LATE JOHN KEVIN DEELY, OMI (1941-2015)
From there he entered the Novitiate in Essex, New York which then moved to Tewksbury, Massachusetts once this facility was built. After first vows in 1962, he went to Washington, DC where he studied Philosophy for 3 years earning a Masters Degree in this field. His eyes were already on Japan very early as he wrote his Thesis on the Soka Gakkai religion in this country. He pronounced his final vows in Essex, New York on September 8, 1965, and received his first obedience for Japan where he arrived September 23, 1965.
From here I will write about him from my personal relationship with him. Some things will do with me too. When he arrived in Tokyo, I was a 3rd year student of Theology of Jochi (Sophia) University. After 6 months I returned to the USA for ordination and a 6-month leave. Jack started learning Japanese during that time under teachers (actually 4th year students) of the International Christian University or ICU.
During those 1st 6 months, I got to know Jack as a very personable man, a serious man who seemed to know what he was doing and how to achieve his purpose. Since we were visiting people with leprosy on a weekly basis at a hospital in Tokyo he got interested in their plight. From then on he would go to the Gotemba Leprosarium every year, a number of times. This institution was run by the Christ the King Sisters from Canada, who by now had many Japanese members.
Anyway, he studied the Japanese Language for 2 full years in our Seminary in Tokyo. Finishing Language Studies in March 1967, he then entered the Theology Department of Jochi in April that year. I had returned in September 1966 and was with him for about 9 months, while I was finishing my last year of Theology, before heading to the Shikoku Mission in Kochi Shinhon-machi Parish (also known as Enokuchi Parish), again, as before, I was struck with his great maturity. We spent many hours together, either playing Basketball at home and against Universities in and around Tokyo or discussing about Japanese Culture as well as Theology.
I left Tokyo for 13 and half months before being named to go help the Superior in Tokyo, Josef Hofmans. Joe then announced to me that he was going to Rome and Belgium for 1 year, so “please take care of things”.
We had at the time, 7 Oblates, 1 Viatorian Brother studying for the priesthood, 1 Redemptorist Brother doing the same, 1 Redemptorist Major Seminarian, 2 Redemptorist Minor Seminarians, 1 Guadalupean Seminarian, 1 priest from Australia studying the language … but many rooms were left, so we used them as a dormitory for Catholic University Students, 13 in all. So this is what I was hit with when I was told “please take care of things”!
Just a year out of the seminary, age 30, I am to run all this by myself. No way. That’s when I talked to Jack to help me, though he was still a seminarian himself. He was my sounding board as well as my councilor. To the point that when he was ordained and received a phone call from the then Vice-Provincial, Bertram N. Silver, about thinking of going down to Shikoku and help the men on the mission, I whispered to him: “Tell him that if you leave Tokyo, I quit as superior!” He told Bert that, and Bert bowed down to it.
Back to my story, after 9 months, I became very ill. John Quinn and John Deely drove me down to the Sisters’ Hospital and there they discovered I had burst a vein heading into my brain. During 4 months I lay in bed on my back, including eating, going to the toilet etc. in that position with a pillow full of ice cubes to take some of the pain away.
All the seminarians came periodically to see me and cheer me up. Two who came with “business” were William ‘Bill’ Maher and Francis Hahn. They were handling the seminary while I was away! One was polishing his Japanese before returning to the mission area, and the other, a seminarian, still studying Japanese at Waseda University. Questions about how to do this and do that, where I kept the money and the bank books, which banks do we frequent and on and on. All this because, besides being the ‘fill in superior’, I was also the treasurer.
In due time, Japanese Doctors could do nothing about my illness (in those days Japan had not yet started CT-scan) so it was decided that I would go to the USA for further treatment. In the meantime the ‘real’ superior had returned and took over the governing of the seminary and went to the airport to see me off. Within a short while, he left the OMI, and another man, Richard Bonang, from the mission came to handle things as fill-in.
After my brain operation (they found what was wrong with a CT-scan) I returned to Japan a ‘new’ man in May 1970.
