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May 17, 2004

Korean's calling is to the deaf

From: New York Daily News - New York,NY,USA - May 17, 2004


Though Min Seo Park has been deaf since he was a toddler, no one in his native South Korea recognized the disability until he was a teenager.

Park suffered for years in school, unable to read, write or communicate.

But he has more than made up for those lost years - he graduated yesterday from St. John's University with a Master of Divinity degree in ministerial studies.

"I felt a calling from God. I felt very strongly about being a priest. I knew it was a calling, and I never gave up on it," he said through his interpreter, Liz Palladino.

A tall man with glasses and close-cropped hair, Park dramatically signs the story of his long journey toward becoming the first deaf South Korean Catholic priest. After his disability was diagnosed, Park met an art teacher at a school for the deaf who introduced him to Catholicism. He longed to study theology, but because he was deaf, the church officials in South Korea insisted it was impossible.

"I told them I wanted to go to the U.S.," he said. "My parents cried and said no, but the feeling inside me was too strong."

Park earned undergraduate degrees in mathematics and philosophy from Gallaudet University in Washington, then came to New York to continue his studies with the Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz at St. John's.

Part of his seminary work included ministering to the deaf community at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Manhattan. Park taught Bible class twice a month and watched as the deaf congregation opened up to him.

"The hearing priests are good and they sign well, but the deaf don't feel quite as close to them," he said. "It's nice if there is someone who can communicate the world of God to them."

Ruiz, who is associate professor of theology and religious studies at St. John's, has been amazed by Park - and not only because he completed the 99-credit course load and earned a grade of A in New Testament Greek.

"What impresses me most about him is his determination to succeed," Ruiz said. "There's a richness to his experience, and there's something he has to contribute to the broader church."

It is with more than a little sadness that Park plans to return to his native country this summer to prepare for his ordination. "We really need deaf priests," he said. "I've always known that that's what I wanted to be."

© 2004 Daily News, L.P