PORTLAND — Just days after being ordained to the priesthood, Fr. Kevin Hughes, S.J., arrived in Maine to serve as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Portland. He brought energy and enthusiasm along for the ride, as well as valuable experience working with a special community.

“I first became interested in learning American Sign Language (ASL) as a Jesuit novice after attending a sign-interpreted Mass in Syracuse, New York,” said Fr. Hughes. “The beauty of the language, especially in prayer, initially made me want to begin learning the language.”

Fr. Hughes attended Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. to begin studying ASL in 2010. Gallaudet is a federally chartered private university for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

“I have since worked with deaf Catholic communities in St. Louis, Missouri; Rochester, New York; and Toronto, Ontario, where I also served as a deacon in the St. Francis de Sales deaf ministry,” said Fr. Hughes.

To the excitement of the local deaf community, Portland will soon be added to the list.

Our Lady of Hope Parish will offer a signed Mass on the third Sunday of each month at St. Pius X Church, located on 492 Ocean Avenue in Portland, at 9 a.m. The Masses will begin on Sunday, Sept. 20.

“We are so pleased to be offering this new ministry to the deaf and hearing-impaired community,” said Fr. Paul Sullivan, S.J., pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish. “The Masses will be ‘said’ so they’re open to anyone as usual, but they will also be signed. We especially reach out to members of the deaf community to join us for prayer either in-person or on our website (www.ladyofhopemaine.org) for live-streaming.”

Mass in American Sign Language allows those who are hard of hearing to focus solely on the liturgy instead of moving their eyes back and forth between an interpreter and the priest, making the celebration of the Eucharist a deeper experience.

The pandemic has presented its own set of unique challenges for the deaf, including the wearing of masks as an obstacle to easy communication. Fr. Hughes’ generosity and motivation to offer a helping hand has been gratefully received.

“I love praying in sign and I am eager to get involved with deaf ministry here,” said Fr. Hughes.

Deaf Catholics in Maine who are unable to attend the above Masses can visit www.facebook.com/deafmass to watch a livestream of an ASL Mass each Sunday at 11:30 a.m. or watch a replay of the Mass at any time. To view weekly homilies signed by Fr. Michael Depcik, visit www.frmd.org.

“Diocesan ministerial services is assessing the needs of the deaf community and trying to implement opportunities, services, and programs to support and encourage deaf Catholics in Maine, which includes an invitation to be more active in their parishes through sharing their gifts,” said Deacon Peter Bernier, who oversees this and other specialized ministries. 

“The deaf community is an important part of the parishes in which they live,” said Bishop Robert P. Deeley. “The diocese wants to reach out to the current and new generations of deaf Catholics to make sure that their needs are being met in terms of having children baptized, catechized, and that they feel welcome at Masses in their churches.”

For more information about opportunities for deaf Catholics in Maine, contact Deacon Bernier at 207-321-7845 or peter.bernier@portlanddiocese.org.