Born with hearing loss, Jake Epstein has a soft spot in his heart for the deaf. So, last spring he asked his formators if he could make sign language part of his formation.
Epstein’s request was accepted, and he spent much of his summer at Gallaudet University, a premier institution for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Washington, D.C.
Living on a secular, sign language only campus, Epstein was immersed in a new culture and realized his collar stood out among his classmates. “It was amazing to see the impact on fellow Christians in the classroom when they learned I was studying to be a priest. They were so excited!”
Epstein also served at St. Francis of Assisi, a Catholic parish for the deaf in Maryland. Interacting with parishioners, he felt their gratitude that a seminarian was passionate about learning sign language and was reminded why he wants to serve the deaf community in his home Diocese of Des Moines. “These are the people I desire to minister to,” he said. “They are marginalized in many ways, and the Good News is for them as well.”
Epstein believes he is better equipped to be a priest one day. Not only has he become fluent in sign language, he has also learned how to minister to the secular world. “I built relationships with people who were far from the Church,” he said, hopeful that a seed was planted in his classmates.
Epstein looks forward to priestly ministry when he can put his seminary formation and sign language to work for all those willing to hear.