HIGGINS LAKE – For most of us, communication begins with our infant coos and cries. Our parents, siblings and others, hear those sounds and, most times, are able to anticipate our wants or needs. How though, would one communicate between the verbal and non-verbal? Imagine as a youngster, needing to learn and understand not only verbal communication but, how to share thoughts, ideas and family jokes with one or more siblings who are deaf.
Born August 1934 in Flint to Nelson and Katherine Tyler, Bernard Tyler was the fourth child and third son of eight children. The eldest son lost his hearing at about age two due to illness and the second son was born deaf. Communicating with his brothers was somewhat of a challenge for Bernard.
His dad was a mechanic, and his brothers also began careers in the auto industry. Bernard assumed that one day, he too would work in that industry. It was through a work friendship that one brother began learning American Sign Language (ASL.) His brothers also attended the Michigan School for the Deaf.
The three young men would join other youths in neighborhood games. Once during those games, Bernard’s brothers attempted to communicate that they wanted to do something else. At that time, he had no understanding of what they were signing to him. It was then, that he asked his brothers teach him their sign language.
Bernard Tyler grew up in St. Matthew Parish and attend St. Matthew School in Flint. While he was in eighth grade, Sister Ann David, IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) order, took him aside and asked if he’d ever thought about the priesthood.
He responded, “No, I want to play football and go to college.”
She and family members encouraged him to speak to the priest.
He began his studies at St. Augustine Seminary in Saugatuck, continuing on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Villanova University, studied theology at Augustinian College in Washington, D.C. and received his Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies at Loyola University in New Orleans. Father Bernard Tyler was ordained into the Order of St. Augustine in Chicago on June 7, 1961.
Father Tyler had returned to Flint, and at one point, he received a letter from the Archdiocese of Chicago asking him to come there and sign masses for a parish. He spoke with his Provincial, and was encouraged to go, as that too was “church work.” While serving the Archdiocese of Chicago, he also worked as Director and Chaplain with the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Deaf and Hearing Impaired.
While serving as pastor in Chicago, Father Tyler said he met some “marvelous children of deaf couples,” who helped him improve his ASL abilities. When he returned home for holidays, his brothers were amazed at how proficient he’d become.
Fr. Tyler met a family in Chicago whose son wanted to play hockey. Sadly, the youngster had a neuroblastoma, and passed away. It was through that child’s dad that Fr. Tyler learned about a hockey school for deaf children, founded by Chicago businessman Irv Tiahnybik, whose own son was deaf, and Chicago Black Hawks Hockey Hall of Famer, Stan Mikita. Father Tyler coached with Mikita, signing Mikita’s instructions to the children, helping them improve their skills. Mikita was amazed at how quickly signing to them had increased and sped up their understanding and knowledge of the sport. The youngsters were a bit stunned that a priest could skate!
Almost 50 years later, the school still carries the hockey legend’s name, and has become a direct feed for the U.S. Deflympic Hockey Team. It has been noted that Father Bernie still has a love of hockey and perhaps may have a Detroit Red Wings memorabilia collection.
Fr. Tyler spent seven years working for the Archdiocese of Chicago before returning to Michigan and the Lansing Diocese. Over time, he served several parishes in that diocese, entering retirement status in June 2001.
In addition to ASL, Fr. Tyler, though he understates it, is an accomplished organist and pianist, with a love for all types of music from classical to contemporary.
Fr. Bernie and his family always enjoyed visiting northern Michigan and he and his brother purchased a home that just happened to be in the Diocese of Gaylord. His plans were to “live there year-round, learn to fish, do some traveling, reading, writing, gardening, and remodel the home.” Fr. Tyler had lived there three years when he received a letter from the diocese… “Dear Father Tyler, Welcome to the diocese of Gaylord, we need help! Bishop Cooney”
Fr. Tyler has been serving the Gaylord Diocese for 18 years, currently as pastor/administrator of St. James the Greater and St. Hubert parishes. He continues to use his skills in ASL during mass at St. James, as he has a parishioner there who is non-verbal. Parishioners have expressed how much they appreciate his faith, caring, counseling, wit and how fortunate the community is to have him in our area.