Seminarian Matthew Hysell, himself partially deaf, is producing a series  of catechetical videos for Edmonton's deaf community.


Seminarian Matthew Hysell, himself partially deaf, is producing a series of catechetical videos for Edmonton's deaf community.

February 20, 2012

EDMONTON – Matthew Hysell, a 34-year-old partially deaf seminarian at St. Joseph Seminary, is producing a series of catechetical videos for Edmonton's deaf community.

Hysell is involved with St. Mark's Community of the Deaf. The prevalent language of deaf people is visual, not spoken. So when a Catholic person without hearing is to learn Church doctrine, it is most often through video. Unfortunately, video resources about the Church are scarce.

"We know that certain other religious groups are light years ahead of the Catholic Church in reaching out to the deaf community," said Hysell.

"There are really good DVDs put out by Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons and other religious groups. We are really far behind."

He decided to make his own videos, communicating through American Sign Language, in which he is fluent.

"We have a lot of deaf people who don't go to church or can't go to church for whatever reason. We needed a way to get our message to them," said Hysell, noting that online social communication such as Facebook and YouTube is the modern way.

Planned for this year are a series of three videos focused on core Catholic doctrine, relating the mysteries of Incarnation and Easter to each other. A catechesis session in January was filmed as their "pilot episode."

The video depicts Hysell in a classroom setting, communicating in sign language, with PowerPoint slides on the wall behind him. There is some audience interaction throughout the 40-minute video.

"The first one was looking at why we celebrate Christmas, and is called Why Was Jesus Born? Basically, what the catechesis says is that the birth of Jesus looks towards the cross," said Hysell.

A technician did the filming and production, such as adding an opening screen design and other creative aspects.


Hysell had a written transcript for his video that was approved by Archbishop Richard Smith because he wants the presentation to reflect only Catholic doctrine. Until the written captions are added, people who do not know sign language will not reap too much by watching the first video.

The written text, however, is available for people to read.

The second episode, to be filmed in late March, will look more closely at the Incarnation, of Jesus as God and man, with special attention to the ecumenical councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon.

The final episode will look at the event of Christ's passion, death and resurrection as the culmination of the Incarnation.

"Some Catholics have this idea about Jesus that everything was going really well and then things went really, really bad, and God somehow fixed everything by raising him from the dead. In fact, the cross and the resurrection were part of the plan all along. We're trying to connect Christmas and Easter," said Hysell.

The videos are designed for any deaf person exploring their faith, whether a new Catholic, non-Catholic, or someone in RCIA seeking explanations of Church ideologies.

"The biggest challenge that we have is because we're talking about doctrine, we're talking about metaphysics, things that don't have shape, colour, size and quantity.

"But when we sign, we're describing physical things. The problem is that we're using physical things to describe non-physical ideas," said Hysell.


Concepts such as "incarnation," "transubstantial" or "begotten of the Father before all ages" can be difficult phrases to communicate via sign language. He is trying to describe "discrete notions" by relying on a language that depends largely upon the concrete.

He almost has to invent signs to convey these abstract terms.

Using signs to teach doctrine comes with a whole lot of disclaimers, caveats and explanations.

It took deliberate thinking on how they could be signed in such a way that the signs preserve the doctrine's integrity.

After the three-part series is completed this year, Hysell is already looking ahead to a 14-part series for next year. He also hopes to conduct a one-on-one interview with the archbishop, who is fluent in sign language.

"That's the wonderful thing here, that we have an archbishop who knows sign language, who worked with the deaf community before," said Hysell.

To broadcast the video, Hysell has created a YouTube channel, DeafCatholicEdmonton, and has also posted it on the evangelization and catechesis page of the St. Mark's Community of the Deaf website. He wants the videos available in DVD format as well.

The first video, Why Was Jesus Born?, can be viewed at: