In Our Own Hands: Essays in Deaf History 1780-1970 (Book Review)

I recently visited the National Association of the Deaf’s main office in Silver Spring, Maryland to do some archival research. On the wall in the waiting room is a mural which includes an image of a Deaf man holding a sign that proclaims “We can drive ourselves.” The very real issue of deaf people’s historical fight to gain access to driver’s licensing is an apt metaphor for the broad categories of agency and citizenship for deaf people who have wanted to steer their own lives.

This issue of deaf agency in a hearing world is the central theme of In Our Own Hands: Essays in Deaf History 1780-1970, edited by Brian H. Greenwald and Joseph J. Murray. In this book of deeply researched essays, each chapter illustrates ways in which deaf people made sustained efforts to manage their own political, social, or religious lives—and how these efforts were repeatedly contested, ignored, or absorbed by the larger social structures of hearing people.

Read the rest here

Historic First for Deaf Catholics: ASL Mass at Notre Dame


Today’s Catholic News of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend brings us this exciting story of an event I was proud to be part of last week:

NOTRE DAME — Nov. 9, 2016, is a day Kevin Haggenjos will never forget. Thrilled to be part of the first Mass to be celebrated by a deaf priest in American Sign Language at Notre Dame, Haggenjos said, “I was born and raised in South Bend. As a deaf Catholic, I have dreamt all my life that there would be a Mass in ASL here. Today, my dream came true.”

Sponsored by the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives, the Mass at Geddes Hall on the University of Notre Dame campus was part of a larger event featuring a lecture on deaf Catholic history.

For the rest of the story (written by Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate Audrey Seah) CLICK HERE

And for more pictures, click here.


Ad Orientem Worship from the Deaf Perspective (by Audrey Seah)


Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate Audrey Seah, who is studying enculturation in Deaf Catholic communities, recently had this to say in Part I of a special post over at Pray Tell

In recent weeks, much ink has been spilled over Cardinal Sarah’s speech encouraging all priests to celebrate Mass ad orientem and the Vatican’s clarification note that followed. Numerous opinion pieces have appeared supporting either side of the issue or the co-existence of both in support of liturgical diversity. In view of what has been discussed, I do not wish to critique or rehash the arguments for and against ad orientem worship, but would like to offer an alternative perspective is seldom considered – that of the Deaf who use American Sign Language (ASL) in worship and those with special needs such as auditory processing (the hearing version of dyslexia) or speech and language impairments.

Click here for the rest.

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!

Everyday Preaching in ASL

Moving Works is a film making ministry that makes innovative shorts about Jesus. This one is about Sarah, a student and Starbucks barista who learned ASL just to connect with the chance Deaf customer who might happen to walk in the door. What she does in this short is preach as a witness, not only to Deaf viewers but to hearing ones who are touched by her example and her expression of love. Sacred eloquence in sign language: it’s not all about homilies, and women can do it, too.