GREECE — Those who hear — as well those who don’t — have benefited from the ministry of Father Thomas M. Erdle.
Father Erdle, pastor of St. Mark Parish, began ministering to deaf Catholics even before being ordained in 1955. He has served as chaplain at two area educational institutions for the deaf, and in 1981 became founding pastor of St. Mary’s Church of the Deaf, now known as Emmanuel Church of the Deaf, currently located at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Rochester.
The priest also has served deaf people at the national and international levels. In the 1970s, he was instrumental in founding the National Catholic Office for the Deaf in Washington, D.C., and also served as a chaplain for the International Deaf Catholic Association.
"It’s just one of those things that you’re thrown into," he said of his ministry with the deaf. "I’ve always enjoyed working with people."
Father Erdle will retire at the end of June, and St. Mark Parish will fete him with a June 12 reception and dinner at 4 p.m. in the Italian American Community Center in Gates.
In addition to serving the community at St. Mark’s for the past two decades, he served as an assistant pastor at the parishes of Holy Redeemer, Rochester, from 1955-59; Holy Ghost, Gates, from 1959-66; and St. James, Irondequoit, from 1966-67.
In retirement, the priest plans to reside at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Irondequoit. He said he plans to continue serving as a sacramental minister and also hopes to travel.
Father Erdle was chaplain at the Rochester School for the Deaf from 1960-85, and has served on its board since 1979. He has also served as board president for the Monroe County Association of the Hearing and as a board member with the Rochester Health Association. He was also the first Catholic chaplain at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf — a college of the Rochester Institute of Technology — a position he held from 1968-85.
Dr. Gerry Buckley, assistant vice president at NTID, spoke fondly of the priest.
"On the campus, Father Tom made it a point to be visible to students and was widely respected for his ability to relate to students from all types of backgrounds and beliefs," Buckley said. "I recall very clearly that one Jewish student told me that he had learned more about his religious faith from Father Erdle than from his own upbringing. This was because Father Tom was both a scholar and student-centered individual. He appreciated and respected the uniqueness of each individual deaf person that he worked with and, as a result, many people consider him to be their ‘priest’."
Baptized at St. Boniface Parish in Rochester’s South Wedge, Father Erdle became acquainted with people who were deaf when he was growing up, and learned to sign the alphabet as a youngster. While in training for the priesthood, he also taught religion at the School for the Deaf in the early 1950s.
Father Erdle attended St. Boniface School as well Aquinas Institute. He studied for the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries and obtained a master’s degree in psychology of education from New York University, as well as a master’s degree in divinity from St. Bernard’s.
During his tenure at St. Mark, the priest has overseen the construction of a new church, rectory and office building. However, he said it was his work with people that he enjoyed the most, noting he felt he was a "perfect fit" with the parishioners there. He said he particularly enjoyed working with people entering the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, as well as administering the sacraments. Sharing his faith is always a joy, he said.
"For something that means so much to me, to be able to share that with others is fulfilling," he said.