Father Thomas Coughlin was born deaf in Malone, New York (near the Quebec border) on May 22, 1947. He attended the Rochester School for the Deaf and obtained a high school diploma from St. Mary School for the Deaf in Buffalo, New York. In 1972, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. He earned a master’s degree in religious studies from The Catholic University of America in 1976.
Father Coughlin was ordained as the first deaf priest in North America in 1977 by Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore, Maryland. After working four years as a home missionary priest for the International Catholic Deaf Association, he raised funds and purchased a bankrupt resort hotel on Fourth Lake in Old Forge, New York in the fall of 1981. He converted it into Camp Mark Seven, a thriving Catholic deaf youth and adult program. In 1987, he was transferred to the Honolulu Diocese and worked as a chaplain for the deaf. While in Honolulu, he obtained a nursing degree.
In 1996, Cardinal O’Connor of the Archdiocese of New York invited Father Coughlin to set up a house of studies for deaf seminarians in Yonkers, New York. Fourteen deaf and hearing men entered the formation program. In 2002, following the death of Cardinal O’Connor, the program was transferred to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, California under the auspices of then-Archbishop William Levada. Father Coughlin was assigned as pastor of St. Benedict parish for the deaf in San Francisco.
In the spring of 2004, Bishop Allen Vigneron of the Diocese of Oakland, California, erected the deaf community as a private association of the faithful, one of the first steps leading to the formation of a religious institute, named the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate.