Father Matthew Hysell, Canada's First Deaf Priest

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DEAF PRIEST CANADA
Catholics coming to seek forgiveness in Matthew Hysell's parish will have to forgo the confessional and meet face-to-face with their priest. (Alamy) | Alamy

Catholics coming to seek forgiveness in Matthew Hysell's parish will have to forgo the confessional and meet face-to-face with their priest.

Over the weekend, Hysell became the first deaf Catholic priest to be ordained in Canada - meaning from now on there will be new challenges and strategies in place to communicate with his parishioners.

The Edmonton pastor, however, does not see this achievement as a milestone for himself, but rather a sign of progress for the church.

"It is with some trepidation that I find myself in this position," Hysell said at a news conference Friday night - hours before taking his final vows. "Honestly, I think this is more about the church than it is about individual achievement.

"It is a signal of the solidarity the church feels for people who live in a world of silence."

According to the website mlive.com, Hysell lost his hearing after a bout with meningitis as a toddler. His mother encouraged him to become fluent in sign language and to learn how to speak.

He can hear a tiny bit in one ear, with the help of a hearing aid, so to assist his communication with others Hysell has become an expert at lip-reading and can speak perfectly, the Edmonton Journal reports. This skill was achieved by attending speech classes and reading words out of the dictionary with his mother.

Hysell told the Journal he decided he wanted to become a priest at the age of 13, after reading about them in school. He converted to Catholicism at age 16 and entered a seminary program in New York in 1999, which was founded by Father Tom Coughlin, the first deaf Catholic priest in the U.S.

It was Coughlin who first encouraged Hysell to use his deafness as a tool in his journey to priesthood.

"It was through him that I began to understand that my defects of deafness were in fact blessings in disguise," Hysell told mlive.com.

Hysell came to Alberta in 2008 when he decided to study at Edmonton's Newman Theological College. There he met Archbishop Richard Smith, who knew sign language and used sign language when delivering sermons.

Hysell plans to use sign language to communicate with deaf parishioners as Mill Woods' St. Thomas Church parish priest.

"I want deaf people to know the church cares for them, not only for their spiritual life, but for their temporal life as well," Hysell told the Journal.

"I want them to know they don't have to settle in life, and that it can be worthwhile."

According to the Archdiocese of Edmonton there are approximately 130,000 deaf Catholics in Canada and about 50 of them attend St. Mark's in Edmonton. Hysell is one of 16 deaf priests worldwide.

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