Msgr. Patrick McCahill, moderator of the archdiocesan Deaf Center, recently received high honors from the National Catholic Office for the Deaf (NCOD) in appreciation of his “outstanding service with the Catholic deaf and hard of hearing community.”
In that capacity, he is the recipient of the Father David Walsh Person of the Year Award, announced Jan. 19 during the NCOD’s pastoral week in Las Vegas.
Msgr. McCahill, who was unable to attend the gathering, said he was surprised by the honor. “Enough kind people said it was deserved. That’s a nice thing to hear,” he said.
The award “signifies that someone thinks I’ve done some good things for Catholic deaf people over all these many years.”
The archdiocesan Deaf Center, which provides religious and social services for deaf people in the archdiocese, is located at St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish, 211 E. 83rd St., where Msgr. McCahill, 71, also serves as pastor.
Under the direction of Msgr. McCahill, the Archdiocesan Deaf Choir, a group of adults from St. Elizabeth’s, sang for Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie in April 2008.
Msgr. McCahill had learned American Sign Language while he was a seminarian at St. Joseph’s Seminary some 40 years earlier. He was ordained in 1968. His interest in serving those who are deaf was fueled by the patience members of the deaf community exhibited as he learned to communicate with them during his diaconate year, he said.
His first official appointment with the deaf apostolate came in 1969.
In the New York area, there have been about 10 Cursillos for deaf people, Msgr. McCahill said. Of that number, he was responsible for six and involved in the others.
He concedes the local Church could always do more to reach out to deaf Catholics. In providing outreach to people who are deaf, he suggests the average person in the pew be mindful of who they are and who they are not.
“Deaf people, even though they may have difficulty speaking, are normal and average and like everybody else,” Msgr. McCahill said. “They want to be respected for their talents and they have many of them.”
He said, “There are deaf lawyers and deaf PhDs in all sorts of fields. There are plenty of talented deaf people around.”
And any communication challenges need to be accepted. “One can always learn from people who have a different and unique experience of life.”
Christ doesn’t close his door to anyone, as illustrated in the Scripture passage of Jesus reaching out to a deaf man, which has less to do with hearing and more to do with one’s heart, Msgr. McCahill said. “Jesus wants the heart of every person open to him,” he said.
Msgr. McCahill described his own bond with those who are deaf through the Irish adage, “‘You can take the man out of the bog, but you can’t take the bog out of the man.’ Once you have come to know deaf people and gotten involved with them, it’s very hard to break away from them. Sometimes there’s a bond based on suffering and rejection, but nonetheless a bond.
“The best of them are wonderful, they’re terrific people,” Msgr. McCahill continued. “They’re kind and loving and generous, and enormously supportive, even of my struggling effort.”
“That’s been the case from them willing to accept me. I’ve hopefully been able to give them something back, in return.”