Be Opened! The Catholic Church and Deaf Culture

by Lana Portolano
Catholic University of America Press, 2021
Paper: 978-0-8132-3339-0, eISBN: 978-0-8132-3340-6

ABOUT THIS BOOK
Be Opened! The Catholic Church and Deaf Culture offers readers a people’s history of deafness and sign language in the Catholic Church. Paying ample attention to the vocation stories of deaf priests and pastoral workers, Portolano traces the transformation of the Deaf Catholic community from passive recipients of mercy to an active language minority making contributions in today’s globally diverse church.

Background chapters familiarize readers with early misunderstandings about deaf people in the church and in broader society, along with social and religious issues facing deaf people throughout history. A series of connected narratives demonstrate the strong Catholic foundations of deaf education in sign language, including sixteenth-century monastic schools for deaf children and nineteenth-century French education in sign language as a missionary endeavor. The author explains how nineteenth-century schools for deaf children, especially those founded by orders of religious sisters, established small communities of Deaf Catholics around the globe. A series of portraits illustrates the work of pioneering missionaries in several different countries—“apostles to the Deaf”—who helped to establish and develop deaf culture in these communities through adult religious education and the sacraments in sign language. In several chapters focused on the twentieth century, the author describes key events that sparked a modern transformation in Deaf Catholic culture. As linguists began to recognize sign languages as true human languages, deaf people borrowed the practices of Civil Rights activists to gain equality both as citizens and as members of the church. At the same time, deaf people drew inspiration and cultural validation from key documents of Vatican II, and leadership of the Deaf Catholic community began to come from the deaf community rather than to it through missionaries. Many challenges remain, but this book clearly presents Deaf Catholic culture as an important and highly visible embodiment of Catholic heritage.

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