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Buffalo celebrates Deaf Awareness Week


Buffalo celebrated Deaf Awareness Week in September, with various events being held throughout the entire month.

On Sept. 15, Mayor Byron Brown proclaimed “Deaf Awareness Week” at Buffalo City Hall. St. Mary’s students were special guests and they raised a flag that symbolizes Deaf Awareness. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s School for the Deaf)

On Sept. 7, the Buffalo Bisons hosted a Deaf Awareness Day at Sahlen Field. Sean Maloney, recreation therapist at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, threw the first pitch. As a hard of hearing individual who is fluent in American Sign Language, Maloney has umpired at softball games in Western New York for many years. The national anthem was provided in American Sign Language by St. Mary’s students Zarielle Ormsby and Elliana Sanders. Students from the school as well as members of the Buffalo and WNY Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community attended the ball game.

St. Mary’s School for the Deaf students attended the city of Buffalo proclamation of Deaf Awareness Week on Sept. 15 in front of City Hall. They assisted in raising the International Deaf Awareness Week flag up the flagpole at Niagara Square. St. Mary’s School for the Deaf also had their own flag raising ceremony on Sept. 18 on the front lawn of our campus and wrapped up the day by releasing their ASL video featuring the song “Fearless” by the Goo Goo Dolls, which inspires everyone to overcome obstacles every day.

St. Mary’s School for the Deaf provided ASL storytelling by various deaf/hard of hearing students and staff to elementary students each day of the week of Sept. 18-22. Elementary students went to the Aquarium of Niagara on Thursday, Sept. 21 where ASL interpreters gave presentations. The Aquarium also provided ASL interpreters all day on the weekend of Sept. 23-24.

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the St. Mary’s School for the Deaf Alumni Association hosted a fundraiser at Blaze Pizza in Amherst which was well attended by deaf and hearing members of the community. The SMSDAA also ran “Family Fun Bingo” on Thursday night at St. Mary’s. It is a fun event where students and adults play bingo for opportunities to win gift cards.

“The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to reduce attitudinal barriers and to enlighten the community that deaf people are part of a diverse group of people with a rich heritage of culture, language, art, history, sports, traditions and so much more,” said Melissa Lackey, a social worker with St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.

Every year, the Buffalo school collaborates with Deaf Access Services to plan events for Deaf Awareness Week. Deaf Access Services worked with the Buffalo Bisons to provide the Deaf Awareness Day event and also coordinated ASL interpreters at the Aquarium of Niagara and a “The Color Purple” performance on Sunday, Sept. 24 at Shea’s Buffalo..

Father Gerard Skrzynski is the new director of Deaf Ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo

In related news, Father Gerard Skrzynski was recently named director of Deaf Ministry for the Diocese of Buffalo, stepping in for Sister Conchetta LoPresti, OSF, who recently retired.

Father Skrzynski was introduced to sign language while attending the Rochester Institute of Technology, which is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

“I was exposed to it there,” he said. “I was a full-time engineering student working 20 hours a week, so I didn’t get to take the lessons there. But that did spark the interest because everything was interpreted, Mass, movies, chemistry class. So, then it just sat idle for all those years until I saw the classes available here.”

He had been taking classes with Sister Conchetta since 2019.

“I am not at the interpreter level yet,” he said, “but I will help organize things.”

Currently, a Mass is interpreted in Sign Language at Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish in West Seneca, Sundays at 10:30 a.m., with the Word of God Sign choir.

Father Skrzynski has just been named pastor of Family #6 which covers five parishes in the East Aurora/Elma area. He’s hoping to find time in his schedule to sign a Mass at Fourteen Holy Helpers so he can get to know the deaf community better.

Twice a year, the Deaf Ministry team offers a 10-week sign language course at Fourteen Holy Helpers for the community. In the past, Sister Conchetta would interpret at weddings, confirmations and other special Masses. Father Skrzynski hopes to reach that level of proficiency soon.


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