By Alice Kenny
Monsignor Patrick McCahill, the force behind services for the Deaf in the New York Archdiocese and recent winner of the Father David Walsh Pastoral Worker of the Year Award, shares a secret known largely only among the Deaf.
“When hearing people talk about the Deaf they think of it as a negative; that you can’t hear,” he says. “But to be Deaf is also a matter of belonging; to belong to a group of capable friends who share a special language.”
Msgr. McCahill was let into this secret during his 45 years ministering to the Deaf.
“He has worked tirelessly to build a Church that is truly home for the Deaf in every ministerial capacity,” said Sr. Barbara Ann Sgro, OP, Coordinator of Deaf Services – Hudson Valley, when she nominated him to the National Catholic Office for the Deaf for this annual award that honors individuals who contributed significant dedication, support and assistance to Deaf Catholics.
The understated monsignor, known for his quiet voice and beloved Irish sweaters, already had his moment of fame when the renowned Deaf Choir he leads used sign language to perform before Pope Benedict during his New York visit in 2008.
But folks within the Deaf community, their families, friends and supporters know him better for the day-to-day difference he makes in their lives.
When he began his ministry, people with hearing impairments were stigmatized, he says. Now they represent every profession, from lawyers to laborers.
“They are respected for their abilities,” he says, “and they have lots of them.”
A New Yorker through and through – his only other home was Yonkers during his stint at St. Joseph’s Seminary – Msgr. McCahill has become adept at translating even the most complex conversations. He is often called on to translate between those speaking English, those speaking Spanish with obscure native dialects, those using American sign language and even those who grew up in isolated villages and developed their own symbols of communication.
As pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Manhattan where he moderates the archdiocesan Deaf Center located there, Msgr. McCahill celebrates sign language mass twice a month. He also travels on alternate weeks to provide sign language mass in Staten Island and White Plains. He conducts prayer services with the Deaf at Rockland Psychiatric Hospital. He supports and hosts Deaf seminarians, taught sign language to seminarians at the Archdiocese of New York’s Dunwoodie Seminary and catechesis at St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf in the Bronx and New York School for the Deaf in White Plains. He has been involved in Marriage Encounter for the Deaf, National Deaf Cursillo and hosted Cursillos for the Deaf throughout greater New York. He coordinates and facilitates the New York State Pastoral Workers with the Deaf semi-annual gatherings. And he is currently developing a series of Adult Faith Formation videos that use sign language to minister to the Deaf.
Because he runs so many archdiocesan services for the hearing impaired, he says that his biggest concern, perhaps not surprisingly, is inspiring seminarians to join him.
“You have to concentrate, to learn their language,” he says. “It requires a fair amount of work and then it gets in your bloodstream.”