A Brief History of Holy Angels Catholic Church of the Deaf

Spearheaded by Father Brian Doran and Father Tom Schweitzer (both are deaf), Pastors, in response to the call of Vatican II for a greater participation in church and the need to evangelize a very large unchurched but baptized Catholic Deaf People, Holy Angels Church of the Deaf was canonically established as a Personal Parish for the Catholic Deaf Community in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in California by the then-Archbishop Roger Mahony on March 31, 1987.

In many programs for the Deaf, the language used was usually English with an interpreter. However, the most effective means of ministry to the Deaf Community was to have all the people, especially the priests and staff, use American Sign Language, which is the primary language of the Deaf Community. Because Holy Angels fulfills the unique cultural and communication needs of the Deaf, it has become the pastoral, educational and social center of the Catholic Deaf Community in the Los Angeles area.

Before the parish plant of Holy Angels was opened in December, 1988, the Deaf Community had a long history of moving from one church to another, borrowing facilities from the hearing community of that parish. The Deaf began organizing themselves more than 65 years ago with a monthly Sunday afternoon mass and social time. In 1976, the community began meeting weekly for Sunday mass at St. Bernard’s in Los Angeles. This was the first time that they had a weekly sign language mass in one place.

A typical Sunday attendance, at that time, was around 25-35. As the community slowly grew, it became obvious that we would hit a plateau in growth without having a separate church where the Deaf people could express and experience their own Catholic faith with sign language and their unique cultural experience. Our church opened in 1988 in a 81-year old church that had been closed for a number of years because the local community had moved and been replaced by industry. The church was renovated for the needs of the Deaf, partly paid for by the Archdiocese and matched by funds gathered from the community. We were then able to begin fund raising to renovate a dilapidated building to be used for a parish hall. The Deaf community was able to raise 75% of the funds for the hall and borrowed the remainder from the Archdiocese. Today, a typical Sunday attendance is around 300-350, a ten-fold increase since the St. Bernard’s days.