Married couple finds shared faith, equal footing at St. Dominic Center for the Deaf

January 23, 2024

Toni Flagg, at left, interprets a keynote address by Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria during the 2022 National Catholic Partnership on Disability conference at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Spring. Flagg, who attends St. Dominic Deaf Parish with her husband Deacon Bruce Flagg, and Father Len Broniak, C.Ss.R, the chaplain and deaf ministry program director, were sign language interpreters during the conference. Father Broniak will retire on Feb. 1. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — Over 15 years ago, Toni Flagg, who is hearing, and her husband, Deacon Bruce Flagg, who is deaf, discovered their Church home at St. Dominic Center for the Deaf located in the Medical Center area — a significant turning point in their marriage.

After years of church hopping, the Flaggs found a welcoming and close-knit community among fellow deaf and hard-of-hearing Catholics and their families during Sunday Mass conducted in American Sign Language (ASL). They found a sacred space where they could actively engage and fully participate on an equal footing.

“No longer did we go from church to church seeking a religion that provided services for people who are deaf, some of which practiced a faith my Cradle Catholic husband could not abide by,” Toni Flagg said. “No longer would I have to either go to Mass by myself or bear the responsibility alone to interpret for my husband at a hearing Mass.”

For hearing family members, St. Dominic Center offers a voice interpreter. Deaf members are encouraged to participate as lectors, ushers and Eucharistic ministers. Other services offered include hospital and home visits for the sick and shut-ins, classes for deaf couples on marriage and baptismal preparation, and interpreters for baptisms, weddings, funerals and events at other parishes.

For the Flaggs, St. Dominic Center also became a catalyst for their spiritual growth as a couple, guiding them through the annulment process and blessing their marriage in the Church. Deacon Flagg’s faith also flourished in unexpected ways.

“A seed was planted in my husband to serve God in ways he never thought possible,” Toni Flagg said. “After a great deal of praying, he entered the seminary, and six years later, he became an ordained permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. He is dedicated to serving the needs of the families of St. Dominic.”

Toni Flagg found her own calling within the St. Dominic Center community, serving as an interpreter for Sunday Mass and, on occasion, for weddings and funerals. Additionally, she held the position of director of religious education and prepared teens for their Sacraments.

“Helping to prepare 15 to 16-year-olds for their First Communion has been such an overwhelming occasion that my heart was filled with joy for weeks afterward,” Toni Flagg said. “I am looking forward to serving the people of St. Dominic Center in any way that I am asked.”

Father Len Broniak, C.Ss.R., the chaplain and program director of St. Dominic Center, has devoted more than two decades to driving the ministry’s initiatives. Planning to retire on Feb. 1, Father Broniak leaves behind a legacy of unwavering commitment to advancing the ministry’s goals, with a special focus on training and empowering lay leadership within the Catholic deaf and hard-of-hearing community. His efforts, demonstrated by the empowerment of individuals like the Flaggs, will continue to be a blessing until his position is filled.

Father Broniak said St. Dominic Center is one of 64 ministries supported by the DSF, which helps sustain the center’s mission to ensure that the deaf or hard of hearing community and their families remain an integral part of the larger Catholic community.

The Flaggs agree that the annual DSF support is important to keeping open communication channels with this community, which prevents them from feeling marginalized in their own religion.

“The deaf will not participate in any activity where they are made to feel like an outsider, pushed to the side and not have access to total communication,” Toni Flagg said. “For this reason, you can understand how important the continuing support of St. Dominic Center is to the deaf community. Without the DSF, we would no longer feel a part of the Catholic community at large and would become merely an appendage, not a welcomed member.”

The Flaggs extend an invitation to all the faithful in the Archdiocese and guests attending a national conference at the facility to join the St. Dominic Ministry for a Mass in the Warren Chapel celebrated by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 5 p.m. The chapel is located at 2401 Holcombe Blvd. in Houston.

For parents and guardians interested in learning more about Continuing Christian Education (CCE) offered in the fall of 2024 for children who are deaf and in need of sacramental preparation, contact the St. Dominic Center office at 713-741-8721 or send an e-mail to tmsica@yahoo.com. CCE classes take place on Sundays at 9:30 a.m., followed by Mass at 11 a.m.

For general information about St. Dominic Center, go to www.archgh.org/deafministry or Facebook, Houston-Galveston Archdiocese Deaf Community or YouTube, St. Dominic Deaf Church.

To donate to the DSF, go to www.archgh.org/DSF. The DSF supports each of these ministries, whether direct service or education, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.