At this time I was made the ‘official’ superior and as I mentioned above, Jack continued being my right hand man and councilor.
In late 1971 the vice-provincial and council decided that the seminary was costing the vice-province too much to keep running, as the Eastern American Province, who were keeping us to stay financially afloat, had to stop helping either Japan or Brazil. We helped them decide by saying we would go it alone.
For that reason in the Spring of 1972, we finally moved out of the original Seminary, to the Hoya House, which later became the Nishi-Tokyo House because Tanashi and Hoya became one city.
So Jack and I started living in that house with one seminarian and John Barrett who later left to go back to the USA.
Returning to 1971, Jack started helping at the Training Center for Physically Disabled in Shinjuku Tokyo. Most of the Disabled were not able to use their arms and/or hands. They needed some training to be able to find work. So they were trained to use computers and to put in data by using a stick extending from their mouths and clicking the keyboard. When they became proficient enough they would graduate and the Center would find them a company where they could work. Jack helped out there for 15 years and remained in contact with many of the students in later years as well.
End of Part I
Early in 1976 I returned to Shikoku and was asked by Ronald LaFramboise, the then vice-provincial, to take up the job of finances. Jack was in Tokyo alone once again. After 3 years, because of sickness I rejoined him in Tokyo and taught at Junshin High School. Jack was still working for the physically disabled and did part time work at Jochi University. He contended that teaching was not his druthers, but he needed money to work with and for the disabled people.
During this time he also made friends with deaf people. When he first met them they would write down what they wanted to say or ask and he would write to answer them. Then he thought to himself: “This is crazy, I should learn their language.”
He spent every evening of the week, going to clubs who would communicate in Sign Language. They were scattered in Hoya, Tanashi, Kodaira and other cities in the area. He was faithful every night and became the president of one of the clubs. People saw how eagerly he was trying to learn the language.
With that his Deaf friends multiplied. He held parties for these people at the house, where everybody came with something to eat and had a wonderful time ‘conversing’ in Sign language. With this his ability grew of course.
He would spend hours watching Deaf Language video tapes to perfect himself. I can remember seeing him cracking his huge hands and knuckles to be able to have the right structure of words and sentences in front of the TV. This was a daily affair. If I became aware of a book or dictionary that I didn’t see around him, I’d tell him about it and off he would go to buy it.
Once, there was an International Meeting of Deaf people to be held in Kyoto. He was asked to be the translator. Of course most of the participants except for the Japanese knew English Sign Language and used that. After the first meeting he bowed out, because although he could ‘speak’ Japanese Sign Language, he was unaware of the English version. He really felt in the dumps and that he had failed.
So he decided to go take a course in American Sign Language at Gaulledet University in Washington DC. This is a university totally for deaf students. Although some teachers and other staff members are hearing members. I suggested to him, in order to pay his tuition, that he ask them if it were possible to give some lectures on Japanese Sign Language, on the situation of the Deaf in Japan and related topics. He thought it was a good idea, and they allowed him to do that so that his tuition was ‘cheaper’. The teachers who heard the talks would translate it into Sign Language so that the students got interested too. They liked what he was telling them, as it was a first for them to know the ins and outs of Japanese Sign Language and the situation Japanese faced.
He spent Sundays at the Parish of Saint Ignatius abutting the Jochi University property. His role was to translate the Mass and sermon at the side of the altar so that the Deaf who never understood Christianity well were very happy to know what was going on. Then one day he thought: ”This is stupid. Why should I be translating the Mass and sermon? Why don’t I celebrate Mass in Sign Language and give my own sermon?”
This became a whole new ballgame. The archbishop of Tokyo, later to become cardinal, Shirayanaga, was dead set against Mass in sign language, because for him a language meant it would be mouthed and not signed. He would only let Jack sign the Mass as long as he mouthed the words at the same time. That’s like asking someone to speak Japanese and English at the same time! This archbishop’s nephew was deaf, and he didn’t understand that Sign Language was a language like Japanese, English, French etc.
