Sister Conchetta LoPresti, front row at left, Diane Daminski, back row at center, and the Word of God Sign Choir sign during a liturgy at Resurrection Parish in Cheektowaga, N.Y.
In 2013, when thousands of vacationers were stranded for days in the Caribbean on an ailing cruise ship, John Smith from Buffalo, N.Y. noticed a deaf couple was aboard and in need of help. Well-versed in sign language, he quickly reached out to them and provided them with important safety and rescue information.
John happened to be a former sign language student of Sister Conchetta LoPresti, who has not only been ministering to the deaf for 30 years, but also has been empowering others to communicate with the deaf community. “I’m amazed at how far my ministry extends from Buffalo,” she says.
A nationally certified counselor specializing in therapy with the deaf and their families in the Buffalo, N.Y. area, Sister Conchetta serves in pastoral ministry and counsels persons with disabilities at Resurrection Parish in Cheektowaga, N.Y., home of the Diocese of Buffalo’s Catholic Deaf Apostolate. Here, she serves people who are deaf in eight western New York counties and interprets a weekly Mass. Through the parish, Sister Conchetta teaches a beginner and two advanced level sign language classes which are offered in the fall and spring. Four persons who are deaf from the parish serve as aides. “They help me watch the 80 hands of the beginners,” she explains.
Franciscan Associate Diane Daminski, a sign language interpreter, is one of Sister Conchetta’s former students. She was inspired by a class project that involved signing a Christmas song at Mass. With encouragement from Sister Conchetta, Diane founded and now directs the Word of God Sign Choir. With about ten members who are either deaf, blind or autistic, the group signs every other week at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. “I just love sign language, and I love the community,” Diane says. In addition, Sister Conchetta is an adjunct professor at Hilbert College in Hamburg, N.Y. where she teaches American Sign Language. She says her classes are some of the most popular at the school. “The students are very involved; and I make it a fun class,” she says.
Students in Sister Conchetta’s level two sign language class provide interpreting services to the deaf community. For example, one student taught sign language to family members of a girl with multiple disabilities so they could communicate with her.
With a passion for the deaf community, Sister Conchetta, who also serves in private practice, remains eager to empower others to learn American sign language. “I try to make it fun,” she says. “I love seeing people grow.”