Thomas Gaullaudet and Henry Winter Syles, whose feast day we celebrate today, were pioneers in education of the deaf in the United States.
Thomas Gaullaudet’s father introduced the idea of educating the deaf to America, perhaps because his wife, Sophie Fowler Gaulludet, was deaf. She served as a founding matron for the school that became Gaullaudet University.
Thomas Gaullaudet, an Episcopal priest, founded St. Ann’s School for the Deaf in New York City, and several other institutes of higher learning for those who have difficulty hearing.
Henry Winter Syles was attached to St. Ann’s School, and was the first deaf person ordained as a priest in America. It was against vociferous opposition; some thought that impairment of any kind was an impediment to ordination. He served as a priest in Philadelphia, where he founded the first church for the deaf, All Souls’.
Though Gaulludet was founded by Stephen Fowler, the trustees unanimously agreed that it should be named for Thomas Gaullaudet, to recognize his significant contributions to the field. His son Edward was the first superintendent.
Today, on its 99-acre campus in Northeast Washington, Gaulladet offers 25 certificates, master’s and doctoral degrees. It is the only barrier-free university in the world dedicated to the hearing impaired.
Let us give thanks for the life and work of Thomas Gaulladet and Henry Winter Syles.
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The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington