The founding of the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate has been largely a labor of love for our founder, Fr. Tom Coughlin. In 1977, Fr. Coughlin was the first deaf priest to be ordained in the United States. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to create opportunities for the deaf community within the Catholic Church.
In 1987, Fr. Tom Coughlin had the opportunity to start what would eventually become the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate when Dora Marie “Dee” DePaoli made an unexpected and extremely generous gift of $50,000 for the purpose of starting a seminary-training program for deaf candidates to the Roman Catholic priesthood in honor of her deceased deaf brother, Arnold DePaul (pictured, right). Arnold DePaul had wanted badly to become a priest in early 1950’s but was denied on the grounds of his hearing disability.
In her search for such a program, Ms. DePaoli came across Monsignor Pat McCahill of the Archdiocese of New York who referred her to Father Tom Coughlin who at that time was trying to set up a seminary program for deaf men. Dora Marie DePaoli and her family wanted so much to honor their beloved deceased brother, Arnold DePaul with a monetary gift for the training of deaf seminarians. She and her family eventually donated $100,000 for the sole purpose of training for deaf seminarians. With this, Father Coughlin created “House of Studies for Deaf Seminarians, Inc.”, a non-profit, tax exempt organization with IRS 501(c)(3) status.
Fr. Coughlin faced many obstacles in this endeavor. Finally, in the winter months of 1996, Cardinal O’Connor (pictured, left) of New York City called Fr. Coughlin, asking to see him in person at his office in New York City. After meeting with Cardinal O’Connor and Bishop O’Brien of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, Fr. Coughlin received both permission and support to create a seminary training program at St. Joseph’s Seminary for deaf candidates. Fr. Coughlin moved to Yonkers, and continued his quest from the St. Joseph's Seminary.
A New Home in New York
With the initial gift of $50,000 from the DePaul Family Foundation, Fr. Coughlin was able to raise additional funds totaling $240,000, including a very generous gift of $53,000 from the Robert and Marie Hansen Family Foundation of Arizona in the spring of 1997. With $240,000 in his pocket, Fr. Coughlin, with Cardinal O’Connor’s blessings, was able to purchase the order's first home. Cardinal O’Connor dedicated the House of Studies for Deaf Seminarians in loving memory of Arnold DePaul on May 7th, 1998. Dora Marie DePaoli came as a representative of the DePaul Family Foundation and Karen Hansen Withworth represented the Hansen Family Foundation at the dedication ceremony. It was a joyful occasion for all of us.
Between 1997 to 2002, one hearing and nine deaf candidates entered the House of Studies program. Two studied Theology with the assistance of Real Time captioning at St. Joseph’s Seminary. All other students attended undergraduate programs in various colleges and universities. The house was full with deaf seminarians and it was a happy time for all of us. Fr. Coughlin continued to lead the House of Studies as director and continued in his fund-raising efforts to support deaf seminarians.
Unfortunately, in May of 2000, Cardinal O’Connor died of brain cancer and two weeks after the funeral, the rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary abruptly closed the doors to deaf seminarians, asking us to go elsewhere. Facing opposition from both the St. Joseph's Seminary and the new Cardinal, Fr. Coughlin could not appeal the decision. Father Coughlin and the deaf seminarians were deeply disappointed but did not give up their confidence in the providence of God.
After two years of searching and negotiating with various Bishops, Dioceses, and religious orders across the nation, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Levada of San Francisco invited Father Coughlin and his deaf seminarians to San Francisco. With heavy heart, Fr. Coughlin sold the order's New York home and prepared the order to move to California, assisted by a donation of a brand new 2002 Toyota Sienna by the Beckley Family of Malvern, Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 2002, three of the remaining theology seminarians entered St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California at the invitation of Archbishop Levada of San Francisco. The seminarians continued with their undergraduate studies in San Francisco while Fr. Coughlin worked as a pastor of St. Benedict’s Parish for the Deaf. Three of the four original deaf seminarians who joined the House of Studies program in New York City entered St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California and one entered St. John’s University in Queens, NY. All four of the original candidates eventually went ahead to become diocesan priests: Fr. Min Seo Park for Seoul Archdiocese; Fr. Paul Zirimenya and Fr. Cheret Bazakila for San Francisco Archdiocese; and Matthew Hysell for the Diocese of Edmonton, Canada. Fr. Hysell is the first Deaf priest ordained in Canada.
After a series of negotiations with Cardinal Levada and several other bishops for a period of two years (2002-2004), Father Coughlin was able to receive permission from Bishop Vigneron of Oakland Diocese Church to erect a new religious institute specifically for the deaf apostolate in the Roman Catholic Church. The Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate was formally erected as a Private Association of the Faithful with juridical personality on May 14th, 2004. Shortly thereafter, the new community relocated across the bay to Hayward.
In the summer of 2005, under the leadership of Fr. Coughlin as the novice director of the Dominican Missionaries, five new novices entered the novitiate. On August 27th, 2006, four novices and Fr. Coughlin made their first profession of vows at Dominican St. Albert’s Priory in front of Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland Diocese. Over 150 people were in attendance for this special and unique vow ceremony of the world’s first religious order founded by and for the deaf and hearing vocations for the deaf apostolate. The first founding members of the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate (pictured, left to right) are:
- Brother Isidore Niyongabo, OP Miss.
- Brother Andrew Sanchez, OP Miss.
- Fr. Tom Coughlin, OP Miss., Prior General
- Brother Gregoire Youbara, OP Miss.
- Brother Adam Zawadzki, OP Miss.
At Home in Texas
Due to high cost of living in the Bay Area, the Dominican Missionaries, with Bishop Vigneron’s blessings, relocated to the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas. With the accumulated funds realizing from sales of the house in Yonkers and with three bequests from deceased Father Hartman of St. Joseph’s Seminary, Ann Rooney of New York, and Genieve Lipinski (pictured, right) of Sacramento, California, the community was able to purchase a new home in San Antonio.
With the move, Fr. Coughlin assumed a new position as Director of Deaf Apostolate for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Fr. Coughlin currently works as Prior General of the congregation as well as novice director while continuing to raise funds to support the community. Seminarians now attend Oblate School of Theology, Our Lady of the Lake University, Texas State University in San Marcos, and San Antonio community college. We have also had several welcome additions to our order.
In 2010, we found an empty convent near St. Mary's Church in Madison, IL. After purchasing the home, a couple of brothers moved in and began taking their theology classes at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO. In 2014, Bishop Paprocki agreed to formally support the new community as an association of the faithful. He also agreed to incardinate some of the men into his diocese as priests. We are very excited about this new path on which God is guiding us.
Today, we are at a very interesting time in our history. We have four men ready for ordination. These will be the first ordinations to take place from our community. It is very exciting and is the culmination of all that we have worked to achieve for so many years.