GREEN BAY — Faith and football were the focus of a daylong event July 7 for the Diocese of Green Bay’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. The day began at Lambeau Field, where 40 people from five states participated in a tour of the Green Bay Packers facility.
Following the tour and lunch in a Lambeau Field luxury box, the group traveled to St. John the Evangelist Church, home of the diocese’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministry, where Fr. Christopher Klusman, a Deaf priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, led a presentation on the theme, “Playing On God’s Team.”
Fr. Klusman, one of 11 deaf priests in the United States, visits Green Bay twice a year, during Advent and Lent, to offer the sacrament of reconciliation to members of the diocese’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
During his workshop, held in Mazzuchelli Hall, Fr. Klusman told the group about legendary Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, and his strong devotion to his Catholic faith. He said that Coach Lombardi attended daily Mass at nearby St. Willebrord Church.
Fr. Klusman also described the winning ingredients of a football team. He then explained that Catholics are also on a team, God’s team. They have their team colors, as seen at Mass during the different liturgical seasons and feast days. Like winning football teams, Catholics must practice their faith in order to be successful. This includes participating in the sacraments, he said.
“Catholics have to practice, practice, practice,” he said, using American Sign Language.
His presentation was filled with humor. He said the Packers have enemies: the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings. A fourth enemy is New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, he said, using a slide presentation with photos that elicited laughs.
The enemy for Catholics is the devil, he said. “We have to study and know his ways so we can defeat him,” said Fr. Klusman. “The seven sacraments make us stronger. … The sacraments are like our protection.”
The priest explained that Catholics have teammates, including the saints, angels and the Blessed Mother. “They are part of our team that lead us to God,” he said.
Fr. Klusman assured those in attendance that God has already chosen them for his winning team, and, like the Packers, their logo has a “G.” He urged the group to make a daily commitment to God through prayer and the sacraments. Immediately after his presentation, Fr. Klusman offered the sacrament of confession, followed by celebration of Mass in the upstairs church. The day concluded with a dinner.
Jean Laux, parish coordinator for the Deaf community at St. John the Evangelist Parish, organized the event and said it was well received. “I feel very inspired,” she told The Compass. “Fr. Christopher, after a beautiful day together at Lambeau Field, connected that (Packers) theme with how we are playing on God’s team and that we’re all in this together.”
She credited Fr. Klusman for making the day happen. “I asked Fr. Christopher if he could come here for Mass,” she said. His response was that he would celebrate Mass, but it wasn’t enough. “We need more (time together),” he told Laux.
“Of course, what’s Green Bay known for? The Packers,” she said, so they came up with a day that featured a football theme. “It was a wonderful theme, playing on God’s team.”
Laux, who has been friends with Fr. Klusman for more than 20 years and mentored him while he was a student at UW-Madison, is thankful that Fr. Klusman is willing to serve the diocese’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
“Fr. Christopher is the only Deaf priest in Wisconsin, and one of only 14 in the world,” she said. Fr. Klusman and Deacon David Sommers, who serves at St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee, are one of two Deaf priest-deacon ministers in the world from the same diocese, she added.
According to Laux, the Catholic Deaf community “is very strong.”
“I meet people from all over the United States once or twice a year” at the national conferences for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, she said. “We network, we pray together and we attend workshops together.”
The event was funded in part by a grant from the Catholic Foundation and from the Bishop’s Appeal. Participants came from Green Bay and Milwaukee, as well as Illinois, Minnesota, upper Michigan and Georgia.