WEST HARTFORD — An inaugural archdiocesan Mass for the deaf will be celebrated by a deaf priest in American Sign Language (ASL) at 12:15 p.m. on Jan. 7 at St. Timothy Parish.
Father Thomas Coughlin, prior general of the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf and Disabled and the first ordained deaf priest in the United States, has been named by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair to serve as chaplain for the Archdiocese of Hartford's Deaf Apostolate. He will celebrate the ASL Mass on the first Sunday of every month. The next ASL Mass will be held February 4 and it will be followed by Bible study and a potluck luncheon. Deacon Dennis Ferguson serves as director of the deaf apostolate.
The parish's 10:30 a.m. American Sign Language-interpreted Sunday Masses will continue.
Father Coughlin was born deaf in Malone, N.Y., on May 22, 1947. He was ordained as a first deaf priest in North America in 1977 by Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore. After working four years as a home missionary priest for the International Catholic Deaf Association, Father Coughlin raised funds and purchased a bankrupt resort hotel on 4th Lake in Old Forge, N.Y., in the fall of 1981 and converted it into Camp Mark Seven, a thriving Catholic deaf youth and adult program. In 1987, he was transferred to Honolulu Diocese and worked as a chaplain for the deaf. While in Honolulu, he obtained a nursing degree.
In 1996, Cardinal O'Connor of the Archdiocese of New York invited Father Coughlin to set up a House of Studies for Deaf Seminarians in Yonkers. A total of 14 deaf and hearing men entered the formation program. In 2002, following the death of Cardinal O'Connor, the program was transferred to the Archdiocese of San Francisco under the auspices of Archbishop Levada. Father Coughlin was given an assignment as the pastor of St. Benedict's Parish for the Deaf in San Francisco.
In the spring of 2004, Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland Diocese erected the deaf community as a Private Association of the Faithful, one of the first steps leading to the formation of a religious institute, namely: Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate.