast Mass livestreamed on Facebook by Father Mike Depcik, OSFS of Holy Innocents Church in Roseville, Michigan. The Mass can be viewed live, or as a replay anytime after the date it is streamed.
At the moment, Glowaski said, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend does not have its own priest who speaks the language of the deaf. “Although we offer a signed Mass once a month at both ends of the diocese, these broadcast Masses are an opportunity for the deaf congregation to enjoy and benefit from a (weekly) Mass with Father Mike Depcik.
“One of the challenges we have is connecting with those who are deaf or hearing-impaired throughout our diocese. As a result, it has been hard to determine how we can best serve those who are hearing-impaired or deaf,” Glowaski continued. “Most importantly, we are not benefitting from the abundant and unique gifts of (deaf) Catholics who want to be integral members in our parish communities. These services, I hope, will be a reconnection to Mass for those who have not been coming to our parishes; and they will be encouraged to connect with us.”
Signed Masses are offered on the second Sunday of each month at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, at 11 a.m., and at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne at 11:30 a.m.
“Our ministry partners with these two parishes in providing the interpreter,” Glowaski said. “Our office also prepares the worship aid for the interpreters which consists of all the songs, prayers and responses, and readings for the day. We hope to partner with other parishes to provide an interpreter so that more deaf members of the Catholic community can attend Mass.
“An important person is Allison Sturm, who works in the Office of Evangelization and Discipleship and is a partner with me in this ministry, as well as in the Ministry for the Disabled in our diocese. Allison facilitates the signed Masses at both ends of our diocese each month, which means she prepares the worship aids and communicates with the interpreters who serve us.”
Under the Ministry for People with Disabilities, the diocese also works with a grassroots ministry called Building Inclusive Parishes, or BIP.
The ministry is comprised of individuals from various parishes who have a loved one with special needs to help pastors, parish staffs and parishioners create welcoming faith communities for all. One core member who was hearing-impaired was instrumental in getting the Loop System, which connects an individual’s hearing device with the sound system, installed at her parish, Our Lady of Good Hope in Fort Wayne. In the past year, three more parishes have or are planning to install the loop, according to Glowaski.
The diocese’s connection to Father Depcik began in the fall of 2014, when he came to the diocese to offer a day of reflection. Along with five lay people, two seminarians and Bishop Rhoades were present, Glowaski said.
“These two seminarians took classes at Gallaudet University the summer of 2015 to learn sign language, (but) neither had formal education in ASL beyond that,” she noted.
In October 2015, Father Depcik concelebrated a Mass with Bishop Rhoades and offered two workshops in Fort Wayne as part of Zeal Missionary Discipleship Summit. Also, Glowaski said, Father Depcik was willing to come down every few months to hear confessions and celebrate Mass.
Initially, four or five deaf Catholics, sometimes accompanied by a family member, attended; but two members moved out of state and another stopped coming.
“At that point, we decided to put it on hold because we did not think it was fair to have Father Mike travel down from Detroit for one person,” Glowaski said. “He assured us that he would come back again if our community was built up.”
What has been the reaction to the new option, the livestreamed ASL Mass?
“Many of the comments left by viewers on Facebook were mostly words of gratitude,” Father Depcik noted. “A good example would be a lady from Florida who wrote, ‘I stayed home today with a cold and watched your Mass. It touched me through and through and brought tears to my eyes. This is just wonderful – no words can express it.’” He admitted that he was moved by the number of people viewing the livestreamed Masses; some have more than 1,000 views.
Donald Dunten of Churubusco tried the livestreamed Mass and pronounced it excellent.
“Father Mike signed the Mass very well and I understood him clearly,” said Dunten, who is vice-president of the Northeast Indiana Deaf Awareness Council.
Father Depcik cautions, however, that because it is a new project, glitches and mistakes could occur. He requests everyone’s patience for the work in progress.
For the last 10 years Father Depcik has had his own website: www.frmd.org. “In the past I did vlogs on various topics, which included weekly homilies, Marian apparitions, lives of saints, and questions on the Catholic faith,” he said. “I became too busy, so I now focus on the homilies only.”
Father Depcik’s livestream ASL Mass can be viewed at www.facebook.com/deafmass.
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