It all got started at the 1971 International Catholic Deaf Association convention in Baltimore, MD. At the first meeting of the priest moderators, it was suggested that the Catholic Deaf Ministry needed a national voice that might express the spiritual needs of the American Catholic Deaf Community and also an organization that would focus on updating the knowledge and skills of pastoral workers with Deaf persons and act as a support group for pastoral workers. After a weeklong discussion, the moderators voted to establish the National Catholic Office for the Deaf that might eventually be affiliated with the USCC (United States Catholic Conference). Fr Davis Walsh, CSSR, was elected the Executive Director. The sisters in attendance voted to support the decision of the moderators.
In a September meeting in St. Louis with Cardinal Carberry, the Episcopal moderator of the ICDA, Fr. Walsh was assured that approval of the USCC or of the NCCB (National Conference of Catholic Bishops) was not necessary to use the tittle National Catholic Office for the Deaf. Accordingly, from that time on the Cursillos, Pastoral Weeks, Catholic Deaf Community Weeks, Religious Education summer workshops, etc. were all organizes out of the NCOD office of Fr. Walsh at Liguori, Missouri (near St. Louis). Later “Listening” (later changed to “Vision”) magazine and Radar, a newsletter for pastoral workers, were prepared and mailed from Liguori.
By 1973, a year and a half after the establishment of NCOD, a national steering committee consisting of priests, sisters, and lay pastoral workers, had been elected and had held several national meetings to prepare the NCOD Constitution and By Laws. These meetings were held in Glenview, IL, West End, NJ, and Washington DC. In 1973 the NCOD Board of Directors, through the efforts of Cardinal Carberry, arranged a meeting with the USCC officials in Washington to discuss the possibility of NCOD becoming part of USCC. This was not acceptable to the Bishops since they did not want to single out one group of persons with a disability to establish an office under the Catholic Conference. Subsequently, the USCC established the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities.
However, the NCOD continued its programs, and its membership grew. In 1976, through the strong support of the LCBA, Loyal Christian Benefit Association, with headquarters in Erie, PA, NCOD was able to move to Washington DC. Space was obtained at Trinity College. Fr. Walsh remained Executive Director until 1980 when Sister Alverna Hollis, O.P., was hired. Besides the regular duties of the office, under her guidance, grant monies were received to support more development of religious education materials for Deaf children, a book was published on “Signs for Catholic Liturgy and Education”, as well as two small booklets on the Sacraments and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The National Office continued to be a resource for Diocesan ministries with Deaf people and more lay people, especially Deaf persons, began to become pastoral workers. The office moved to the National Association of the Deaf building in 1981.
Nora Letourneau, Ph.D. succeeded Sister Alverna, in 1988. NCOD continued to grow and to act as a clearinghouse on information concerning the Church’s ministry with Catholic Deaf persons. In 1992 the office published the results of a five year study of the spirituality of Deaf persons titled, ”Eye Centered-A Study of the Spirituality of Deaf People with Implications for Pastoral Ministry “reflects the insights, hard work and faith journeys of many people and gives some practical suggestions for making the church’s ministry with Deaf Persons more meaningful. The National Office continues to pursue funding for special projects such as leadership workshops for Catholic Deaf Leaders, for interpreters in religious settings and for catechists working with Deaf children and youth. In 1995 the office published a policy statement on working with Sign Language interpreters in Catholic Religious settings.
The National Catholic Office for the Deaf moved to its present site at the Washington, DC Archdiocesan Catholic Deaf Center in Landover Hills, MD in September 1995. Here it continues its role as advocate for making services and programs for spiritual growth accessible to Deaf persons. In October of 1997, Arvilla Rank became the first Deaf Executive Director of NCOD. Today more than ever this National Voice is needed. Working together with the ICDA and with ecumenical groups it is hoped that more and more Deaf persons will become pastoral workers. This last decade has truly become “The Decade of Deaf Ministry” and has prepared the way for the New Millennium in ministry with Deaf persons.
By Rev. Davis Walsh, CSSR
Edited by Nora Letourneau, Ph.D.