History of NCOD
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. In October of 1997, Arvilla Rank became the first Deaf Executive Director of NCOD. She was succeeded by Consuela Wild, the second Deaf Executive Director, in 2006. Since 2008, the Board of Directors has been the managing body of NCOD.
In 1999, the office completed a video project, My First Eucharist, to aid in preparing Deaf and Hard of Hearing children for this sacrament. A Spanish translation of My First Eucharist was completed in 2002. A similar project for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was made available in 2009. In 2002 a booklet, "Principles for Understanding Deaf Ministry and Guidelines for Hiring Pastoral Ministers for the Deaf Community was completed. A DVD program for preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, Confirmation: Strengthened in Faith has been completed. NCOD partnered with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to develop an online ASL resource for the YouCat (Youth Catechism) so that Deaf and Hard of Hearing youth and young adults could learn from this resource.
Since June 2000, NCOD regularly sponsored a breakfast and presentation at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) semi-annual meetings to promote awareness of the special needs of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Since 2020, NCOD has hosted on-line webinars for members on different topics related to Deaf ministry and catechesis. In 2022, the NCOD began participating in the synodal process begun by Pope Francis, gathering information from the Deaf community and presenting that information to the USCCB for inclusion in its synthesis document. The synodal process continues as NCOD works with the USCCB in the development of a new pastoral statement on ministry to those with disabilities. NCOD is a sponsor for the National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024, coordinating access for Deaf and Hard of Hearing participants at this historic national event.
Today more than ever this National Voice is needed. Working together with the ICDA, the USCCB, and ecumenical groups it is hoped that more and more Deaf persons will become pastoral workers. NCOD's work has prepared the way for the 2000's to become known as the "The New Millenium for Deaf Ministry". We look forward to continuing this work in the vineyard of the Lord.
By Rev. Davis Walsh, CSSR
Edited by Nora Letourneau, Ph.D.; Arvilla Rank, MS; Minette Sternke, MAPM