Spirituality for Today – November 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 4

I Have A Dream

By By Sister Lou Ella Hickman, I.W.B.S.

When Celia Mendez of the Office for Persons with a Disability mentioned that Brother George would be in the diocese for pastoral experience, I immediately asked, "When is he coming so I can interview him for an article?" I knew I would be meeting someone special; however, special doesn't begin to describe Brother George. He's God's burning bush for the deaf.

A photo of the city of Nairobi, KenyaNairobi, Kenya

Brother George Ndung'u, O.P. Miss. is a member of Fr. Tom Coughlin's religious community based in San Antonio, Texas. Fr. Tom, who was the first deaf priest to be ordained in the United States, has begun a religious community dedicated to ministering to the deaf.

Brother George's ministry began when his vocation director in Nairobi, Kenya assigned him to a parish with a school for the deaf. Frustrated with his inability to communicate and catechize, he decided to enroll in a nine month program that put him on the fast track in mastering the language. Unable to find support, Brother George took the initiative and followed up his decision by paying for the program himself. He did this during breaks between his studies–working the land he had inherited from this father and selling the farm produce as well as cattle After he finished the program, Brother George was able to minister to people of all faiths "who had one thing in common; they were deaf."

It was during this time that he met a Dominican priest who told him about Fr. Tom's community and their ministry to the deaf. Brother George contacted Fr. Tom and requested an application to enter. Now Brother George is studying at the Oblate School of Theology and is a second year theology seminarian.

When I asked him what his community was like, he told me with his expressive smile that it has been an enriching experience for him as the other members are from Kenya, Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Asia, Korea, India, and the Philippines. With such a mix of nationalities and personalities, he told me he has had great learning experiences. While Brother George continues to learn about American food, he feels quite at home when he ministers to the deaf. As part of his on going ministry in San Antonio, he visits deaf inmates. "Just having someone to talk to in their own language really is important as so few people know sign language."

During my interview, I was taken with Brother George's quiet intensity yet it was my question about what he planned to do after ordination that revealed Brother George's passion: his dream to establish a parish or mission for the deaf. For him, he sees as the greatest challenge is getting the deaf to church because so many deaf people have little or no connection with the Church. After that, he believes organizing the community into the usual parish groups will be easy. His strategy to get people to church is simple–his proficiency with sign language will help him meet deaf people where they are. That means his main priority will be home visits as well as visits to schools, places of work, hospitals, and even jail. "The deaf are the sheep without a shepherd that Jesus spoke about. I want to journey with them and celebrate with them in their own language. It is my heart's desire to serve the neglected and bring them the message that God loves them. I want to help the deaf live life to the fullest

Two of the activities Brother George was involved in during his two months of pastoral training were Fr. Walsh's Annual Summer Camp during June and a picnic day in July. His other activities included office work at Catholic Charities, the Office for Persons with a Disability, teaching deaf students to serve at Mass, participating in deaf classes, and helping a deaf couple with catechetical lessons and marriage preparation.

When I asked him what he would say to someone considering a religious vocation or the priesthood, he responded that he felt that the greatest challenge of this century is the challenge of leading by example. That is the gift he wants to give to the People of God who are deaf.

Your parish and your diocesan Office of Persons with Disabilities always needs volunteers to help out. Yet the entire People of God as well as the deaf need are in greater need of those who would volunteer for a lifetime. Brother George has a dream. What's yours?