Deaf seminarian prepares for May 23 ordination

“You have five months and 26 days before your ordination,” a woman told Deacon Shawn P. Carey after Mass Dec. 28 at Newton’s Sacred Heart Church.

“I had no idea how many days it was until she told me. I wasn’t even thinking like that but it shows that they are anticipating it,” he said.

“They” are the deaf community of the Archdiocese of Boston, which is eagerly awaiting the ordination of the first member of their community as a priest of Boston.

Although he was ordained a transitional deacon with his classmates at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., he will be ordained with the other priests for Boston May 23 at the South End’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Deacon Carey said through the sign interpretation of Father Jeremy P. St. Martin, the archdiocese’s coordinator of Deaf Ministries.

Father St. Martin said St. Patrick’s Seminary has had other deaf seminarians and its faculty and facilities make it a very accessible and supportive institution.

Deacon Carey said his vocation was clear to him as a boy growing up in Westfield, but there were persistent challenges that he had to overcome. “The Church did not have great access.”

In fact, when it was time for him to prepare for his First Communion, he was unable to participate in the regular religious education classes at his home parish because they were not equipped to instruct a deaf child, he said.

His mother, Kathryn M. Carey, an assistant for the Deaf Apostolate, said the family traveled to Holyoke’s Blessed Sacrament Church, where Deacon Carey’s parents knew the pastor from their days as students at Springfield’s Cathedral High School.

Eventually, his parents found a tutor who, despite being a Protestant, helped prepare him for his First Communion.

While a student himself at Cathedral High School, Deacon Carey said he had an encounter that nearly squashed his vocation for good.

“I needed a note taker for my classes and I asked one of the priests to help me find one,” he said. “The priest told me: ‘That is your problem, not mine.’”

Carey said that response came as a brutal shock. He put aside his vocation and fixed his sights on becoming a lawyer.

“If that is what being a priest was about, I didn’t want to waste my time. As a lawyer, I could help other members of the deaf community and take care of myself,” he said.

It was not until he arrived at Providence College as a political science and business major that he said he found a fully embracing environment for the deaf. “They had great access, including captioning and interpreters. The barriers were really broken down there.”

Calling them the best four years of his life, Deacon Carey was very active in the college’s chapel community and a member of the Sixth Man Society for boosters of the college’s basketball team, the Friars.

At Providence College he met priests who cared about him and devoted their lives to academic excellence. “But, still it never crossed my mind to become a priest,” he said.

After graduation, he moved in with his parents, then living in Wrentham, and started work at Putnam Investments while he prepared to apply to law schools.

As members of Wrentham’s St. Mary Parish, the Careys attended the Sunday 4 p.m. Mass, at which Deaf Ministries arranged for a sign interpreter, he said.

Roberta M. Oles, the parish’s director of religious education, said the then-pastor, Father John G. Connolly, invited Father Michael B. Medas, who was then the director of Deaf Ministries, to celebrate the 4 p.m. Sunday Mass as part of the ministry’s outreach to members of the deaf community.

Father Medas, who now teaches at St. John’s Seminary, said he remembers meeting Deacon Carey after that first time. “He was so kind and gracious, and happy to be able to experience the Mass directly.”

Deacon Carey said, “For the first time, I was able to hear the Lord speaking directly to me through the priest, not through an interpreter.”

Father Medas said over time, Deacon Carey began attending the Mass for deaf Catholics celebrated in American Sign Language Mass every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at Newton’s Sacred Heart Church. In addition to attending the Mass regularly, Deacon Carey was a lector at the services and became a pastoral assistant there.

Even before Deacon Carey joined them, members of the deaf community at Sacred Heart had a special devotion that began after a pastoral visit by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, he said. Every week a different family takes home a statue of St. Mary given to the community by the cardinal.

During the week the family prays for vocations from and for the deaf community, he said. “It was very interesting that as we were praying for Mary’s intercession for vocations that Shawn came to us. There were many members of the community who saw in him signs that he would be a priest.”

Father Medas said a great deal of the credit for Deacon Carey’s vocation coming to fruition goes to the mindset and encouragement of Cardinal O’Malley. “The cardinal has said ‘If God is calling someone, it is the responsibility of the Church to facilitate that discernment.’”

There will be more and more vocations from the deaf community, he said. Young people who are deaf have the same calling as young people who can hear. “Now, those who are deaf are responding to the possibility that they can answer that call.”

When deacons assist at a Mass, they are allowed, with the permission of the celebrant, to read and preach on the Gospel.

Since his ordination, Deacon Carey said this experience is even more powerful than the experiencing his first Mass in sign.

“Then, I was watching Father Medas sign, it was amazing, but it was still something I received as I was sitting there. Now, I am actively involved,” he said.

“Using my hands to express God’s message to the people is something I feel very deeply,” he said. “Now, I feel inspired, too, because I feel the Holy Spirit moving through me -- through my hands.”

More information about the Deaf Apostolate is available at the Web site