Jack looked around for some Bishop who would give him permission to celebrate Mass in signs. The Nagoya Bishop, formerly a priest in the Tokyo Archdiocese, Bishop Soma, was thrilled to give Jack permission to sign the Mass. From then on, Jack celebrated Mass from Hokkaido to Okinawa in Sign Language. Every month he would be off to celebrate Masses somewhere in the country. No priest in Japan could sign except Jack! Jack sent out postcards to all the 800 parishes in Japan, asking how many were deaf, so that he could make a list of them and keep in touch. There were many replies … but the pastors confused ‘hard of hearing’ and ‘deaf’. So that his list had many ‘hard of hearing’ people on their lists, who could not sign because they never learned Sign language because they were just hard of hearing, wearing hearing aids. I’m not aware of the final count of deaf people he gathered nationwide.
However, I do know that when he would let them know that he had a Mass, we’ll say in Hokkaido, deaf people from all over the country would go to Hokkaido to take part. Then the next month would be in Osaka, they’d all come and attend there. That’s how abandoned the deaf people had been, with no one to turn to. Jack was working on a national scale. Many (about 20) deaf people were at his funeral, some catholic, others not. One family that I knew well, the husband and wife, as well as their married daughter were there. Jack had done her wedding. They all came to greet me, as they were frequent visitors of the Hoya House. I first met the daughter, also deaf, when she was 3 or 4 years old. She came to me and expressed her heartfelt wishes to me.
Since Jack began to run around the country, a few priests have learned to sign the Mass, but it took a longer time before they could preach … and they were Japanese! Besides monthly Masses throughout Japan, at least twice a year he would give signed retreats, also all over the country. These were also well attended.
In 1986, he quit Jochi to go teach at a new branch of a school in Saitama Prefecture, a department for the deaf. This new branch wanted to start with first year students, and add a year each year till they became a 4-year institution. They had heard from some deaf people and looking around for people who could teach in Sign Language, about Jack.
So he quit Jochi and landed up there. He would leave Hoya Sunday night and come back Friday night to spend the weekend ‘home’! That’s when he and I would go out early morning Saturday, when it was just breaking dawn, to go play tennis. These courts were always full, but not at the time we went! Of course he usually won, as he was tall and had a good serve, but it was fun just to be together and enjoy ourselves, and be brothers. Some of that time I was teaching at Junshin or working at the orphanage, run by the Christ the King sisters.
At the new university, of course, they had entrance exams. What happened is that the hard of hearing, with hearing aids, who had been able to go to regular schools and graduated from high school, had a distinct advantage over those who were deaf from birth and had had very little schooling. This meant that the student body was predominantly hard of hearing. This worked on Jack’s mind to the point that after 5 years he quit teaching there as it was becoming more and more a ‘hard of hearing university’, where the teachers, mostly non-signing people, just used a loud microphone to give their classes.
So now in 1993, since Jochi really appreciated his time with them, 5 years before, they not only welcomed him back, but gave him a professorship and not only a part-time job. Some of his courses were in composition and he would spend many evenings correcting these papers at home.
Of course he started a sign language club at the university and spent a lot of energy teaching students sign language. One of those students, now a teacher at Seikei University, in Kichijoji, Tokyo, and teaching sign language there, came for Jack’s prayer service the night before the funeral. He left that night for a seminar in Hokkaido and felt bad he couldn’t be there for the funeral itself.
When Jack reached 65 years of age in 2006, like all professors, even Jesuits, he had to step down as full time professor and became a semi-retired professor for 5 more years where he continued the above-mentioned work, including the sign language group.
Of course during all that time in Jochi he continued his deaf Masses and retreats for the deaf.
I left Tokyo in 1994 for Nagoya and the seminary, but I kept in contact with Jack by phone, email and when we would have our annual retreats and Spring meetings. We would talk about old times and the good times we had together.
End of Part II
At one time, I don’t remember when, (that’s why I put this in Part III) Jack tried very hard to get Deaf men to become priests in Japan. There are many in the States and other European countries. There are a number of deaf men who would like to become priests in Japan, too!
