By Jason Follett
Special to The Witness
ANKENY — Christians know that each person has innate dignity. Peggy Chicoine of Ankeny, Iowa, has spent decades making sure those who are deaf experience dignity within the Catholic faith community. She has interpreted numerous Masses and events. Additionally, she serves as the deaf ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Des Moines. But she also knew there was more that she could and should do.
“My true mission is to help deaf people open their hearts to see how powerful God is in their lives,” shared Chicoine. And when Pope Francis declared the Year of Mercy, she knew it was time to bring her mission to fruition by organizing the first Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) for the Deaf.
Since 1974, CEW has given adults an awareness and appreciation of this fullness of life. Founded by Father George Karnik and the late Msgr. Joseph O’Brien of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and Sister Carole Freking, OSF, a Dubuque Franciscan, as an adaptation of the Cursillo movement, CEW typically begins on a Friday evening and ends late Sunday afternoon. For the past 42 years, thousands of Christian adults have been able to more deeply experience themselves and their relationship to God through CEW.
Peggy, along with her husband, Daryl, first turned to their CEW community, based at Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart (OLIH) Parish in Ankeny, to see if this mission was even possible to implement. After receiving support and encouragement from OLIH pastor Msgr. Stephen Orr and the local CEW core team, a pilot was conducted during the annual CEW retreats scheduled for the early months of 2016.
“With interpreters available to them all weekend, it was a very wonderful experience to watch these deaf participants experience the insights, the prayers and the community support of the weekend,” remarked Msgr. Orr. “There was real joy shining forth from them. They were such a positive witness to the rest of us.”
While the pilot was a success, conducting a solely deaf CEW would require tailor-made changes. One critical change was recruiting and transporting priests and deacons from across the United States who already serve the deaf community and who can communicate through American Sign Language. “We are blessed that Father Paul Zirimenya, Archdiocese of San Francisco; Father Shawn Carey, Archdiocese of Boston; Deacon Patrick Graybill, Diocese of Rochester, New York; and Deacon Ralph Hinch, Archdiocese of Chicago, who are all deaf, have agreed to be on the team and share their leadership, faith, witness, journey and enthusiasm with the participants,” said Chicoine.
Other changes included adapting various programming and operational procedures, especially how to conduct a retreat with both male and female participants on the same weekend. Finally, the increased budget required to offer this unique opportunity for the deaf saw a successful fundraising campaign achieved through the generosity of many benefactors. “As we celebrate 20 years of CEW at OLIH, what a wonderful gift to give the deaf by offering them a weekend that will meet their needs and give them a lift in their own lives of faith. I am proud of our OLIH community for stepping up and providing funds to make this CEW for the Deaf possible,” commented Msgr. Orr.
“It is so exciting to see how the Holy Spirit keeps inspiring people to expand CEW in new ways far beyond our original vision of CEW in 1974,” shared Sister Carole. “As Jesus had special care for persons of all abilities, I am confident God’s Spirit will anoint all who are part of this new endeavor.”
“One of the key talks on a CEW is Christian Apostolic Action. This weekend for hearing-impaired people is a marvelous example,” reflected Father Karnik.
The first ever CEW for the Deaf will be held on Oct. 28-30, 2016, at OLIH in Ankeny, Iowa. Cost for the weekend, which includes all meals and sleeping accommodations, is $50 with financial assistance available. Registration materials can be found at http://olih.org/cewretreats/ with a deadline of October 14, 2016. For more information, contact Peggy Chicoine (Voice/Text: 515-720-6120, email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Gus and Dee Cordero (VP Number: 515-412-4330).
Left to right: Peggy Chicoine, Deacon Ralph Hinch, Father Paul Zirimenya, Father Shawn Carey and Deacon Patrick Graybill during National Catholic Office for the Deaf Pastoral Week in New Orleans, Louisiana, January 2016. (Contributed photo)