WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
The deaf Catholic community gives Fr. Matthew Hysell its wave of approval following his ordination to the priesthood at St. Joseph's Basilica Dec. 7.
Father Matthew Hysell has finally overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of a deaf man being ordained to the priesthood and has achieved the goal for which his heart hungered since he was a child.
The 34-year-old man who, since he was six years old, was preaching God's word to others was ordained a priest by Archbishop Richard Smith Dec. 7 in St. Joseph's Basilica.
"Matthew has had to overcome many, many obstacles," said his mother, Bonnie Hysell of Fruitport, Mich. "I am so grateful Archbishop Smith has welcomed Matthew."
Some priests, Bonnie said, did not believe that Matthew could validly consecrate the Eucharist using sign language.
"He's had a lot of rejection throughout his life," she said. "Matthew has never allowed himself to take that rejection. I believe it is his love of God that has allowed him to have the strength he has today."
The ordination was an emotional celebration not only for the new priest's mother, but for deaf Catholics and friends of Father Hysell, some of whom travelled long distances to attend the ordination of Canada's first deaf priest.
Among them was Father Ryan Jimenez, now the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa in the South Pacific, but 10 years ago, a classmate of Hysell's at St. Patrick Seminary in New York.
It took Jimenez more than a full day of travel to get to Edmonton, but he said, "It's worth the long trip to be here."
He paid tribute to Hysell's superior intelligence. Although Hysell was a first-year theology student in the seminary when Jimenez was in his fourth year, he was able to explain concepts to the senior seminarians which they could only grasp with his help.
WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Archbishop Richard Smith presents Fr. Matthew Hysell with the sacred vessels used in celebrating the Eucharist.
More than that, Jimenez said, Hysell's fidelity to the priesthood was shown in his perseverance in overcoming the obstacles that lay in the way of his ordination. "He has a great love for the priesthood."
Hysell will serve much more than the deaf community, Jimenez said, because of his great pastoral care for the people.
Nevertheless, a leader in Edmonton's deaf Catholic community was ecstatic.
"I'm excited and I'm very happy," Sister Elizabeth Kass, a pastoral worker in St. Mark's Community of the Deaf for the past 29 years, said through an interpreter. "It's something that I've dreamed of for a long time."
When Hysell came to a retreat at Providence Renewal Centre in 2006, he told Kass that although he wasn't currently in the seminary, he was thinking of becoming a priest. "So I thought right away, 'Edmonton!'"
Two years later, when he came to study at Newman Theological College, "I thought my dream has now come true. And it has!" she exclaimed.
Bonnie Hysell told the WCR that by the time Matthew was 12 or 13, he was searching - attending Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist and other churches. He regularly went to the library and researched the practices and beliefs of different churches.
By the time he was 15, Matthew, who was raised a Baptist, had decided his call was to become a Catholic, she recalled.
He met Father Tom Coughlin, an American deaf priest at World Youth Day in Denver, joined the Church and began thinking seriously about the priesthood.
Bonnie recalls how, to the astonishment of the local librarian, she had to track down books in canon law for her teenage son as he explored the possibility of becoming a priest.
So began the journey that took him through several seminaries and several rejections until he met Archbishop Smith, who himself speaks American Sign Language, and who invited him to prepare for the priesthood in Edmonton.
"He had so many rejections," said Bonnie. "By the grace of God he's conquered them all."