In God’s Hands
By Kathy Murphy
As told to Nancy Baum
I was born in Pittsburg Pennsylvania. I have four brothers, one is deaf like me. When I was little I went to CCD classes for the deaf on Monday which was taught by a nun who did not know sign language. She only spoke to us and expected us to read her lips. It was difficult to understand her. She wrote “Jesus” on the chalkboard. She handed me the chalk and indicated that I was to trace over the letters J-e-s-u-s. With the chalk I traced over the letters. She pointed to the crucifix and said, “Again.” I traced over the letters, and she pointed to the crucifix. This continued a few more times. I did not understand what “Jesus” meant, nor did I understand what she was trying to teach. My grandma Marian was my first real Catechist. She did not know sign language, but she taught me a lot about being Catholic by her example, and her reverence. I watched her faithfulness during Mass every Sunday. There wasn’t an interpreter for the deaf, but I truly enjoyed being at Mass. I remember when I was six years old. She showed me a crucifix, and treated it with such deep respect, that I knew in my heart this was something very special. She gave me a little statue of Mary which I carefully placed in my bedroom. I placed buttercups and violets around her which I had picked from my backyard. My grandma knelt in front of the statue. I copied her behavior as I put my hands together, and closed my eyes. I moved my mouth as if I was praying. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about my Catholic faith. But I loved my grandma and I copied her reverence. I felt strongly in my heart that the Catholic faith was important in my life.
When I was a child, Father Walsh would tell me many Bible stories and parables. He was a hearing Priest, but he was a skilled signer. Although I became familiar with some of the stories from the Bible, I wasn’t taught catechism. So I still did not know my Catholic faith.
In 1992 I went to College at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. My teacher, Father Jerry, was hearing, but he too was skilled at signing. I didn’t have enough Catholic catechesis to make a connection with what he was trying to teach. I truly felt at this time I was being called by God to be a Catechist for the Deaf. But I did not even understand the Catholic faith myself.
Since 1982 I have been on five Cursillo’s. The first four, I went because I felt it was my duty to go. I went with the wrong attitude, and got nothing out of it. The last Cursillo I went to I enjoyed very much. I felt inspired being around other enthusiastic Catholics.
I’m currently enrolled in a program called “Ministry Formation Program for Catholic Deaf Adults” in Chicago, Illinois. MFP has helped me out tremendously in teaching me my Catholic faith and training me to be a Catholic leader in ministry. In addition, MFP has taught me certain key personality types, and how to incorporate this in teaching children.
In 2008 I had my own CCD class of Deaf students. I used some of what I had learned from the Ministry Formation Program to help my students to grow in their Catholic faith. I was preparing them for First Holy Communion. I would act out Bible passages with them. With the Deaf students you need to use big gestures and be an actor. I used many pictures to help them to understand their catechism. I would have them draw pictures so I could see if they were grasping a concept. I would ask them many questions to make sure they understood the lesson. I used modeling to demonstrate to them how to behave in line and receive Communion. I analyzed my student’s personality types and assigned them different tasks in the classroom. For example, I would have one student pass out papers for me, while another student would help me act out a Bible story.
This year I’m co-facilitating a “Why Catholic” class which is an adult program that our Bishop wants our Diocese to take part in. We use PowerPoint in this class as a tool to show our adults pictures that would aid them in understanding their lessons.
Father Ken, a hearing priest who knows sign language, is my Spiritual Director. I’m learning a lot from him, and he is learning from me also. He guides me in my goals on how best to serve the Deaf community.
Steve, a deaf friend of mine, has completed the Ministry Formation Program and he is ministering to the Deaf in Dallas, Texas. He comes to my “Why Catholic” class because he is so interested in learning more about the Catholic faith. He and I work together in assisting the Deaf Catholics in our Dallas/Fort Worth area. One problem we are working on is getting more harmony between Hispanic and Deaf culture. Many of the Hispanic Deaf children have hearing parents who can only speak Spanish. They are entrenched in their culture. Steve and I are working on teaching these children their faith and respecting their parents’ culture.
I encourage our Deaf adults to get involved with the Ministry Formation Program in Chicago. I also encourage them to go on a Cursillo.
Melissa, a Deaf middle school teacher, and I will be teaching a Mass reading class next year. The purpose is to make sure our Deaf understand the readings. Many times our Deaf will sign the readings for our Deaf Community Mass, and misunderstand some of the vocabulary. It is our goal that our class will help our Deaf have a much better understanding of the readings from Mass.
Kathy Murphy is a catechist at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in North Richland Hills, Texas. Contact Cursillo organizers at: http://www.natl-cursillo.org/