Because of the notion that Sign Language is not a ‘language’ because it is ‘spoken’ by hand and not by mouth, the Japanese hierarchy can’t see a Deaf man becoming a priest.
Jack had met some Deaf priests in the USA and invited one of them to come to Japan and look into getting vocations. I forget the name of the priest, although I met him, but he was happy to come here and ‘talk’ to those who felt they had a vocation. He spent a few weeks in Kyushu and in Hokkaido where there is a Trappist ‘brother’, but to no avail. The Trappist ‘brother’ is not a ‘real’ brother because being deaf he can’t ‘take vows’!! There was talk of having them study in the States and return here as ordained priests, but that failed because they could not ‘speak’ English Sign Language and therefore could not study in the States either.
Jack felt that if there were at least 3 or 4 ‘Deaf’ priests, they could handle the work he was doing in Japan. He felt they could communicate better than he, though he was very good. Imagine what that would mean, having 4 men dividing the country to celebrate Mass and give retreats for the Deaf people! That was an aim that Jack had, that finally went to naught.
Turning to Jack’s final days, I will write about the time which I met Jack for the last time.
He had lived in an apartment after leaving our house in Hoya (Nishi-Tokyo City) which the treasurer, Fran Hahn, had been trying to sell, with no luck. After becoming treasurer again, I went up to Tokyo and went to see the real estate agency through whom we had bought the house about 40 years before. Within a month or two, the house was sold and we just had to await the signings and exchange of money, which was to be March 16, 2011, 5 days after the Tohoku earthquake, although when the date was set we had no idea what was coming!
The hotel I stayed in, in Shinjuku, still swayed from the earthquake and I was rudely awakened that night. Anyway, the next day I went to sign off the deal and headed straight for the airport to get out of Tokyo.
Jack had wanted to live in the same neighborhood as our house had been, since he knew all the neighbors, and liked the area, close to the Christ the King Sisters’ orphanage.
The next time I went to Tokyo after that was to visit Jack at the hospital.
On May 25, 2014 I visited Jack at the hospital. He’d been in and out by that time, but I went up to Tokyo to see the caretakers and discuss his situation, as well as take a look at his new apartment that he had not lived in yet.
I went to the hospital after seeing the caretakers and visiting his new apartment, and I spent 3 hours with him. What a great time! Having lived together for 25 years, we had a lot to talk about old times … he did most of the talking. He kept repeating how he appreciated the years we lived together, the good times we had together … including the tennis!
At the time he could still use his hands, he would hold onto a wheelchair as he walked around the hospital, but he was rather normal … not yet paralyzed. Clear minded, good sense of humor … all was there. The reminiscing was total … he summarized 25 years in a few hours … the highlights.
That was the last time I saw him, as he passed away 13 months later. I was hearing from especially Wency Laguidao on the turn of events. The nursing crew, who took care of him at his new apartment, would call me periodically to keep me up to date and ask for finances that he needed, since they were handling his bank accounts.
Jack wrote me many emails during that time … he was still the treasurer for the Honshu District and would send me the District reports on time. Sometimes he had questions … he couldn’t balance everything, so we would speak on the phone to make adjustments. He wanted to continue, even when he was failing, as it gave him something to do, and he was contributing to the community.
Though Jack lived alone at the end, the last 20 years of life in Tokyo, he was always aware that he was an Oblate and tried to keep ties. His attendance at the Spring meetings and the fall annual retreat was wonderfully felt.
When he really started ailing in the fall of 2014 … first his hands went. His hands were the ‘instruments’ he used for the Deaf people in order to communicate with them … it was one language he would never use again!
Then up his arms and shoulders, then his feet and legs. Eventually, he could not eat, so a tube was put into his stomach so he could get some food.
He had told me he didn’t want his relatives to come and visit him, but one month before he died, 5 of his cousins, 2 one week and the other 3 the next week, in order to bring news to is brothers who were too old to come themselves.
A month later, almost to the day, he passed away peacefully, on June 17, 2015.
End of Part III