At retreat, visiting priest encourages Utah's Deaf Catholics to establish a relationship with God
Friday, Jun. 27, 2014
Father Michael Depcik leaves the altar to offer the sign of peace to the Deaf community at a Mass he celebrated for them in American Sign Language. IC photo/Christine Young
SALT LAKE CITY — Father Michael Depcik, Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales and pastor at Saint John’s Deaf Center in the Archdiocese of Detroit, led a retreat for the Deaf community in the Diocese of Salt Lake City at Saint Vincent de Paul Parish June 21-22.
“We are called to be saints,” said Fr. Depcik. “Our goal is to be in heaven with God. We have three choices: to be saints and go straight to heaven, to go to purgatory for purification or to go to hell for eternity. But what is a holy person?”
Although the topic of the retreat was typical for a Catholic audience, the manner in which it was delivered was uncommon. Fr. Depcik is Deaf and, during the retreat, he communicated using American Sign Language (ASL) to explain how to build a relationship with God. Carol Ruddell, Commission for People with Disabilities past chairwoman, translated the retreat into spoken English.
To have another person as a friend, one must develop a relationship with him or her, said Fr. Depcik. “Well, it is the same with God. You build that relationship, have conversations through prayer, the Mass, the sacraments, and spend time with God. God feels sad when he sees people who treat Jesus as if they were bored because the priest’s homily was too long, or because they would rather be somewhere else. Jesus wants us to be his friend and to be excited to spend time with him, just as our friends want us to be excited about spending time with them.”
The retreat also allowed those present to express their emotions about being Deaf and dealing with people who are hearing.
Fr. Depcik said that sometimes when he meets with his fellow priests it is discouraging for him because he is the only one who is Deaf. A couple of them know ASL, and a few will write notes, he said, but he cannot communicate easily with the majority of them.
Art Valdez, a Saint Catherine of Siena parishioner, said sometimes he feels left out of his family because they have a difficult time communicating with him, except when he is sick, and then they are there for him, he said.
Communication is the key to any relationship, said Fr. Depcik. “To have a strong relationship with God, we need communication and we do that through prayer, but Communion is the glue of a relationship with God. If we stop communicating, we create distance. We must attend Mass every Sunday.”
Fr. Depcik celebrated Mass during the retreat for the Deaf community. “By spending time with Jesus, he will influence our lives,” said Fr. Depcik in his homily. “If you turn to God, you will prosper; you can depend on God. When we accept Jesus into our body during Communion, we are meeting him face to face.”
Nubia Alire, a Saint Martin de Porres parishioner who was at the retreat, said she was happy to attend a Mass that was celebrated by a priest who used ASL.
“When I attend Mass and there isn’t an interpreter, I feel bad. I’m just watching,” she said. “Usually my mom is with me and she will show me where we are in the book, but I feel left out.”
Alire found Fr. Depcik to be very inspirational. “He helped me make sense out of things I had tried to learn in the past but didn’t quite understand,” she said, referring to what Fr. Depcik said about purgatory.
Another Deaf person who takes advantage of the Masses at Saint Vincent de Paul Parish and Saint Catherine of Siena Newman Center offered in ASL is Madeleine Allen, especially when her mother, Mindi Allen, is the interpreter.
Madeleine Allen became Deaf when she was 18 months old as a result of bacterial meningitis. She attended the School for the Deaf in Salt Lake City and Jean Massieu Charter School for Deaf children.
“We moved to Murray from Sandy, and to St. Vincent Parish, specifically for the ASL Mass,” said Jeff Allen, Madeleine’s father. “With an interpreter, she has access to participate in the Mass.”
Madeleine Allen attended a special religious education class for Deaf children; a Deaf priest was brought in for her first Reconciliation, and she received her First Communion and Confirmation at St. Vincent de Paul Parish.