August 27: Thomas Gallaudet, 1902, with Henry Winter Syle, 1890
August 27, 2010 15 Comments
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About this commemoration
Ministry to the deaf in the Episcopal Church begins with Thomas Gallaudet. Without his genius and zeal for the spiritual well-being of deaf persons, it is improbable that a history of ministry to the deaf in the Episcopal Church could be written. He has been called “The Apostle to the Deaf.”
Gallaudet was born June 3, 1822, in Hartford, the eldest son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founder of the West Hartford School for the Deaf, whose wife, Sophia, was a deaf-mute.
After graduating from Trinity College, Hartford, Thomas announced his intention of being confirmed and becoming a priest in the Episcopal Church. His father prevailed upon him to postpone a final decision, and to accept a teaching position in the New York Institution for Deaf-Mutes. There he met and married Elizabeth Budd, a deaf-mute. Gallaudet was ordained deacon in 1850 and served his diaconate at St. Stephen’s Church, where he established a Bible class for deaf persons.
Ordained a priest in 1851, Gallaudet became Assistant at St. Ann’s Church, where he conceived a plan for establishing a church that would be a spiritual home for deaf people. This became a reality the following year, with the founding of St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes. The congregation was able to purchase a church building in 1859, and it became a center for missionary work to the deaf. As a result of this ministry, mission congregations were established in many cities. Gallaudet died on August 27, 1902.
One fruit of Gallaudet’s ministry was Henry Winter Syle, who had lost his hearing as the result of scarlet fever. Educated at Trinity; St. John’s, Cambridge; and Yale (B.A. and M.A.); Syle was a brilliant student, who persisted in his determination to obtain an education, despite his handicap and fragile health. He was encouraged by Gallaudet to seek Holy Orders, and, having moved to Philadelphia, was supported by Bishop Stevens, against the opposition of many who believed that the impairment of one of the senses was an impediment to ordination. Syle was ordained in 1876, the first deaf person to receive Holy Orders in this Church. In 1888, he built the first Episcopal church constructed especially for deaf persons. He died on January 6, 1890.
Collect of the Day
O Loving God, whose will it is that everyone should come to you and be saved: We bless your holy Name for your servants Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle, whose labors with and for those who are deaf we commemorate today, and we pray that you will continually move your Church to respond in love to the needs of all people; through Jesus Christ, who opened the ears of the deaf, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
2 Thessalonians 1:3–4
Preface of Pentecost
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.