Be Opened! The Catholic Church and Deaf Culture offers readers a people’s history of deafness and sign language in the Catholic Church. Paying ample attention to the vocation stories of deaf priests and pastoral workers, Portolano traces the transformation of the Deaf Catholic community from passive recipients of mercy to an active language minority making contributions in today’s globally diverse church.
Background chapters familiarize readers with early misunderstandings about deaf people in the church and in broader society, along with social and religious issues facing deaf people throughout history. A series of connected narratives demonstrate the strong Catholic foundations of deaf education in sign language, including sixteenth-century monastic schools for deaf children and nineteenth-century French education in sign language as a missionary endeavor. The author explains how nineteenth-century schools for deaf children, especially those founded by orders of religious sisters, established small communities of Deaf Catholics around the globe. A series of portraits illustrates the work of pioneering missionaries in several different countries—"apostles to the Deaf"—who helped to establish and develop deaf culture in these communities through adult religious education and the sacraments in sign language. In several chapters focused on the twentieth century, the author describes key events that sparked a modern transformation in Deaf Catholic culture. As linguists began to recognize sign languages as true human languages, deaf people borrowed the practices of Civil Rights activists to gain equality both as citizens and as members of the church. At the same time, deaf people drew inspiration and cultural validation from key documents of Vatican II, and leadership of the Deaf Catholic community began to come from the deaf community rather than to it through missionaries. Many challenges remain, but this book clearly presents Deaf Catholic culture as an important and highly visible embodiment of Catholic heritage.
"Portolano has done an incredible job of compiling and organizing historical information spread across countries and time... Be Opened! will be an invaluable resource to Catholic Studies and Deaf Studies scholars."~Tracy Ann Morse, East Carolina University
"This book marks the church's openness to welcoming and recognizing the integrity of deaf people and people with disabilities through their full participation in church life and community. It relates valuable information about the existence of pastoral service and missions to deaf people all over the world, bringing forth the deep meaning of God's wonderful gifts of Sign Language and deaf culture and affirming the contributions of people with disabilities"~Cyril Axelrod, author of And the Journey Begins
"Being born deaf and baptized Catholic shortly before the onset of World War II, I felt honored to be asked to review a new book about the Catholic Church and deaf people entitled Be Opened!. This extraordinary book is written from the viewpoint of a hearing scholar, Lana Portolano. This author did not know much about deaf people until she and her husband adopted a four-year-old deaf girl. That was how her family began a journey to the Deaf World with the new adoptee as a guide. I encourage you to read the book and learn as much as I did about the church’s pastoral work with Deaf Catholics and other areas affecting us."~Deacon Patrick Graybill, Diocese of Rochester, N.Y.
"I warmly welcome this account of women and men who have taught us to receive this blessing: our deaf sisters and brothers, the eye people. We recognize each other as members of the Body of Christ. Each member needs the others and is needed by them. In words, signs, deeds, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have shown their joy in this widening and deepening of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit."~Patrick Kelly, Archbishop Emeritus of Liverpool, Founding President of the International Catholic Foundation at the Service of Deaf People
"As a Catholic priest, I feel this book is a giant leap forward in our understanding of the history, culture,and pastoral challenges of deaf Catholics. As a hearing- impaired person, it was a consolation to read, a powerful sign of faith and hope."~Matt Malone, SJ, Editor-in-chief, America Magazine
"This landmark book on the Catholic Church and deaf culture opens a window on a fascinating aspect of church history and social history, which has been hidden, downplayed, or ignored for centuries. Be Opened!, in scope, clarity and power, is that rarest of achievements by an author: a groundbreaking scholarly work that will also move and inspire. Highly recommended."~James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage and Learning to Pray