Three offices within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee came together in a “beautiful collaboration” to create a Mass of Mercy specifically tailored to the Deaf Community.
The Mass of Mercy for the Deaf Community will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at St. Alphonsus Parish, Greendale. Before the Mass, there will be a Deaf-led Rosary at 12:30 p.m. Bishop James T. Schuerman will be the main celebrant, and Fr. Christopher Klusman and Fr. Kevin McManaman, Pastor at St. Alphonsus, will be concelebrants. Dcn. David Sommers, a member of the Deaf Community, will also be present to assist with the Mass.
The Mass will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s acknowledgement of the abuse that took place at St. John’s School for the Deaf, where more than 250 children were abused by adults, including Fr. Lawrence Murphy.
Fr. Klusman, Director of the Deaf Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, worked with Victims Assistance Coordinator Sofia Thorn and Kim Mandelkow of the Office of Worship to create the Mass.
“It’s been a very holy and blessed experience,” said Mandelkow. “I always struggle to prepare the liturgy for the Mass of Atonement because sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church touches on so many people in different and complex ways. I find myself struggling to suggest readings. I probably over-analyze every word of every music selection. I agonize over writing the Prayer of the Faithful. Somehow, it always comes together, but it’s one of the most difficult things I do in the course of a year.”
She furthered explained how the process of designing this Mass was different.
“(We) met and talked about the Mass, the purpose of the liturgy, the difficulty of selecting readings, how the Deaf Community feels today 30 years later and how Fr. Christopher can help bring healing and reconciliation with the Deaf Community,” Mandelkow said. “Then we all went to work on different tasks. There was great communication back and forth between the three of us that I feel we grew together professionally, as well as spiritually.”
Thorn said when she approached Fr. Klusman over the summer with the idea for the Mass, he reached out to the Deaf Community for feedback, and the response was this was something that was needed.
“Due to the impact this had on the Deaf community in the past several decades, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee offered Mass of Atonements in solidarity with them, especially one specifically for and with the Deaf Community at St. Roman Parish in 2013,” Fr. Klusman said. “On Oct. 14, the Mass will not be a Mass of Atonement (it will still incorporate the act of atonement), but will instead be a Mass of Mercy. It is for all gathered in continuation of their journey with Christ in order to deepen their experience of (Christ’s) accompaniment and his needed gift of healing to share God’s gift of merciful forgiveness.”
In creating a Mass specifically for the Deaf Community, Mandelkow noted there are some differences in how it is structured. There will be a Deaf cantor who will sign in ASL the opening and closing songs, as well as the responsorial psalm and communion song.
“When setting up for Mass, there are little things that are important to remember,” Mandelkow said. “The ASL interpreter should be positioned so that the Deaf Community can see both the interpreter and the action on the altar. For this reason, we specifically looked for a location that was smaller than a large church so that the Deaf Community would have better sight lines. In the Office for Worship, we prepare American Sign Language interpreter scripts.”
Thorn said Fr. Klusman reached out to the Deaf Community to help create the petitions for the Mass and the three archdiocese staff members took great care and consideration to select the readings. Fr. Klusman met with a few of the victims to help with formulating the Prayer of the Faithful.
“Is it symbolic? Yes, in a way, but I see it as symbolic like we remember 9/11,” Thorn said. “Nothing we do will ever really be enough, but we remember on purpose. We remember to let them know that this trauma is not unheard. Survivors of abuse are still hurting in some way. It’s a generational trauma. It’s also why we reach out to the community and ask if they feel it’s necessary. When we celebrate Mass, it’s also our way of being in communion all together.”
Fr. Klusman said current estimates say there are 500,00 Deaf or Hard of Hearing people in the state of Wisconsin, and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Deaf Community has large concentrations in the Milwaukee area and Delavan, the site of the state’s only residential school for the Deaf.