‘Those Who Have Ears Ought to (Be Able) to Hear'
New Technology Helping More Diocesan Parishioners
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
November 17, 2022
ROCKFORD—Father Carl Beekman, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, here, was familiar with hearing loop technology before having it put in place at St. Anthony’s this fall.
Some years ago, he had a similar system installed at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Cary when he was serving there. One gentleman from that parish, he says, absolutely did not believe the new technology would work and expressed his skepticism. But once it was installed and he heard the results, the man teared up with emotion at being able to hear the Mass prayers clearly.
St. Anthony parishioners began to benefit from the system on Sept. 27, and again, the results have been impressive.
“It’s really made a change,” their pastor says. “People are now more attentive. They haven’t heard at all and have just been checked out (during Mass). Now they’re really locked in. The word’s gone out like wildfire.”
Sound bounces all over in the big, old, ornate church, even after the parish removed one sound obstacle, a “candle shed” that before smokeless candles had kept smoke from devotional candles from blackening the walls and ceilings above. 
The sound also can be “tinny,” Father Beekman says.
He requested bids and ideas from several places. One com pany told him the church needed a whole new sound system — a prohibitively expensive proposition. Another company quoted a big price for a hearing loop system, and said they’d have to cut through the beautiful tiles in the aisle to install it.
The priest found Thunder Hearing in Elgin on the web, and they came out to look at the sound system and possibility of hearing loops.
“They are like, total experts,” Father Beekman says, adding that he especially appreciated their offer of a demonstration ahead of time. That demonstration so impressed a dozen or so of his hard-of-hearing parishioners that it prompted donations toward the system. 
The company installed the loops under the sanctuary carpeting and, working from underneath the floor, did not have to cut through any tiles. 
They are scheduled in the next month or so to install hearing loops at Holy Family Parish. That larger, wider church will require many more loops and a bigger price tag. But people who came to the demonstration there also were thrilled, Holy Family pastor, Father Phillip Kaim, says.
Father Beekman says he “didn’t blink” at the cost for St. Anthony’s system.
“Here, it was only $10,000 for the whole thing,” he says. “That was some of the best money spent. Plus, they give you so many headsets. They’re just wonderful; I can’t say enough about them.” 
Meet the Thunders
Megan Thunder and her husband came to hearing loop technology in hopes of helping a family member.
“Steve first got into hearing loop systems when he was looking for a better way for his grandfather (a WWII vet) to hear at church,” Megan says. “As an acoustical engineer he thought if anyone could help, he could. His grandfather attended Mass weekly and, with Steve’s dad being an audiologist, had the best hearing aid money could buy. But he still couldn’t hear well at church. 
“Steve tried the traditional methods of assistive listening with his grandfather, but either the receivers weren’t clean, didn’t work, or the ushers didn’t know where to find them. Steve searched for alternative options and found that hearing loops were very popular in the UK.
“He called around and nobody in the U.S. knew what they were or wanted an extraordinary amount of money to figure it out. So, he decided to do it himself (and) went to work learning how to design and install them. 
“Unfortunately, his grandfather passed away before getting to use the hearing loop, but the Thunder family installed a memorial loop system at his previous parish, St. Gilbert’s in Grayslake, to continue helping others in the name of his grandfather.”
Thunder Hearing & Sound (formerly called Assistive Hearing Systems) has designed and installed almost 400 hearing loop systems since 2010, Megan says.
“We have installed loop systems for small counter spaces, meeting rooms, social halls, classrooms, large theaters and of course, lots of house of worship sanctuaries,” she says.
“Two of our most notable projects to date included the 6,000-seat Elliott Hall of Music space on Purdue University’s campus (and) 29 classrooms all in the same building when Purdue built the Active Learning Center building a few years ago. On the smaller side, we work with a manufacturer of help points (sometimes called blue light emergency phone) to integrate a hearing loop into their stations.”
Megan adds, “It is a special moment when you speak with someone attending Mass for the first time using the hearing loop system, and they approach you with tears in their eyes because they heard every word with clarity. We even had a user excited that they could hear the host being broken!”
A true believer
Father Beekman, who agrees that hearing aids should be looked at as being in the same category as eyeglasses, notes that “several guys” who don’t want to admit to any hearing loss and don’t have hearing aids now use the hearing loop headsets at least for homilies. Others are benefitting right through their hearing aids.
“Again, if you can’t hear … This was so heroic about those people. (In the) latter part of their lives, not hearing a thing at Mass, but still they came. That’s mind blowing. That takes a lot of faith,” Father Beekman says. “It’s great because now they’re volunteering (and) getting back to normal. It’s really changed everything.
“I think the Church needs desperately to do this. People can’t hear and they’re not going to grow and become saints. I think every church should have it.”


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