A sign of God's love: Julia Marincel interprets for the deaf community
To make it to the NBA, a basketball player practices thousands of free throws.
To play with the New York Philharmonic, a violinist practices thousands of scales.
In her first year as a professional sign language interpreter, Julia Marincel struggled to interpret a priest who gave what Marincel described as “theologically deep” homilies.
Determined to improve, she painstakingly practiced by interpreting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph by paragraph, until she felt proficient with the text. It took her more than a year to work her way through the 2,865-paragraph, 825-page book.
Good enough is not good enough for Marincel.
She has been interpreting Mass, religious education, and other events for the Diocese of Fort Worth since 2015, but her skills are still growing. She said, “I want to do the best that I can. I don’t want to just say ‘good enough’ and leave it at that.”
Marincel didn’t intend to make a career of interpreting for the deaf. She began learning American Sign Language in high school and continued with college courses because she enjoyed it, although she expected to become a teacher.
But “God has interesting plans,” she recalled.
While studying American Sign Language, the cradle Catholic met deaf Catholics and attended Church events with the deaf community. Although the Diocese of Fort Worth instituted deaf ministry nearly 50 years ago, she realized many Catholics were not so fortunate. Some deaf Catholics had a limited understanding of the basic tenets of the faith due to limited access to interpretation.
Marincel realized the need, and her passion ignited.
“I love it more now than even when I started. Being able to connect with people in a Catholic setting, to be able to give them God’s word. To be able to convey the message, the connection, is really the big thing,” she said, explaining her joy in her job.
She continued, “I think the main thing is being able to work with different people every day and being able to respect them as who they are.”
Marincel’s first love is to interpret in religious settings, and her weekends are busy signing Masses for the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Diocese of Dallas.
During the workweek, Marincel’s assignments are in business and educational settings. She interprets college courses, on-the-job training, medical appointments, and more, but she schedules time to attend daily Mass most days.
She’s also proficient in Spanish, and she has interpreted Baptisms, weddings, and retreats from Spanish into American Sign Language.
Marincel claims to be the “shyest and quietest” among her six siblings, who grew up attending St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Lewisville. In fact, a personality test pegged her as 97 percent introvert, and she admitted that in new situations, she prefers to observe.
However, Connie Martin, diocesan coordinator of deaf ministry and special needs services, remembered Marincel “jumped right in” and volunteered to help interpret when she visited a deaf community event for the first time as a student in 2013.
“She never hesitated to try,” Martin remembered.
Marincel admitted her eagerness to participate in deaf ministry is “proof that God has a sense of humor.” Or evidence that passion pushes timidity aside.
Martin said the deaf community of the Diocese of Fort Worth “loves Julia,” and the feeling is mutual. A deep connection has formed because they share a language and a faith, said Marincel, who appreciates “their encouragement, their patience with me as I’ve been an interpreter.”
Besides learning signs from the community, she’s gained some life lessons during her work with the deaf.
The 27-year-old said, “The people that I’ve worked with in the deaf community have been at their faith for many more years than I have.” She’s observed “different tidbits of wisdom they have — I see them living it out in their lives, or they have given to me. They kind of push me in the right direction.”
Also, she said, working with the deaf has helped her grow more honest and genuine, plus helped her develop a better sense of humor when encountering challenges. She said, “Ever since I started going to Deaf Community Mass, I see that I could have a different perspective on life. When there’s a difficult situation, you can let it get you down or you can keep going and let it make you stronger.”
But the biggest benefit from interpreting Mass has “changed my life in a very real way,” according to Marincel.
She said before she was a sign language interpreter, “I could just show up to Mass and be present.” But when she prepares to interpret a Mass, she carefully studies the readings beforehand. “I have to think about what the Gospel means. And if there’s some message God wants to communicate with me through the Gospel, I won’t be able to miss it.”
On the other hand, signing the homily is the “fun part,” she said. Usually, interpreters are not provided with the text ahead of time, so “we just keep up. It’s not scripted. We fly with it.”
In her six years of interpreting for the diocese, she has some special memories. She interpreted a wedding, then a few years later interpreted the Baptism of the couple’s child.
Other favorite events have been interpreting retreats for deaf young people, “and honestly every Mass,” she said.
Now, the student has become a teacher, and she has taught sign language to other students, including her brother, seminarian Michael Marincel.
And as for the future, Marincel strives “to increase my skills and learn more about God” so that she’s prepared for “what God really wants, what would be the best for my own growth and for everyone else. It will be a journey, I’m sure.”