Busy chaplaincy for Catholic Deaf communities

WelCom December 2021 As chaplain for the Catholic hard-of-hearing and deaf communities in the Palmerston North and Wellington dioceses, David Loving-Molloy’s ministry encompasses a broad area, covering the lower half…

Busy chaplaincy for Catholic Deaf communities Archdiocese of Wellington
David Loving-Malloy translates through NZSL at Levin Benefit Impact Mass, celebrated by Cardinal John Dew for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, in May this year.

WelCom December 2021

As chaplain for the Catholic hard-of-hearing and deaf communities in the Palmerston North and Wellington dioceses, David Loving-Molloy’s ministry encompasses a broad area, covering the lower half of the North Island and the top of the South Island.

David is based at St Dominic’s Catholic Deaf Centre in Palmerston North. His wide-ranging chaplaincy covers all ages from birth to death, he provides New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreted Masses monthly in both dioceses, meets with members of the local Deaf Community and families, and visits Catholic schools that have hard-of-hearing students. 

As well as finding and training other NZSL interpreters, David also provides access for Deaf to Bible study and Catholic training courses.

David was born hearing but suffered gradual but profound hearing loss after a childhood illness.

Busy chaplaincy for Catholic Deaf communities Archdiocese of Wellington

He learned NZSL with the Hawke’s Bay Deaf Community while he was at Mount St Mary’s Seminary Greenmeadows in the 1980s. Bishop Peter Cullinane and Cardinal Tom Williams appointed David full-time chaplain to the Deaf in 1993.

‘Working with the Deaf is great,’ he says. ‘It provides an insight into a culture and language to which few hearing people have access.’

Although the development of technologies such as cochlear implant has reduced the rate of deafness among children, David believes there is still a place for NZSL at local church level.

NZSL is the first language for most of the Deaf people he works with, but he says many find lip-reading in church difficult and stressful.

‘Many Deaf with a Catholic background do not go to church for the simple reason that no NZSL interpreter is available in their parish,’ he says.

Busy chaplaincy for Catholic Deaf communities Archdiocese of Wellington
Students at St Theresa’s School Plimmerton, sing a waiāta using Sign at the official opening of their refurbished block, in May this year. Photos: Annette Scullion/WelCom

As with other chaplaincies, Covid-19 restrictions have hampered the usual effectiveness of David’s chaplaincy, but he says Alert Level 2 is a lot better than Level 3. Recent events for him have included translating the Mass of the opening of the Synod into New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) along with a NZSL interpreter. ‘This took place at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on Sunday 17 October. Cardinal John Dew was the main celebrant, and a small number of the local Catholic Deaf group were present,’ he says.

The following week David was working in Whanganui, visiting a Deaf inmate at the Whanganui Prison; meeting members of the local Deaf Community; and visiting Catholic schools that have hard-of-hearing students. Under Alert Level 2 not all schools have allowed for outside visitors, but most accommodated David’s visits. 

‘Some schools that don’t currently have any hard-of-hearing or Deaf students are interested in learning NZSL. A good example of this was when I visited St Marcellin’s school in Whanganui. Principal Maia Williams is keen to have waiāta translated into NZSL. This is a project that will occupy me over the coming weeks.’

After his time in Whanganui, David was in the Wellington archdiocese for three days visiting schools and people in the northern part of the Wellington region, the Hutt Valley, and central Wellington. ‘Being a wide-ranging ministry means not all people I work with are hard-of-hearing or Deaf. Most parents of hard-of-hearing or Deaf children are themselves hearing. Only a small minority transfer deafness genetically. On the other hand, most children of Deaf parents are hearing and often grow up bilingual knowing NZSL, sometimes as their first language. I also keep in touch with retired teachers who were involved in the ministry in the past and retired chaplains too.’