Mass to Commemorate the 175th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Catholic Institute for the Deaf
Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell
Emmaus Chapel, Cabra, 26th September 2021
I am delighted to celebrate Mass today as we commemorate the 175th anniversary of the establishment the Catholic Institute for the Deaf. Pastoral ministry to people who cannot hear and hard of hearing in Archdiocese traces its roots to the year 1846 when Monsignor William Yore established the Institute.
In the perspective of today’s Scripture readings, you could say that Monsignor Yore and Father McNamara were prophetic when they heard God’s call to speak God’s word on behalf of children who could not hear. With a word of encouragement from wise leaders they ensured that the pressing needs of the deaf community were addressed when they founded the Catholic Institute for the Deaf and opened a school for deaf girls on the grounds of the convent of the Dominican Sisters in Cabra.
To his disciples, Jesus holds up the example of “anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink.” It is a very simple act. With this act the giver recognises in the one who thirsts a shared humanity, and a common thirst, as member of Christ’s body. I have little doubt that those who established the Catholic Institute for the Deaf profoundly recognised in their deaf sisters and brothers a shared humanity, and the need of those to whom the service is rendered.
Later St Joseph’s School for deaf boys was established. Five years ago the two schools were amalgamated and become the Holy Family School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This school, along with other facilities, have become an integral part of our Church’s ministry to the deaf.
The establishment the Institute showed that people with hearing impairment were valued in their own right. Education provided independence and empowered them to negotiate the world on their own terms. It was not merely a transfer of knowledge, but a transformation of the person. This holds for every person. This is what true education seeks for every child. People are much more than potential sources of revenue, or bases for power. The teacher, as a ‘Hearing Person’, makes every effort to communicate by using sign language (ISL), so that they can enter the world of the child or person who cannot hear. This, in turn helps the student to enter the world both of the teacher and of their companions. In this way, language skills are developed and learning is facilitated. Access to information is through communication. The teacher is not “out to heal” these students, as it were, rather the teacher is there to educate them.
Communication is much more than words uttered. We read not only words on the page, but each other’s expression. You know better than I the importance lip reading and facial expression. I am very aware that the pandemic created unique difficulties for the deaf community. Mask wearing makes lip reading impossible, and this greatly aggravated the effects of isolation.
Every human life is characterised by possibility and by limit. Mature education does not deny our created limitedness, but helps us discover in life’s finitude the contours of the life and gifts God offers everyone. The Catholic Institute for the Deaf seeks to help people transcend a limit that not everyone has to negotiate. It does so by respecting the dignity of the person at all times: people who cannot hear and people who are hard of hearing are not ghettoised. The Institute offers them the chance they deserve to develop fully as persons and to be ready to take their place in society and have meaningful employment and lives.
Over the years we have come to see that communication and what follows from the ability to communicate — a two-way reality—is what’s at the core. Our view of what constitutes communication has, of course, developed over the past 175 years, and it will continue to do so. Openness to such development and new insight lies at the heart of the Catholic way. That we would no longer approach certain aspects of education as we did 175 years ago is understandable. This in no way lessens the contribution of those who founded the Institute and the schools and facilities it supports. Indeed, it makes their vision and initiative all the worthier of admiration and gratitude.
I thank Geraldine Tallon for her chairmanship of the Board of the Institute, and the chaplains who make the Church a welcoming and comfortable environment for the deaf community. Since the foundation of the Catholic Institute of the Deaf, the contribution of religious orders to the education and care of the Deaf Community has been invaluable. In particular, I thank the Dominicans Sisters, the Vincentians—who have a long association with the chaplaincy to the Deaf—the Christian Brothers and Daughters of Charity.
The Gospel today is not recommending mutilation. Rather, it is saying that in our journeying to God, we have to be radical with obstacles. Cutting “off” is not to be understood as destructive amputation, rather it is letting go of all that holds us back from loving God with our whole heart and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves.
When we look at the gospel, or dare I say when we “hear” the gospel—and that “hearing” for us all is a hearing beyond words, it is hearing of the heart—we discover not only a Jesus who heals, but whose healing ministry is directed towards inclusion. “Anyone who is not against us is for us,” he says in this morning’s Gospel. This is a radically inclusive message. Jesus reaches out and touches not just to ‘cure’ lepers, or the blind, or the deaf; he reaches out above all to bring people in: to bring people into society and into the Kingdom of God, into life as God wills it for all his creatures.
Every Christian is called to bear witness to the gospel; it is both our obligation and our privilege. In the end it is by our lives that this unfolds: by the way we put faith into action, the way we parent, the way we do business, the way we ‘see’ those who are invisible, and by the way we include those whom the world passes by.
I wish you God’s blessing on your work, and energy and joy in the way that opens up before you. I pray that each of you will touch many lives, and be touched by the wonders that have been given you. Yes, that you may be blessed by God.