‘Bilingual home’ led jubilarian priest to deaf ministry

Father Marty Hall

Levittown — Father Marty Hall, retired parish priest and veteran of ministry to the deaf community, grew up in a bilingual home — English and sign language.

“Sign language was my first language,” said Father Hall, whose parents both were deaf  and relied on sign language and finger spelling to communicate. “My mother made a point of moving near her mother so I could visit her and learn to speak.”

He learned to speak and eventually became a priest. This year, he marks the 60th anniversary of his ordination.

“Father Marty has been known and loved by the deaf community for many years,” said Dominican Sister Joan Mary Finn, a veteran educator and pastoral minister with the deaf community.

“I’ve known Marty for most of my priesthood,” said Msgr. Tom Costa, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church, Hicksville, who has also engaged in ministry to the deaf community since the 1980s. “He has been one of my inspirations.”

Born in Brooklyn, Father Hall was one of three boys. His father, Walter, was a lithographer, and his mother, Grace, worked for a dressmaker. His family was close to the parish, St. Brigid’s — literally and figuratively.

“We were 405 Linden St. The parish was 409,” Father Hall recalled. “There was an alley in between.” His family got to know the pastor, who offered financial help when his father was out of work.

The pastor also encouraged young Martin Hall to become an altar boy and got him to serve Masses for deaf people. Later, the pastor arranged a scholarship for him at Cathedral Prep for high school.
His years at Cathedral were good ones, and he recalled the examples of the priests he knew there. Father Hall also has warm recollections of his subsequent study at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, where he encountered priests such as Msgr. James Coffey and Father Charles Boyd, the spiritual director.

Ordained June 7, 1952, for the Diocese of Brooklyn, he served the first two years of his priesthood at Holy Child Jesus, Richmond Hill, and St. Raphael’s, Long Island City.

Informally, though, he quickly began ministry to people who were deaf. “One of the first things I did was prepare a deaf boy for his first Communion,” Father Hall said. Opportunities for ministry to people who were blind also presented themselves.

“Jesus reached out to the forgotten,” Father Hall said. “Who is more forgotten that the deaf and the blind?”

In 1954, he was transferred to St. Thomas the Apostle, West Hempstead, continuing to minister to the deaf and blind on weekends. When the Diocese of Rockville Centre was created in 1957, splitting from the Diocese of Brooklyn, Father Hall became a priest of the new diocese.

That year he was appointed to the additional duties of director of the diocesan Apostolate to the Deaf and the Catholic Guild for the Blind, where he served until 1963, when he became associate director of diocesan Catholic Charities’ special services division.

Father Hall returned to parish work in 1967 as associate pastor of St. William the Abbot, Seaford, serving until 1971. He then took a leave of absence to pursue a master’s degree in educational psychology from New York University.

After serving briefly at St. Peter the Apostle in Islip Terrace, Father Hall was assigned to Notre Dame, New Hyde Park, in 1974. “The people there were very good, as was the pastor, and I enjoyed the ministry,” including serving as chaplain of the Columbiettes, the Golden Age Club, and various institutions such as a home for the aged.

In 1988 he was assigned to St. Bernard’s Church, Levittown, where he was involved in religious education, chaplaincy for the Knights of Columbus, and other parish ministry in addition to his work with the deaf.

Retired from parish work in 1996, Father Hall continues to live on the parish grounds and to be engaged in ministry with the deaf. Though he has been slowed down in recent years by arthritis, Msgr. Costa said, Father Hall continues to offer Masses for the deaf. “Someone from the deaf community picks him up.

“He has meant so much to many people,” Msgr. Costa said. “He is so kind, compassionate, creative, and sharp. He is so comfortable with sign language and finger spelling. Many of us learned that in the seminary and do the best we can. For Marty, it’s second nature.”

Father Hall also spends much of his retirement reading, as evidenced by the shelves of books that sit prominently in his living room.

“I love being a priest,” Father Hall said. “I think of myself as an ambassador, bringing God’s word to people, enabling them to fully experience the fruits of their faith.”