Not long ago, this would have been unthinkable; canon law prohibited ordaining men who were blind or had other physical impairments.
But that was then. This is now:
A visitor attending Mass at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church might not notice anything unusual about the celebrant. Father Bernard J. Ezaki walks the center aisle of the massive church in Easton. He climbs the steps leading to the altar like any other priest or liturgical minister. He recites prayers with the normal vigor and rhythm of a cleric. People might notice Ezaki doesn’t use the Sacramentary to read the prayers, or that Ezaki holds a micro-cassette in his left hand, and that technology contains all the Mass prayers and readings. He also distributes holy Communion to the faithful just like any other priest, though he has one rule: Be still. “I need a big landing field,” he said. “I tell them, especially at funerals, ‘I don’t want to put my fingers in your mouth.’” If you haven’t caught on by now, here is what you need to know about Ezaki: He is legally blind; he has been that way since birth. “I’m grateful,” the 60-year-old priest said during an interview in his office, where decorations include a statuette of Stuart, the short, one-eyed minion from the “Despicable Me” movies. “If I could see well, I’d be in trouble. I might not even be a priest today.” Next year, Ezaki will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his ordination as a priest in the Diocese of Allentown, which encompasses five counties in eastern Pennsylvania. Spokesman Matt Kerr, who has served the diocese since 2000, said Ezaki is the only blind priest in the diocese as far as he knows. “It’s possible there were others, men who became blind as they aged,” Kerr said. “But I can’t say one way or the other.” A 1991 article in the Allentown Morning Call newspaper cites another spokesman saying Ezaki was the first blind priest to be ordained in the diocese. According to an article by Independent Catholic News, an online news outlet in the United Kingdom, church law before 1983 forbade the ordination of blind candidates and those with other physical impairments. Ezaki’s blindness resulted from being given too much oxygen following his premature birth. That led to “retinopathy of prematurity,” a blinding eye disorder that can affect premature infants and lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness. The lack of vision has never slowed him down.