Fr. Christopher Klusman provided sign language interpretation for two videos in an eight-part Mariology series that will provide adult faith formation for members of the Deaf community. (File photo)
For the United States’ estimated 5.4 million Deaf Catholics, finding resources in their common language — American Sign Language — can be difficult and frustrating.
According to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Fr. Christopher Klusman — one of 10 Deaf priests in the nation — even videos with subtitles or captions can still be difficult to understand. ASL is considered its own separate language, with its own grammar, syntax and word order.
To facilitate more comfortable adult faith formation learning experiences for the Deaf community, Fr. Klusman teamed up with two other priests to create an eight-part series on Mariology. The eight-week program begins Jan. 28 and runs through March 25.
“A lot of resources are available in English or Spanish, and even though some materials in English have subtitles or captions, the Deaf people are watching it in their second or third or fourth language,” Fr. Klusman said. “There are very few resources available in American Sign Language; there’s nothing on Mary. It’s almost non-existent; that’s why this came up because we want the Deaf community (to) have something in their language they can learn from.”
The series of eight adult faith formation classes includes video segments that delve deeply into the theology, scripture and doctrine of the Blessed Mother Mary, and how to apply them to our lives as disciples of Jesus.
The Saturday sessions are 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. on Saturdays at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, 3100 W. Parnell Ave., Milwaukee. Attendees are asked to meet at the front main entrance on the southwest corner by the statue of St. Charles Borromeo. Interested people can register at www.surveymonkey.com/r/SYBLSDW, and organizers will take registrations up until the beginning of the series.
The videos are a collaboration with the Deaf Apostolates in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese of Boston. Fr. Klusman recorded two of the eight videos with the assistance of Heidi Heistad from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Communication Office — the first session on “Predestination” and the seventh (March 18) on the “Assumption of Mary.”
The other videos were recorded by Fr. Seán Loomis, the chaplain for the Deaf Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who learned American Sign Language while he was in the seminary, and Fr. Shawn Carey, a Deaf priest from the Archdiocese of Boston.
The sessions, which will include breakout sessions after the videos, will be co-facilitated by Shiloh Buchman, who has a Deaf daughter, and Tim Gall, who is Deaf. Buchman attended six training sessions via Zoom in November and December.
The eight videos are available to any Deaf Apostolate across the nation.
Fr. Klusman hopes this collaborative effort to create more resources in American Sign Language for the formation needs of Deaf adults is just a beginning. Fr. Klusman said there will be meetings after the Mariology series to discuss what other topics they can create resources for.
“This is a major first step,” Fr. Klusman said. “This is a huge thing for the Deaf community, I believe, and a wonderful opportunity for them.”
As the head of the Deaf Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Fr. Klusman is very plugged into the local Deaf community and said the reaction has been mixed.
“They’re unaccustomed; they’re not used to having something like this in their own language,” Fr. Klusman said. “It’s a novelty. They’re kind of stunned. But, at the same time, they’re excited that they can have exposure to Catholic teaching and now they can learn.”
He said having that formation background can help Deaf people evangelize and inform on the subject if it comes up in social settings.