In 2003, the Deaf Community and the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of de l’Epee Deaf Center, Inc. Begun in Jackson by the Catholic Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, in August, 1972, the ministry was transferred to the newly-established Diocese of Biloxi in June of 1977.
de l’Epee Deaf Center, located at 1450 North Street in Gulfport is a well-known and well-respected base of operations of and for the Deaf people of Mississippi, especially the spiritual ministry to those in the Diocese of Biloxi. It offers an on-going program of interpreted masses, Bible study classes and sacramental preparation as needed. Along with their other assignments our interpreters are available for church services of other denominations, especially weddings and funerals. de l’Epee is proud to serve people of all faiths, ages, gender and race.
de l’Epee attempts to 1) make the general community aware of the presence of deaf persons, their needs and rights under Americans with Disabilities Act addressing the rights of deaf persons to services accorded to all other persons. 2) from among all the needs and rights of disabled persons across the board, to educate both deaf and hearing persons to the needs of deaf persons and to the relatively recent affirmation of their right of accessibility equal to that of their hearing counterparts. de l’Epee Deaf Center is involved in meeting the educational, social and recreational needs of the deaf community, especially their need for interpreters of English>American Sign Language, American Sign Language>English which provides the link between deaf and hearing persons. It is not uncommon to see our Interpreters at work on the campus of Jefferson Davis Jr. College, USM Gulf Coast and Hattiesburg, Gulfport Memorial Hospital, Gulf Oaks Hospital, local police stations and many professional offices of Doctors and Attorneys whom the deaf patronize.
Volunteers and Staff at de l’Epee know the truth of Helen Keller’s statement that whereas blindness separated one from things, deafness sets one apart from the sharing of thoughts and ideas. One aim is to give the children of the deaf community as many experiences as possible, so as to allow them to be on a par with hearing children, beginning with their own brothers and sisters, also mother and dad. Every opportunity opens their minds to new understandings.
Toward the realization of this goal, over the years, the children have been on trips to Disney World, Bellingrath Garden, Nasa, Gulf Shores, Marine Life, Keesler Air Force Base, New Orleans and many others. They were all experiences of both learning and enjoyment.
de l’Epee Deaf Center could not have gotten started and lasted this long without the assistance of a number of organizations and of individual volunteers on the Coast. Among the organizations, the first to come to our aid was the Gulf Coast chapter of the Quota Club, whose primary interest is assisting hearing impaired individuals; United Way, the Knights of Columbus, the Elks, the Kiwanis, the Rotary. Federal, county and local bodies assisted either with funding or providing job training. Salvation Army and the Gulf Coast Rescue Mission gave assistance to our clients as needed. Especially are we grateful to Rev. Christie, now deceased, director of the Mission, who donated a piece of land with the option either of building on it or selling it to help purchase another piece in a location more accessible to the Deaf Community.
The Deaf Community are the beneficiaries of all this activity, but their efforts and contribution are not to be over-looked. From the beginning of the Ministry to the Deaf Catholics of Mississippi, deaf persons have been involved with all aspects, beginning with helping locate the deaf Catholics, with establishing the Coast Catholic Deaf Club (CCDC), with serving in countless ways. Both CCDC and MAD (Mississippi Association of the Deaf) contributed one of the beautiful windows in the entrance doors, one of Fr. de ’Epee, for whom the Center is named, and one of Laurent Clerc, the first deaf teacher of the Deaf. The deaf people assume the responsibility for maintaining the Center in prime condition, for helping with grounds maintenance, with sponsoring and monitoring activities, with serving on the Advisory Board, and serving with loyalty and dedication.