Salesianum welcomed Fr. Mike Depcik, OSFS, to campus last week, one of fewer than ten priests worldwide who has been profoundly deaf since birth. Fr. Mike was the presider and homilist at a unique school-wide Mass on Friday celebrated entirely in American Sign Language (ASL). Fr. Ken McKenna, OSFS, and two Oblate novices, Mr. Joseph Kochendoerfer and Mr. Grant Wohl, who live in a community with Fr. Mike in Michigan, also made the trip to Salesianum.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of Healing of the Sick, Fr. Mike captivated the school community with a remarkably powerful and emotional homily that recounted his perspective on both the gift of being deaf and the burden of isolation and loneliness that accompanies those who are perceived as different. Throughout the Mass, his homily and prayers were interpreted audibly by Fr. Ken, who has been involved in deaf ministry for decades. Those present were also invited to receive the Anointing of the Sick, a sacrament that priests use to help channel Jesus’ healing for those who are sick and suffering in spirit, body, or mind.
Before the celebration, to reflect St. Francis de Sales’ teaching of unidiversity and the importance of walking in the shoes of our brothers and sisters, Oblate novice Joe Kochendoerfer taught basic ASL phrases and responses so that all gathered could participate. Students from Salesianum’s ASL program were positioned throughout the gym to model and facilitate participation during Mass. While Fr. Mike often signs to hearing congregations with the assistance of interpreters, he was deeply appreciative of the effort made by Salesianum students to respond in his own language.
St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of the Oblates and Salesianum, is also the patron of the deaf community. During his years as Bishop of Geneva, he developed a signing system sophisticated enough to teach a deaf man, Martin, stories from the Gospel and teachings of the Church. Reflecting this connection, members of the local deaf community were in attendance for this special Mass.
Novices are men in an early stage of formal Oblate training, spending one year on a retreat learning about Salesian spirituality and the facets of religious life. This important experience is guided by the Director of Novices, Fr. Ken McKenna, and culminates in the first profession of vows, which Joe and Grant will make in August. During a school tour with our resident Oblate in formation, Mr. Jonathan Dick, OSFS, and our Principal, Fr. Chris Beretta, OSFS, both Joe and Grant interacted with the students and faculty to experience life as a Salesian educator.
We look forward to sharing future events incorporating ASL, and welcoming Fr. Mike and our brothers and sisters from the deaf community back to campus in the future. In the spirit of St. Francis de Sales, may we all learn to be who we are, and be that well.