Deacon Matthew Hysell (left), who will be ordained a priest Dec. 7, discusses a point with Fr. Jim Corrigan, pastor of Edmonton’s St. Theresa parish. Photo by Ramon Gonzalez

Edmonton to ordain Canada’s first deaf priest

By  Ramon Gonzalez, Canadian Catholic News
  • November 30, 2012

EDMONTON  - Matthew Hysell became deaf after contracting spinal meningitis when he was 18 months old. He lives in a mostly silent world, but those who know Hysell describe him as a good listener, someone who pays attention to their concerns.

Since he arrived in Edmonton from San Jose, Calif., almost five years ago, Hysell has been busy studying theology, preaching the Word of God from the pulpit, visiting Catholic schools and giving retreats. Very soon he will be able to hear confessions as well.

A transitional deacon currently assisting at St. Theresa parish and at St. Mark’s Catholic Community for the Deaf, Hysell will be ordained to the priesthood in Edmonton Dec. 7. He will be the first deaf priest in Canada.

“It’s hard to believe that is actually happening because I’ve wanted to be a priest since I was 13 years old, even before I became a Catholic,” Hysell, 34, said.

“At this point, however, it will be nice when it’s all done because there is a lot of preparation and a lot of work that’s involved. I just want to get to work.”

Hysell has no hearing in one ear and very little in the other — “Without a hearing-aid, I can’t hear anything” — but he can speak clearly and knows sign language. He uses a hearing-aid with a microphone to amplify sounds around him. Hysell is also an expert lip reader, a skill he is grateful his mother made him learn.

John Shores, chair of the St. Mark’s community, says the community is “blessed” to have Hysell as part of the team.

“His ordination is a real miracle,” he said through an interpreter.

“Matthew is brilliant, has profound knowledge of the Church and is a great teacher. We have a lot of questions and he answers all of our questions.”

There are nearly 130,000 deaf Catholics in Canada, including 50 active at St. Mark’s. The community has always had a priest for Sunday Mass but never one who is deaf.

“Knowing the unique needs of the deaf is something special,” Shores said, noting community members have a real bond with Hysell because of his own impairment. “He is very caring and really pays attention to you when you speak to him. He gives of his time generously.”

Sr. Elizabeth Kass, another member of the St. Mark’s Community team, is ecstatic about Hysell’s upcoming ordination.

“I have been praying for years for a deaf priest in Canada and now it happens right here in Edmonton,” she giggled. “It’s a miracle.”

Nevertheless, Kass is somewhat disappointed Hysell has been assigned to St. Theresa’s.

“But we are still hoping that he will be able to work with our St. Mark’s Catholic Community of the Deaf as our chaplain as much as possible.”

Before coming to St. Theresa’s, Hysell was assisting at St. Thomas More parish, mostly preaching and working with youth.

“I think he is a great man — a man of faith,” said Fr. Andrew Bogdanowicz, the pastor. “He touched many people in this parish in a very positive way. People reacted well to his homilies; after Mass people spoke to him and were grateful to him.”

Hysell’s hearing impairment actually worked to his advantage “because it drew people to him and they paid more attention.”

“I’m very impressed with him,” Bogdanowicz added. “He is a very humble man and a very faithful man. He’ll be a great priest. ”

Hysell served at St. Thomas More for just two months but returns regularly because he is leader of the youth group that will attend World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro next year.

At St. Theresa, Fr. Jim Corrigan is elated to have Hysell as part of his three-priest team. Hysell did his parish internship at this busy parish of 5,000 families, and he knows the ins and outs at St. Theresa.

“He knows the people, he knows all the schools, he knows all the care centres so he can start working right away,” Corrigan said. “The training in a sense has already been done.”

As the only deaf priest in Canada, Hysell expects to spend a lot of time on the road, giving missions and retreats to the deaf.

(Western Catholic Reporter)

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