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June 3, 2004

Sign of trouble: Church that houses program for deaf seniors will close

From: Shrewsbury Chronicle - Shrewsbury,MA,USA - Jun 3, 2004

By Laura Crimaldi / News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2004

SUDBURY -- By the looks of it, the price of admission for the monthly wellness program for deaf seniors at St. Anselm's Church is a smile and a hug.

The first Tuesday of every month, the seniors travel for miles for healthy meals, blood pressure screenings, health seminars and one of the liveliest coffee hours you will ever attend.

Smiles and animated chatter still rippled through the church basement Tuesday, but bad news from the Archdiocese of Boston cast sadness and discouragement on the mood.

"It's like there was a death in the family," Congetta Koetteritz, said as she met with the seniors for the first time since the parish got word the church would close.

It did not take long before the approximately 30 deaf seniors started to punctuate Koetteritz's words with their emotions.

"We became orphans," called out one man.

"We can fight back," said Pat Waters of West Roxbury.

Others half-joked their blood pressure readings would likely be higher. Copies of the letter Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley sent last week to the Rev. John Fitzpatrick circulated the room. The idea of a developer buying the church property to build homes leveled the room to groans.

"It's not fair. We've not even been here for a year," said Theresa Buttiglieri, 58, a Beverly woman known as Butter, her childhood nickname.

The announcement that the Landham Road parish would be one of 65 to close in the archdiocese leaves deaf seniors in limbo about the future home of the Deaf Community Center they've made a part of their routine.

Fitzpatrick, who founded DCC in 1972, hopes the deaf ministry and many parishioners go to St. George's Church, located nearby in Framingham.

He is scheduled to meet today with the Rev. Richard Fitzgerald about the possibility of getting a temporary, part-time appointment at the Framingham church.

"It's been MetroWest oriented, and we've gotten a considerable amount of help," Fitzpatrick said yesterday.

The DCC moved to Sudbury last July, where Fitzpatrick is the part-time parish priest after many years at Bethany Hill Hospital in Framingham.

A kitchen and classrooms were renovated, and Fitzpatrick handed over a church key so the seniors could come and go as they pleased.

Over the years, the Framingham Union Aid Association, Perini Corp. and the MetroWest Health Care Foundation have awarded DCC grants. The Natick Council on Aging helps coordinate transportation.

In the last few days, parishioners have offered gifts of $20,000 to help the deaf ministry move and $25,000 to pay for renovations to a hall at St. George's if the program goes there. The gifts, however, are contingent on the DCC staying in MetroWest, Fitzpatrick said.

"I am willing to hang in there," he said.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, could not be reached for comment.

Aside from the wellness program, DCC organizes bingo nights, field trips and dinners. Masses are held the first and third Sundays of the month at 11:30 a.m.

Koetteritz of Hopkinton, who is known affectionately as Jet, divides her time between the rectory office and advocacy for deaf seniors. She helps them with problems common to all seniors, like filing a health insurance claim.

The seniors keep in touch throughtelephones for the hearing impaired and e-mail, a technology that many learned at DCC.

Many have known each other since their school days at Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Allston and the now-defunct Boston School for the Deaf. They travel from as far away as Somerville, Wilmington and Beverly to be together.

But what makes St. Anselm's unique is the warm reception they received from the parish community.

"They are not stuck up with their nose in the air. They are very friendly and care about us," said Ruth Collari, 64, of Natick.

Tracey Welch and her husband, Steve, were among parishioners who signed up for a sign language class Koetteritz gave at the church.

"We wanted to feel like we could communicate with this community," Tracey Welch of Framingham said in a telephone interview. "You feel kind of helpless (when you don't know sign language) so you kind of hold back and we didn't want to do that."

The seniors said they're used to picking up and moving. Long drives don't bother them much. They are used to long car rides to get things done.

"But just because they can do it, do we have to keep doing it," Koetteritz asked.

Waters, who suggested the DCC fight closing, put it more plainly.

"In the hearing world, where deaf people are in the minority, it's a hard world to live in," she said.

( Laura Crimaldi can be reached at 508-626-4416 or )

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