Written by Father Anthony Russo, who has devoted himself to the deaf community for over forty years, In Silent Prayer traces the history of the special deaf ministry in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Through insightful text, as well as historical documents and photographs, Father Russo not only tells the story of the great men and women who have
provided this important service, but also looks forward to the coming years and considers how this service can be further shaped and improved.n
@Text: In Silent Prayer explores more than 150 years of Catholic Church ministry with the deaf in Southeastern Pennsylvania, U.S.A., the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is an active history related to the future; where we have been tells us something about where we will go and what we will do, and so the reader will see observations and challenges that can apply both within and beyond the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The reader will see an energizing power that brings creativity to bear on challenges presented by this history and applies what-if solutions that seek to bring results. At the outset it is clear that pastoral ministry with the deaf has caught the attention of the church at the highest level.
On March 2, 1987, L’Osservatore Romano published an address by Pope John Paul II to the World Federation of Deaf Persons. In it the Holy Father stresses the need for greater involvement of laity, religious, and clergy in the lives of deaf people:
Still, in the Christian world, it is necessary to do more in this realm of charity. Believers, in virtue of their faith, must feel themselves particularly engaged in this most noble service to the dignity of the human person. They must understand still better that this endeavor, as well as the efforts expended in assisting other human disabilities, is indissolubly linked to the witness on behalf of man’s salvation and redemption in which every disciple of Christ must feel himself involved.
We must hope, in this regard, for an increase in the number of persons in the church who dedicate themselves in a special way to this service of charity, be they laity, religious or priests. May those who feel this interest as a true divine vocation, an urgent call of the will of God, be ever more numerous.
Clearly, John Paul II urges the Church to avoid understanding deaf ministry as a mere hobby or something to be done with condescending charity or as a one-person apostolate. The status of deaf ministry depends largely on the willingness of dioceses to translate Papal eloquence into practical strategies that produce effective pastoral ministry.
Long before the pontificate of John Paul II, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has exercised ministry commensurate with the level of commitment urged in his address. But it began in St. Louis with the energetic figure of Bishop Joseph Rosati. After inquiring at the Archdiocese of St. Louis and reading his biography, I was unable to pinpoint the specific occasion that aroused the Bishop’s interest in the deaf.
His correspondence with the Sisters of St. Joseph in France illustrates his pastoral concern; their acceptance of his invitation to come here first to St. Louis and then to Philadelphia to teach the deaf illustrates their depth of commitment.
The educational road taken by the Sisters was long and winding. Among other challenges here in Philadelphia, they had to decide which philosophy of communication to use in teaching deaf children. Their decision: strict oralism. Despite this controversial position, the Sisters received ovations from parents as it became apparent that they were making noteworthy contributions to the lives of their students. Besides teaching the educational basics, they built a foundation for faith, moral, and character development. Moreover, they crafted the steppingstones to higher realms of deaf education for students who chose to step up. Numerous Archbishop Ryan School for the Deaf students moved on to high school levels at St. Rita’s School for the deaf outside of Cincinnati, Ohio and then to Gallaudet College (now University) for the Deaf in Washington, D.C.
In Chapter Two, “The Early Era to 1941,” I incorporate new leaders, particularly the Jesuits, into the deaf story. I strived to write well about them as individuals, not stereotypes. These people lived full lives, with a deep love of God motivating their love for the deaf.
If I had to write about them in a vacuum, it was because only limited information was available to me. Nevertheless, these men were consecrated to God by vow, giving them a common beauty that simmers beneath the surface of what I was able to write about them. Just as a sailor, looking at two or three small ice caps jutting up from the Arctic Ocean, suddenly realizes that they are joined beneath the surface by the hidden mass of a huge iceberg, and realizes the awesomeness of it all, so may the reader see, beneath the surface of what is written, the awesomeness of the Jesuits committed to the deaf. Their “eyes of faith” enable them to see Our Lord within the minds and hearts of the deaf.
It has been said that writing history must be calm, rational and objective, avoiding emotion. But here we have a history that is indeed rational but overflows with emotion and continues to a higher level--the faith level. The people here are driven people--driven by their love of God, which, in turn, leads them to embrace the deaf and lead the deaf to God’s embrace.
Chapters Three, Four, and Five are filled with people whom I describe not by facts alone; not by facts and feeling; but by facts, feeling, and faith. In the section on Distinguished People, my plan is to give the reader detailed features of the person, to experience the feelings and the faith of the person, and to appreciate their importance to deaf ministry.
Some of Chapter Four is autobiographical. Since I was part of the history, I found it hard to evade my own role. I thought it would be helpful to the reader for me to convey my role, which can relate the various parts of the history to one another. And in doing so I felt like an artist fitting the pieces of a mosaic together so that the reader can see the finished product, of which I was only a small part.
Chapter Six shows the effort to reach the deaf in publications. Note especially the method of Father George Haye, who numbered each sentence, thinking that in this fashion the deaf would more easily grasp English despite his use of sophisticated terms such as “inaccessible,” “one person, two natures,” “incarnation,” and “providential.” Notice that “silence” appears four times. Chapter Six also includes organizations. To begin, flourish, and grow, organizations need leaders. Deaf leaders of bedrock character have risen to the occasion and made things happen. Perhaps they heard of George Bernard Shaw’s declaration, famously borrowed by Robert F. Kennedy, “Some men see things as they are and say why--I dream things that never were and say why not.” Dream and action can be closely linked; leaders provide the linkage.
