‘Deafness is a gift from God’: Ephpheta Sunday celebrations

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Ephpheta Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate deafness as a gift from God, say the leaders of the Ephpheta Centre, the Sydney archdiocesan agency for the deaf and hearing impaired.

“It enables us to celebrate the unique gifts and talents which deafness brings, the strength of our community and the beauty of the sign language and culture of deaf people,” said business manager Liz McDowell.

Ephpheta Sunday is celebrated in Catholic deaf ministry throughout the world. In Sydney, the 7 August celebrations began with Mass for members of the community.

“Our deaf masses always have strong community participation, with the readings and intercessions being led by deaf people in Auslan,” said community manager David Parker.

“The day is one of the most important events in the calendar of the Ephpheta Centre and the community.

“It is really our feast day – it is a day of shared memories, of catching up with old friends and making new friends. It is a time of reconnecting and celebration of our community.”

Mass was followed by a “joyful celebration” with more than 100 guests and the launch of The Silent Book by Sr Bernadette Wallis.

Sr Bernadette, a Missionary Sister of Service, was born the hearing child of deaf adults.

Three years in the writing, the self-published book tells the story of her parents, against the backdrop of the very early history of deaf ministry and deaf culture in Australia.

“I wanted to record their deaf story for the family,” Sr Bernadette told The Catholic Weekly.

“Sign language is fast disappearing, and I felt the need to record the fact that it actually existed in Australia.”

With her parents both children of “pioneer families, farming families”, their story is also set in the context of life on the land.

“It was important to me to record these stories for the deaf, because it shows something of a deaf way of life,” she said.

“This is very important history that most people don’t know about.”

Sr Bernadette, along with her siblings, was raised with English as her second language after sign language, and has worked in the deaf community as a religious sister.

The Silent Book traces the development of education for deaf children from the influence of the Irish to Australia’s first school for the deaf at Waratah, the evolution of Australian Sign Language, and the challenges facing deaf adults.

It is also, Sr Bernadette said, a book about family.

“I don’t think there is a book like it in the world,” she said.

Proceeds from the sale of The Silent Book will go to John Wallis Foundation, named for the order’s founder. Visit ephpheta.org.au to order.