Deaf priest hears God's call

One of the most difficult decisions Bea Murphy and her husband Michael had to make took place in 1970. Their daughter Colleen was born deaf, and at just 4 years old, she was sent 142 miles away from their home in Liverpool to St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo.

"There was no deaf education program here," Murphy said. "It was just horrible."

About 11 years later, Murphy met Rev. Tom Coughlin, the first deaf priest to be ordained in the United States. At the request of countless parents with deaf children, he was searching for property in the Adirondack Mountains to begin a Catholic Deaf Youth Camp. When Rev. Jim Quinn of the Syracuse Diocese went to meet with Coughlin, Murphy went too.

"That's when I met him," she said. "That's when he found Camp Mark Seven."

Camp Mark Seven, located at the former Mohawk Hotel in Old Forge, is named after the Gospel of Mark, Chapter Seven, where Jesus healed a deaf man.

"The [camp's] primary purpose is to help deaf youth open up to the truth of God's existence and gift of life in our world," Coughlin said via email.

Programs include four-week sessions for deaf children and teenagers, as well as month sessions for hearing children of deaf parents. The camp thrives with long waiting lists, and survives solely on donations and camper fees.

"When looking back, I realized that my goal and vision were quite evolutionary in nature," Coughlin said. "I did not become a priest with a specific goal of establishing Camp Mark Seven. It just evolved out of encountering various experiences and challenges in the field of deaf ministry."

Recently, Coughlin helped celebrate Mass at Christ the King Church in Liverpool after he accepted an invitation from the pastor, Rev. James Fritzen. Coughlin signed directly to the deaf persons in the audience but an interpreter was also present to sign when it wasn't practical for Coughlin to continue.

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