Mentoring through Sign Language
Nearly eighty people from across the country will be graduating from the AVI Catholic Spiritual Mentorship Program (CSMP) in 2019. These men and women have been receiving formation from the Apostles of the Interior Life and School of Faith in order to become spiritual mentors for other adults in their parishes and communities. Among these participants are Fr. Christopher Klusman of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Katie Locus of Overland Park, Kansas. A contagious joy spreads through these two who both happen to be Deaf. We wanted to invite you, our reader, in to a special interview with Fr. Christopher and Katie so that you may share in their unique experience of CSMP.
Katie, what inspired you to sign up for the CSMP? Were you nervous or excited to begin this adventure?
I was starting my first year as the consultant for Deaf Ministry for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and I had no ministry experience and minimal theological knowledge prior to that. One of the people I work with is Fr. Scott Wallisch, who serves as chaplain for Deaf Ministry, and he told me I should apply for the program in order to better serve the Deaf Catholic community and be able to spiritually guide them.
I was extremely nervous about beginning this adventure! I didn’t know anyone who would be in the program and I had no idea what to expect, honestly. On top of having no clue of what would be happening, there were so many logistics to figure out. Could I really take the time away from work? Would we be able to find enough interpreters? How would I be able to take notes during the lectures? I was a nervous wreck before the program began!
What was your experience like at your first week long session of the CSMP?
It was absolutely AMAZING! I was blown away. The AVI Sisters and priests were so genuinely kind and welcoming. All the participants were so friendly, and everyone just accepted me! It was a very unusual experience for me. I’ve been Deaf all my life so I’m used to getting strange looks or awkward interactions every time I go some place where the majority is hearing, and I never really feel like I completely belong. But I experienced the exact opposite during the first week long session of CSMP! The best part of it all was – it was absolutely genuine. It was astonishing to me.
On top of the grace of being so welcomed and included, I loved learning the content from the classes! It was challenging, but I was soaking it all in like a sponge! It was great. Like I said, I had minimal theological knowledge before starting my job so this was exactly what I needed.
As if that wasn’t enough, the time spent in prayer, meditation, Masses, and adoration was so spiritually rejuvenating. This was like the icing on top of everything! I thought my relationship with Jesus was already strong prior to entering the program and I had been praying enough. Then I noticed just how much more I entered in prayer through meditation, Mass, and adoration throughout the session and my relationship with Him became even stronger throughout the week. It felt like I had been dehydrated and I was finally drinking water! On top of that, I was able to go to spiritual direction for the first time in my life.
The entire week, it felt like my heart was so full of His Love and joy, and I thought it would explode from happiness. I have never experienced anything that wonderful before!
You were the one who invited Fr. Christopher. Why did you think Fr. Christopher would like it too?
Like I said, I was blown away after my first session of CSMP, and I wanted other people to experience the same thing I had, especially other Deaf people. As soon as I started thinking and praying about whom I would like to invite, Fr. Christopher was the first person that came to mind! He’s such a wonderful person with a joyful nature and a constant enthusiasm for learning. I knew he would appreciate the rigor and practical nature of the program, and the opportunity to meet AVI and other participants. At the same time, I had a feeling everyone at CSMP would love the chance to get to know him!
Fr. Christopher, she is right, we have enjoyed the chance to get to know you. Your presence is very unique to CSMP because most of us have never met a priest who is Deaf.
Yes, currently, there are only 13 Deaf priests in the world. Growing up, I had never seen a Deaf priest so I just knew it wasn’t an option for me. Gratefully, in college, one of my best friends introduced me to another priest (who is hearing) who was fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). My Deaf friends and I went to meet him through Bible Study and Masses. Instantly, we were so impressed by him. He allowed me to learn that I could serve in various roles in the Church, such as being a lector and server. After some time later, my heart welled that I should give him thanks for many opportunities difficult to find elsewhere, such as access in ASL during opportunities like these. The Holy Spirit called him to pop the question to me: “Have you thought about the priesthood?” My instant reaction was, “How? I’m Deaf.” In response, he said, “If God is calling you to the priesthood, He’ll make it happen.” Thankfully, he helped me in my discernment and my heart is open to doing His Will. I got in the Seminary and eventually was ordained in May 2011. My hope is that God can open doors for the Deaf Community through me as His priest.
Fr. Christopher, why do you think mentorship among those in the Deaf community is essential?
98% of the Deaf community is unaffiliated in terms of faith practice. Actually 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not develop beyond basic communication skills in ASL with their child/ren. Imagine yourself as a Deaf 13 year old and wanting to enter into more complex communication with your parent, but your parent can only sign, “Thank you,” “Good,” “Bad,” and “Eat.” This gives us an insight of how much a parent can teach the child about the faith too. Another reason is that many churches do not have ASL in their services nor do they have many resources about the faith. A Deaf person’s 1st Language is often American Sign Language (ASL), so English is often a Second Language. Sometimes there are Deaf fluent in both languages, while some are somewhat fluent. There are even some who only know minimal English. It varies. With all this in mind, this is why mentorship among those in the Deaf community is so essential as they need access to the correct truths of our faith! Many Deaf people need to see that God loves them and how they are important, as well as the fact that they have gifts to be shared with the world. Living lives as a Deaf person isn’t easy either, so mentorship helps them learn how to make virtuous choices that allows them to act, communicate and live as God’s children.
Katie and Fr. Christopher, could you share about a special moment that happened at CSMP so far?
(Fr. Christopher with Katie agreeing) We would say that every moment that happened at CSMP is very special! For both of us, the epitome so far was when Fr. Alessandro, AVI priest, signed some parts of the Mass during the CSMP and also voiced the parts that I signed during the Eucharistic prayer. That was so touching how he made sign language a part of the Mass, which is dear to all of us. Words don’t do justice how special that was for me, Katie, the interpreters, and everyone else. (Katie) Yes, that was such a beautiful moment. It was like God was telling me He understood me and completely accepted me.
The application process for the Mentorship Class of 2021 is now open!
Visit this website for more information and details on In-Residence Dates, cost and application: https://schooloffaith.com/spiritual-mentorship-1