Sr. Linda Roby, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, signs during a Mass for the deaf at St. Cyril Parish in Wilsonville in 2007. “The people she served appreciated her so much; it was obvious to me that she was beloved,” said Archbishop John Vlazny. (Courtesy Jilene Modlin)
Sr. Linda Roby, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, signs during a Mass for the deaf at St. Cyril Parish in Wilsonville in 2007. “The people she served appreciated her so much; it was obvious to me that she was beloved,” said Archbishop John Vlazny. (Courtesy Jilene Modlin)
Sister Linda Roby, who ministered to the Oregon Catholic deaf community for decades, has “kept her eyes on Christ and deaf people in her heart,” said Jilene Modlin, a former assistant to the Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“In our noisy world the deaf are often overlooked,” Modlin said. “Sister Linda asked them what they needed and worked to empower them. She helped them find their voice — find their signs — and be heard.”

For her years of service to deaf Catholics, Sister Linda recently received special recognition from the Maryland-based National Catholic Office for the Deaf.

The Father David Walsh Pastoral Worker Award was announced Jan. 9 during the organization’s annual conference, held online due to the pandemic. The award is named after a Redemptorist priest who spent his life serving the deaf and established the national office in 1971.

“To have a couple hundred people watching from all over the country as the award was announced — it was an amazing experience right here in my living room,” said Sister Linda, who directed deaf ministry in the Archdiocese of Portland for more than 30 years and retired in 2017.

“She’s was an all-star for us here,” said retired Archbishop John Vlazny. “The people she served appreciated her so much; it was obvious to me that she was beloved.”

Sister Linda’s first experience with deaf culture came when she was a novice at her order’s motherhouse in Dubuque, Iowa, where she was given permission to help a sister teaching deaf children.

“I fell in love right away with the kids,” recalled Sister Linda, 72. After taking a crash course in sign language, she tutored a group of deaf middle schoolers during a summer camp.

“I came away convinced that teaching the deaf was what God wanted me to do,” Sister Linda said. She went on to earn a master’s degree in special education and taught deaf students in a residential school and in mainstream classrooms for several years.

After moving to Portland in 1972, she volunteered as a religious education teacher for the deaf and signed at mixed hearing-deaf Masses.

“There was already such a wonderful community when I arrived,” said Sister Linda. “I saw how people loved and cared for each other. I saw their zest for life and the strong faith of the Catholics.”

She was named director of deaf ministry for the archdiocese in 1978 and served until 1982, when she returned to Iowa to spend 10 years teaching at a Catholic school and working in her community’s formation program.

But she stayed connected to the deaf community and returned to Portland and her old post in 1992. There she remained until her retirement in 2017.

Sister Linda interpreted at funerals, weddings and baptisms, held Lenten and Advent retreats and workshops, and visited the elderly in their homes. She led liturgical committee meetings for American Sign Language Masses and taught sign language to the seminarians at Mount Angel.

“Her commitment to people was so clear,” said Father Bruce Cwiekowski, a former hospital chaplain who celebrated many Masses for the deaf community. “Sister Linda was a constant presence in the deaf community and they demonstrated a great love for her.”

Kathy Bernunzio, who is deaf, has known Sister Linda since the ’70s. She describes her as bubbly, sincere and spiritual. “She’s always ready to help anyone in need,” Bernunzio said.

The go-getter sister was an advocate for deaf individuals beyond the archdiocese. She helped establish an assisted living center for the deaf and those who are deaf and blind and secured interpreters in doctors’ offices. She also worked to help ensure there were interpreters for Medicaid and Medicare recipients in the region.

“Sister Linda didn’t assume she knew what the deaf community needed,” said Modlin, who currently coordinates ministry among deaf Catholics in the archdiocese. “Instead, she sat and listened and then empowered.”

Sister Linda received a plaque for her national award, and she’s eager to share it with the deaf community when it’s safe to gather.

“This award belongs to all of us,” she said. “It is in recognition of the strong faith community that they have formed.”

Working with the deaf “is such a beautiful part of my life, a huge part of my life,” added Sister Linda. “It’s been a joy.”