Celebrating 100 years of the Catholic Deaf community in Victoria

Bernadette Wallis and cousins in a line

In May 2024, members of the Deaf community gathered at the John Pierce Centre (JPC) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Deaf Association in Victoria. Visitors came from interstate to celebrate.  A special celebratory Mass was held on Pentecost Sunday, followed by the JPC annual general meeting and lunch, providing an opportunity to remember the long history of the Catholic Deaf community and to share some of  the research that has been done..

Together with Gail Finn, who is Deaf and who worked at the JPC for many year, Bernadette Wallis MSS, who also in times past worked at the JPC and is a CODA (child of Deaf adults) gave a presentation at the celebration. The first part of their presentation focussed on the first two meetings of the Catholic Deaf Association in Victoria in 1924 and 1925 because information from this time ‘was less well known’ according to Bernadette. ‘I’m delighted that through research with another CODA, Michael Wilson, we’ve identified a deaf woman who was the first secretary of the Catholic Deaf Association. We know more research needs to be done.

‘Her name was Annie Holcroft, an obvious leader and part of the community for many years. She shares a personal connection with both of our families. She was a close friend of Michael’s mother, and we noted his grandfather was elected chair at the meeting in 1925. While my mother, much younger, knew Annie, my aunt, Marie Fulton, had more to do with her and cared for Annie’s photo album.’

It had been given to her to care for it when Annie was dying. And when Marie died, still having the album, her cousin sent it to Bernadette saying, “you’ll know what to do with this”.’ Bernadette presented this special photo album to the JPC Archives following the presentation at the celebration.

Fr John Wallis had three deaf siblings who were involved in the Catholic Deaf Association at different times in Melbourne. He always had an interest and pastoral concern for the Deaf community. The Wallis family originally lived at Homewood, near Yea and Seymour districts in Victoria.  On the 28th July (after the Highways and Byways walk on Saturday 27th July), the parish of Yea will acknowledge our 80th anniversary at the Sunday Mass following with a cup of tea.

The photo above shows Fr Wallis’ nieces and nephew (Bernadette’s cousins).

Read more about the 100-year celebrations in Melbourne Catholic, here.