Leaders and members were large in stature, although the organizations were small and obscure. The bank accounts of nearly all of them totaled only several hundred dollars. Their value was in shaping the Catholic deaf community. They cared little about the amount of money they had in the bank.
Their leaders and members were nearly all deaf, the exception being the Philadelphia Catholic Guild to Aid the Deaf. In planning large and small events, they used a method designed by the Passionist Fathers: EDM=Q+A. It means “Effective Decision Making has both Quality and Acceptance.” The leaders never heard of this formula, but they used its substance, recalling the adage, “I’d rather have contrition than know its definition.” The leaders knew that the members had to participate in making decisions, accepting them, and liking it all the while. And the skilled leader knew that when the work was finished, the members would say, “We did this ourselves.”
Against this background, the Philadelphia Catholic Guild, the local chapter of International Catholic Deaf Association, and regional organizations flourished and added to the quality of the church’s pastoral ministry.
“Peak Experiences and Events” presents an inside look at the deaf community in action. Sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, sometimes inspirational, these little-known stories are full of surprises. Taken together, these stories burst with life as they show the robust personalities of the deaf as they push and shove to get a closer look at Pope John Paul II, shake hands with the mayor of Montreal, and endure anguishing medical experiences and brushes with law enforcement officials.
The conclusion of this book cries out for explanation. Thought-provoking in its presentation of challenges and creative approaches to meeting those challenges and acting upon them, it is part of why this book must not sit undisturbed on library shelves.
The famous and controversial American philosopher John Dewey is best known for his theories of education. He also turned his attention to history. Marnie Hughes-Warrington’s Fifty Key Thinkers on History describes how numerous historians hold that historiography is the art of telling a story about the past and telling it as objectively as possible by gathering the evidence and discovering the meaning of the evidence. For instance, an archaeological dig may discover a piece of clay. The historian writing about this would not simply say that a piece of clay has been found. The important thing is that the piece of clay says something: it contains the thought, the language, the culture, and the symbolism of the people who molded it.<+>1<+>
Similarly, this history “says something” about deaf ministry. John Dewey would take this a step further and say that, to some extent, history’s challenges can help shape what the future will resemble.<+>2<+> The conclusion of this book accepts and puts into practice John Dewey’s thought on the philosophy of history.
And so this conclusion is an adventurous one. It uses a spirit of creativity (where “spirit” means “breath of life”) to explore where the pursuit of creativity would lead deaf ministry. All kinds of possibilities come to life: a church exclusively for the deaf, the relevance of a Martha’s Vineyard community, the latest technology for religious education, advocates for hospital patients, and the Bible in public schools.
To sum up: this is an active history putting equal weight on “Looking Back” and “Looking Forward.” It is impressed with the urgency of doing. As Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
I confess now that I am in love with much of the material that I have written. I have marveled at the friendly persistence of Sister Patricia Hughes with Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan as she tried to convince him to open a Catholic School for the Deaf. Equally impressive is the participation of the deaf in Archbishop Ryan’s fiftieth-year Golden Celebration of his ordination to the priesthood. I have laughed with Ben Blasczak’s skillful use of humor to relax his new customers in his barbershop. I have admired the deaf leaders who seemed to know instinctively what had to be done and how to do it.
No group has inspired me more than the deaf-blind group: Joe Johnson climbing a steep rock formation; Kathleen Spear being guided by her seeing-eye dog as she traveled to work by public transportation on a trolley and a bus; the patience of Stella Waligorski, who, as a hospital patient requiring knee replacement, faced medical personnel clueless about how to communicate with her. I was sent to evangelize them, but they evangelized me.
I fell in love, too, with the hearing people who plunged into the deaf world with little or no background on deaf linguistics or culture. They faced the challenges, grew in their abilities, and brought our Faith to deaf children and adolescents.
I loved the kids at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, as you will find out in the section called Early Pastoral Ministry. Along with a dedicated team, I taught them our Catholic Faith on Monday afternoons, ate supper with them, and taught the athletes in the evening. I played football with them, took them to the movies, and arranged helicopter rides for them. I even introduced them to Army Sergeant David Dolby, who for his great courage in the Viet Nam War won the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for gallantry in action against an armed enemy. These activities and many others helped me to bond well with the students and thereby achieve my ultimate goal: to introduce them to Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and give them a knowledge and love of our Catholic Faith.
Did everything that happened in this history have a cause or causes? Yes indeed. Would this history be different if the cause or causes were different? Yes indeed. What were the causes? More accurately, what was the cause? Most of the people in this history never heard of Rick Warren and his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Yet they lived the book’s contents. The Glory of God was driving their lives. Their deep love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, some of them consecrating their lives to Our Lord by vows, prepared them for the mission God had in mind for them. They were eager to continue Our Lord’s mission on this earth and proclaim to the deaf that God is preparing a beautiful life for them--eternal life. They were driven to communicate to the deaf how they can have eternal life. No news is greater than this news and the people in this history rose to the challenge of reaching the deaf in a way that would change their lives, here and hereafter. The techniques and strategies used to accomplish this form the substance of this history.