By Bob Zyskowski
GREEN BAY, Wis. (CNS) – A pang of conscience bothered Joleen Hunkins one day as she was about to interpret Mass in sign language.
“I was worried about giving my own version of the Gospel,” she recalled. “When I told our pastor at the time, he asked me, ‘Do you pray before you sign at Mass?’ I said yes, always. He told me, ‘Then don’t worry. God works through you just as he works through me.’”
Hunkins and her husband, Rich, are members of SS. Edward and Isadore Parish in Flintville. She was a stay-at-home mom for her four children. Now that they are adults, she’s a certified interpreter of American Sign Language working at Southwest High School in Green Bay.
Two of her six sisters also are professional interpreters for the deaf. Their family learned to sign to communicate with one of the girls, JoRita, who has been deaf since birth.
Much as the case with learning a second language, it helps to learn American Sign Language when one is young, Hunkins said, and it helps to be a visual learner as well.
“It’s a beautiful language” because it is so expressive, she told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. “Deaf people like it because it’s like their secret they get to share,” she said with a grin.
Hunkins has been doing plenty of sharing herself. She volunteers with the Hand in Hand organization to teach elementary age students sign language and to support them and their families.
Along with regularly interpreting at Sunday Mass for the deaf community at St. John the Evangelist parish, she volunteered this year to be the catechist working with two young deaf women in the Green Bay parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program.
She’s no stranger to sharing her faith. As a teenager, she taught young children in her parish faith formation program.
As an adult, she volunteered to teach freshman faith formation, then taught the confirmation class when her oldest son went through preparation for the sacrament.
“I just keep getting drawn in,” Hunkins explained. “And I know it’s God doing it.”
Teaching in the RCIA is new to her, though, and she is grateful for all the assistance she’s received.
With the help of Ann Vorpahl and Connie DeMeuse from the staff of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Hunkins cobbled together learning materials and visuals that meet the learning and language-skill levels of 15-year-old Alexandrind Snyder from Haiti and 26-year-old Chai Yang, a Hmong-American, as they prepare to be baptized at the Easter Vigil at St. John.