When potential seminarians first apply to the Albany Diocese, we go through several interviews with members of the diocesan Vocations Board in an effort for them to get to know us.

I remember clearly that, in one of my interviews, I was asked, "What talents or gifts do I feel I bring to the priesthood?"

Looking back, I can't help but laugh, as at that moment I completely froze. I drew a complete blank, not being able to come up with a single response - and walked away wondering, "What gifts or talents do I actually I bring to the priesthood?"

Although I can laugh about it now, at the time I couldn't help but spend a significant amount of time reflecting on that question. Each person possesses - or, better yet, has developed over time - a certain talent or gift, one they have potentially grown passionate about or make the extra effort to develop over their life.

Today, I can think of many gifts that I feel I now bring, as well as the ability to recognize such gifts in others who are studying for the priesthood.

Over the past two summers, I have studied American Sign Language (ASL) at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. ASL is something I have always had an interest in, but never took the time to learn or develop seriously until two years ago.

Within the first day of studying it, I knew that this was something I wanted learn and develop seriously, looking forward to its potential use later on as a priest.

Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, where I'm studying for the priesthood, also offers ASL courses throughout the year, taught by a Chicago priest in charge of the Archdiocesan Office for Deaf Services. He not only teaches us how to sign, but, more importantly, he helps us to understand the culture of the deaf.

The most shocking point that he begins each semester with is, "The number-one reason that people who are deaf do not go to church is because no one is there to interpret for them."

Hearing this not only the first time, but each time, always leaves me just as speechless as I had been during that first interview. I can't help but feel that we have closed the door to the Church to so many, primarily by our lack of effort within the Church to correct this.

As baptized Catholics, we are called to spread the Gospel message to all we encounter, yet this difficulty we face in communication is something that we have dropped the ball on over time and are only now trying to catch up.

Seminarians studying at Mundelein are immersed daily in different cultures: studying with men from over 38 different dioceses around the world, celebrating with and learning alongside them as one community made up of many different cultures. Yet, even here, with the exception of classes in ASL, there is little effort or long-term focus on how to evangelize and welcome those who are deaf.

In our understanding of Catholic social justice in parishes nationwide, efforts are made to reach out, welcome and celebrate the many cultures on which our parishes were founded. These are wonderful, often beautiful learning experiences for all who attend.

Yet that awareness effort is scarcely seen when it comes to the deaf. This only leaves the door all the more closed for so many who may have heard - or even have never heard - the Good News of Christ. This leaves the value of having faith in Him to be something far from communal, something distant or even nonexistent.

Our love for our neighbor, as found in the second great commandment, should motivate us to address this issue with the same zeal we hold for those individual issues we wish to share from our own backgrounds and experiences.

Learning ASL, which some might say is a talent or even a gift, has for me become something that I feel passionate about for future ministry - and something that comes to mind each time I go to Mass.

I often wonder if I would still go, still believe as I do or even feel like a part of this community of faith, if I could not hear, see or understand the environment fully around me as the Lord and the Church desires for us all.

(Brian Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)