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Woman interprets for the deaf in parishes

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

By Mike Dyer

ARCHDIOCESE — Angela Dornbach didn’t hear her full name spoken until she was in first grade, but she understood a spiritual message loud and clear at a very young age.

Born on Christmas Day 1937, Dornbach was called “Angel” by family and friends as a child. Raised by deaf parents, she became familiar with seeing an angel performed in sign language to identify her.

Dornbach’s late parents, Edmund and Stephanie Brooks, weren’t able to speak, so she and her three siblings — all of whom can hear — learned to sign at an early age.

Angela Dornbach (CT/Mike Dyer)

As a youngster, Dornbach was immersed in the deaf culture, once believing that every family had a deaf person. Now, she believes her parents taught her the primary form of family communication — American Sign Language — probably when she was seven or eight months old.

“I loved the language,” Dornbach said.

That admiration continues today for the Milan, Ind., resident. Dornbach, 72, can often be found interpreting for the deaf at several area Catholic parishes, including St. Jude in Bridgetown, Good Shepherd in Symmes Township and St. Teresa Benedicta in Bright, Ind.

Greg Williams, music director at St. Jude for the past 10 years, said Dornbach provides an important service for up to five deaf parishioners at the church. He said the parishioners enjoy the fellowship and often communicate with Dornbach after Mass.

“The clients really appreciate her,” said Williams, who has worked with Dornbach for about seven years. “She is absolutely what the clients need.”

Dornbach alternates on Saturdays with another interpreter at St. Jude, and alternates on Sundays at Good Shepherd. She has also interpreted at St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Price Hill for about the past 13 years. However, due to the recent lack of deaf parishioners, her final Mass is scheduled at St. Teresa of Avila on Jan. 3.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” Dornbach said of St. Teresa of Avila Parish. “I have learned so much from the deaf that have come there. Overall, the parishioners have been very warm to me, and I met many close friends there.”

Dornbach, who attends daily Mass but doesn’t sign at St. Charles Parish in Milan, has also taught RCIA from preschool to high school-age youth at area parishes throughout the years.

“It’s just been another step in keeping my faith strong and helping me to learn,” Dornbach said.

Learning became a passion for Dornbach when she received formal training for American Sign Language at Cincinnati State during a two-year course several years ago. Dornbach had been signing while she worked as a director of volunteers at the former Providence Hospital, but learned more about vocabulary and psychology of the deaf through the classes.

While in school, Dornbach was motivated to learn more about opportunities to become a full-time interpreter; she discovered a re-energized passion for sign language.

“I was so taken with it, sometimes when I was driving home from school I was signing and I’d even forget to activate the accelerator,” Dornbach said. “I would hear something on the radio and sign it. . . . It was just wonderful to me.”

Dornbach, who has freelanced for Community Services for the Deaf for more than 10 years and works on her own, has signed weddings, baptisms and funerals and has even donned a hospital gown to sign during surgeries. She has also helped with job interviews, employee meetings and IRS or Social Security situations. Her work schedule can often be hectic, consisting of long days and nights.

But in any situation, Dornbach relies on her faith daily to help her and those she encounters. Dornbach said her faith was always part of the family. Her mother said a rosary every day, and her father was very devout.

“We were very much steeped in Catholicism and the faith, and I still am,” Dornbach said. “I still have a very strong love for the Catholic faith and Christian faith. It means a lot to me and gets me through lots of things.”

While her sign language is of great aid for deaf parishioners at the local parishes, Dornbach said other people have often taken time to recognize her efforts.

“I’m surprised how many hearing people after Masses at all the churches thank me for coming and tell me how beautiful the language is and how beautiful the music is when I am signing,” said Dornbach. “Hearing people really appreciate it also.”

Father Tom Kovatch, pastor of St. Teresa Benedicta Parish, said Dornbach donates the stipend she receives back to the church. He said Dornbach is always prepared for the Sunday Mass and willing to help sign for a deaf parishioner.

“She is a very warm lady, very friendly,” Father Kovatch said. “She is very good at what she does.”

Although Dornbach recently reduced her hectic schedule during the holidays, she continues to love her profession.

“I do this because I love the deaf, and I love the language,” she said. “It’s been my calling and my mission. I know that’s what the Lord wanted me to do.”

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