by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The question gave Sister Ann Albrecht, CSJ, pause: How would you like to be remembered?
“As a kind, loving, helpful person who brought Christ wherever I went,” she said with a little chuckle.
That is typical Sister Ann — sweet, simple, but terribly understated. She was, and is, so much more to so many people.
Sister Ann founded deaf ministry in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. She was the consultant (director) from 1974 to 2001, and then served as a volunteer until her retirement in 2015, when she moved to St. Louis. More than that, Sister Ann’s work in deaf ministry was national and even international.
But always, her impact was very personal to those she served. An anecdote about her visits to the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe is telling.
“I’d walk at the state school and the kids would say, ‘There goes my church,’” she said. “I represented the church to them even though I didn’t wear the habit.”
On March 19, Sister Ann celebrated her 75th anniversary as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She couldn’t receive visitors or even celebrate with her whole community (and others celebrating anniversaries) because of COVID-19 restrictions. Celebrations were held by living groups in separate buildings.
But she received “a whole stack of cards,” flowers and many emails and messages from members of the wide-ranging community of deaf Catholics who love her.
Sister Ann began her ministry as a teacher, but as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), her heart was always with individuals who were deaf, who were all but ignored by the church.
“When Sister Ann founded deaf ministry there was nothing available for deaf people in the Catholic Church, at least in the archdiocese,” said Katie Locus, archdiocesan consultant for deaf ministry. “They’d attend Mass if their parents brought them, but they had no idea what was happening or why they were receiving sacraments.”
Sister Ann literally went door to door to find Catholics who were deaf, building networks and relationships. She lobbied Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker to approve a ministry to the deaf community — and to his everlasting credit, he did.
“When Sister Ann came around and started interpreting Masses, gathering people, building community, it was like finding water in the midst of the desert. Deaf people just flocked to her . . . [because] she understood deaf people and deaf culture,” said Locus.
“She took the time to explain to the deaf community in their language what the Catholic faith was,” she continued. “From the stories I heard about her, her kindness, perseverance and knowledge of the community were the factors that helped her be so successful in founding deaf ministry.”
Pat Richey, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg, succeeded Sister Ann as consultant and served from 2001 to 2016, when she was succeeded by Locus. Sister Ann taught Richey American Sign Language in the 1980s. She called Sister Ann “a fantastic mentor” and “a great teacher.”
“She was the personification of God’s love,” said Richey. “That sounds kind of lofty, but it’s true. She was a fun person, too, and always positive. And I never heard her complain about anyone else.”
Sister Ann taught Richey how to go deeper into her faith. And she taught her that individuals who are deaf were family. Her love was the reason she was so successful.
“I remember she always had time for the deaf,” said Richey. “Sometimes, we’d be working on a time-sensitive project and a deaf person would come up, and she’d drop everything, turn to them and give them her full focus — like they were the most important person in her life at that moment. That taught me a lot.”
Technically, Sister Ann is in retirement, “but like the godfather, we just keep pulling her back,” said Joan Macy, sign language interpreter and coordinator for archdiocesan deaf ministry. Many deaf Catholics remember and revere Sister Ann and keep in contact, she said. Sister Ann sends out an annual Christmas letter that she personalizes for every person on her list.
After all, you don’t retire from family.
“The deaf community is her family, and she protected and took care of her family,” said Macy. “The deaf community is her family, and she protected and took care of her family To this day they are her family, and she stays in touch with all of them.
“She loved everyone and wasn’t afraid to advocate for them. She was very gracious and very grateful for everything people did, but she wasn’t afraid to say, ‘That isn’t enough.’ [Sister Ann] believed that our people [who are deaf] should have the same access to their faith and the sacraments as anyone else.”
Sister Ann built a foundation that endures and is being built upon by others involved in the ministry. It offers classes, retreats, sacraments, sacramental preparation, Bible study and more — although there is a need for more priests who can sign and double the current number of interpreters, said Locus.
“Deaf ministry offers monthly deaf Masses at St. Paul Parish in Olathe, Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, and weekly interpreted Masses at St. Paul and Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, and St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee,” said Locus. “Interpreted Masses are biweekly at Most Pure Heart of Mary.”
Write Sister Ann
If you would like to send a card or letter to Sister Ann, here is her address: Sister Ann Albrecht, CSJ, 6 Nazareth Lane #163, St. Louis, MO 63129.