MT. CALVARY — What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?”
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s words to a group of high school confirmation candidates echoed through Holy Cross Church, Mt. Calvary.
While Archbishop Listecki’s words were clear to those assembled, the muted response from the candidates, not using microphones, were largely lost on some parishioners, most of them elderly, who suffered hearing loss over their lifetime.
“I heard the students but couldn’t really tell what they were saying,” said one parishioner who, as does her elderly husband, wears a hearing aid.
The couple, longtime members of Holy Cross, decided something needed to be done to make sure everyone could hear the joys of the Mass and other liturgical celebrations.
The parishioners, who wish to remain anonymous, donated $5,000, thereby allowing the church to install the latest in technology, making it possible for those with hearing aids and others suffering varying degrees of hearing loss to clearly hear the spoken words.
In late January, Holy Cross, one of three worship sites in St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, within the Holyland Catholic Parishes near Fond du Lac, purchased and installed hearing aid loops. Since then, hearing loops have been installed at St. Isidore’s St. Cloud sites, Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Marytown, and St. John the Baptist Parish, Johnsburg.
“To persons like my husband and myself, who are hearing impaired, the ‘Loop’ is a very big help to our enjoyment of the Mass,” said Connie Pickart, a member of St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, in an email to the Catholic Herald. “The need is (there) and the technology is here. My husband and myself are hearing challenged and use hearing aids. But the aids themselves don’t work in such a setting. The Hearing Loop does work for us. It is important for my husband and me to be able to more actively participate in the Mass by actually hearing the ‘Word of God.’”
Pickart said she hopes word spreads in the archdiocese that this system is available “and really works. It is not that expensive, but to us it is worth it.”
The installation of hearing aid loops requires people use the Telecoil, also known as the “T” coil, in their hearing aids. The T-coil picks up a wireless signal from a transmitter within the church so people can clearly hear voices and other sounds, said Dave Scroggins, owner of DRS Sound, Inc. of Kiel, who installed the system at Holy Cross.
Scroggins and his partner Jean Lulloff have been busy the last three years installing hearing aid loops in churches and other public and private buildings throughout northeastern Wisconsin, in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and at a major performing arts center in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“We’ve installed more than 300 hearing aid loops the past three years,” said Scroggins.
The installation of the loop system in Holy Cross was one of the first ventures for DRS in the Milwaukee Archdiocese and in southeast Wisconsin.
Scroggins said typically people will read up on the hearing aid loop system or hear that one has been installed in a church near them and want one in their church.
A seed was planted in the minds of the anonymous donors during a visit to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, Oshkosh, which has a hearing loop system.
“Amazing is the word. Remarkable. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. It really works,’” the anonymous donor said.
A lifetime of farming, including exposure to heavy machinery noise, damaged the hearing of the senior citizen couple.
“You struggle to hear. It can be frustrating to go to church. I can hear some priests, but others don’t have a strong voice we can hear. Some seem to be shy. This hearing aid loop will be well-received at Holy Cross,” she said.
Scroggins said the audio loop, known as an induction loop, uses wires placed around a room’s perimeter or the middle aisle of a church leading to the sanctuary, as an antenna to distribute the wireless signal to hearing aids and cochlear implants equipped with a T-coil.
Magnetic signals from an amplifier connected to the priest’s microphone feeds his words directly into hearing aids instead of through the hearing aids’ microphone, eliminating background noise.
People will say they haven’t heard anything this clear for 30 years, Scroggins said.
He said 80 percent of hearing aids include a T-coil. Some people don’t realize they have a T-coil in their hearing aid, how to turn it on, or how to get one installed. Scroggins said it can take a simple visit to an audiologist to get a T-coil installed and activated.
He said the cost to install a hearing aid loop system can typically range between $2,000 and $8,000 depending on the construction of a church and whether the floor is made of wood or concrete, or covered by ceramic tile or carpeting.
In the case of Holy Cross, the floor is comprised of tile, requiring grout be removed to allow installation of wires for the T-coil, said Ken Sabell, head of building and grounds at Holy Cross.
“We have four priests serving Holy Cross. Two of them I can understand. Two of them speak very softly,” said Sabell, who himself wears a hearing aid.
A carpenter, Sabell led a team of parish members in cutting out the grout in late January.
“I think it will be a good thing for our church,” said Sabell, who helped develop the proposal for installation of the loop. “One lady doesn’t even come to church anymore because she can’t hear because of her age.”
He noted that people who don’t have hearing aids but still suffer hearing loss can use one of several portable receivers equipped with headphones to improve their hearing.
“We are fortunate to have the talent and ability to install these systems. When we see the reaction of people who hear the Mass for the first time in 20 years, we know it’s not just for the money, but also to give people a reason to go church,” Scroggins said.