The Signing Priest

Fr. Joseph Bruce, SJ, one of the few priests in the world who has been deaf since childhood, ministers to a predominately deaf congregation in Landover, Maryland.  Marlana Portolano, a member of the congregation, recently wrote in America about Fr. Joe’s eloqunce as a preacher.

“How many senses do you have?” he asks. Most have four, and a couple of deaf-blind individuals have only three and use tactile interpreters. “What do you think is the most important sense?” he continues. People respond “Hearing!” or “Seeing!” But “touch,” Father Joe preaches, “is the most important sense.” His poetic signs amply demonstrate the point. The baby (rocking motion of the arms) feels the closeness of the mother’s body (hands touch his torso). The touch of Jesus heals the blind man (hands wipe the eyes and show us “open”).

Read the whole thing.


  1. Thank you to all of you for sharing your life experiences.
    Truly the Lord is working in our lives in so different ways.

  2. Two types of healing touch: As the next step in a diagnostic process, yesterday I had a bone marrow biopsy. Today I had Reiki therapy. Yesterday’s test was done by a young physician who communicated equal concern and care for me and for the procedure. I left heartened and more determined to become well again. Today’s treatment was more than soothing, it also helped renew my strength. It felt like the cancer was being swept from my body. Both touches were healing and holy.

  3. Beautiful post. The faith journey of this priest is so full of God’s grace and Fr. Bruce’s indomitable fortitude. He is a blessing to so many people and to his order. This column left me with such gratitude and admiration.
    To be “touched’ by so much love is a great grace. The giver becomes the gifted.

  4. My 32 y.o. son has been profoundly deaf since birth. I can attest to this. Although our family (3 other children) learned sign language, I can tell you, there is a special grace in our lengthy embraces while I plant a kiss on my son’s neck (he is 6″, I am 5’8″). Our hugs say much more than any spoken or signed word ever could. From day one we saw God in his deafness, never regretted it, always embraced it. Our physical contact has always been vital way to communicate our love.

  5. Just over 30 years ago, my wife and I adopted a child who we were told was at risk to lose his hearing. Anticipating that, we studied sign language, beginning at the Catholic Deaf Center near Landover, MD. We eventually moved on to the deaf college, Gallaudet University, where we studied ASL as a non-credit course for a couple of years. Part of our training was to spend some time in the student union, mixing with the deaf students. We also attended a presentation of “Children of a Lesser God” by the Gallaudet students. On arrival all are given an inflated balloon to be able to sense the vibrations of the actors and accompanying music. Clearly touch is an important element in communicating among/with deaf people. Our son never did lose his hearing, but the exposure to the deaf community was a marvelous experience for us. Along the line we have had the gift of celebrating many masses that were signed, by an interpreter. It is truly a beautiful, musical, mystical experience. Thanks for this reminded of one of the blessings in our life.

  6. I sometimes think that “touch” could actually be called the 8th Sacrament. Watch a crying new baby stop when comforted by his mother; look at an older couple walking, holding hands; see how a sick person in the hospital responds when you touch his/her hand…


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