Then, and Now

In one of our earliest Mission newsletters we featured Father Cyril Axelrod.

Born deaf, the only child of a Jewish family, Cyril was sent to St Vincent’s School for the Deaf in Johannesburg as a three year old. There, in the devoted and loving care of the Sisters, he learnt to speak and lip-read, and completed his schooling. He went on, as a young adult, to become a Catholic, and later, a Priest in the Redemptorist Order.

Father Cyril described the first Zulu Mission Mass he said as one of the most moving occasions of his life – because of the deep appreciation of the people because he’d come to say Mass specially for them.

In the years that followed Father Cyril’s pastoral and teaching life expanded, including learning the Chinese language to minister to people in Asia. But he was also diagnosed with Usher Syndrome which gradually robbed him of his sight.

Father Cyril now lives in London, and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014. A return visit to South Africa to celebrate his 50 years of priesthood was cancelled due to Covid. But his Golden Jubilee has been crowned by the production of a book which includes 36 of his sketches and paintings. Under the title of ‘Light in Silent Darkness’ (the book is published by Redemptorist Pastoral Publications in Merrivale, KwaZulu-Natal).

The paintings are created from Father Cyril’s memory and his imagination – and cover Biblical scenes to still life. By using a technique involving strings to form outlines of his motifs, and more strings to identify colours, the images are created freehand.

Father Cyril’s hope is that the book will encourage readers to open the eyes of their hearts and minds, and acquaint themselves with those, like him, who cannot hear or see.

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