Sabbatical Pilgrim’s Progress

me & cyril

Fr. Cyril Axelrod, the world’s only deafblind Catholic priest, who is currently authoring a catechism for disabled people for the Vatican, and yours truly, beaming because of Fr. Cyril’s warmth and unstoppable communication skills.

Word & Sign has been in hibernation for too long, but I promise it’s been time well spent. This summer marks the beginning of my sabbatical, granted specifically to complete the first full draft of my book on Deaf language and culture in Catholic preaching.  Already I’ve gotten a great head start. I’ve embraced a new organizing principle (200 years of evangelization and enculturation in the Deaf Catholic world), revamped my table of contents accordingly, and re-drafted four of the eighteen chapters I have planned. But the most exciting part of my sabbatical so far has been my research trip to the U.K. and Ireland.

First, I had the privilege of interviewing Fr. Cyril Axelrod–the world’s only deafblind priest–about his decades of ministry to the Deaf and disabled in Asia. I was worried about communicating with Fr. Cyril using ASL, since his primary language is British Sign Language, which has a different alphabet and completely different sign vocabulary. But these obstacles were child’s play for the prolific, multi-lingual missionary. By the end of our first day, we were communicating as if I’d been doing tactile sign language all my life. (And believe me, it was only because Fr. Cyril could switch to ASL to accommodate me, gallantly compensating for my hearing-accented intermediate sign language!)

Later in Manchenster, thanks to Terry and Mary O’Meara, I stayed in the home of the charming Sisters of Charity of Evron and collected oral and signed history about their half-century of Deaf ministry in Britain and Ireland. I interviewed Archbishop Patrick Kelly about the Eucharistic prayer in British Sign Language! And in Dublin I viewed a 170-year-old Irish Sign Language manuscript, translated into English from French by the Dominican Sisters who founded St. Mary’s School for Deaf Girls in Cabra, Ireland.

Now, St. Thomas and St. Catherine of Sienna, come aid this feeble brain as I try to map the daunting and richly diverse mountains of material I’ve collected into one coherent story of a people’s religious history!

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