August 27: Thomas Gallaudet, 1902, with Henry Winter Syle, 1890

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About this commemoration

Thomas Hopkins Hallaudet, by George F Wright, 1851
Thomas Hopkins Hallaudet, by George F Wright, 1851

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.


Isaiah 35:3–6a

2 Thessalonians 1:3–4

Mark 7:32–37

Psalm 25:7–14

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.

16 thoughts on “August 27: Thomas Gallaudet, 1902, with Henry Winter Syle, 1890

  1. Readings. New Psalm: This seems to fit the commemoration.
    New New Testament Reading: 2 verses! Maybe we can find a few more verses? The best that can be said about assigning only two verses of Scripture for a commemoration of missioners to the Deaff? … at least when interpreted in American Sign Language for the deaf it won’t take very long. 🙂

    Bio: Although the bio begins with a strong statement regarding Fr. Gallaudet it neglects to mention Fr. Syle. If the two of them are to be remembered on the same day it seems appropriate that the opening statement mention them both. I would add a sentence about him.

    Praagraphs 3 & 4: There are references to Saint Stephen’s Church, Saint Ann’s Church, and Saint Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes. I happen to know that they are in New York City, but that is not mentioned.
    Paragraph 3: Fr. Gallaudet graduated from Trinity College, Hartford. What would it hurt to add: Connecticut?
    Paragraph 4: He became ‘Assistant’? Assistant what? The only canonical title is Assistant to the Rector. Is that what is meant?
    Paragraph 5: Fr. Syle attended Yale College and apparently one of Yale’s graduate schools, too. But this is the only bio in HWHM that I can think of that lists degrees in parentheses (ex: B.A. and M.A.). For the sake of consistency they should be dropped here – or, conversely, added everywhere. For instance, why are not degrees mentioned for the other colleges that Fr. Syle attended? Oh, and I would identify Trinity and St. John’s, Cambridge. It is Trinity, Hartford, Connecticut, and not Trinity, Dublin, Ireland (or Trinity, Toronto, Canada) right; and it is St. John’s, Cambridge, England?

    And a big ‘thank you’ to previous bio authors: Each of these priests has a “He died on …” sentence.

  2. There was a ministry to the deaf booth, with information about Gallaudet, at the 2006 General Convention. Was there in 2009? –I just reviewed what I learned there (that he used an oral communication method developed in France–the Scots would not share theirs) at Wikipedia:
    “… Gallaudet’s wish to become a professional minister was put aside when he met Alice Cogswell, the nine-year-old deaf daughter of a neighbor, Dr. Mason Cogswell.[8] He taught her words by writing them with a stick in the dirt. Then Cogswell asked Gallaudet to travel to Europe to study methods for teaching deaf students, especially those of the Braidwood family in Edinburgh, Scotland. Gallaudet found the Braidwoods unwilling to share knowledge of their oral communication method and himself financially limited. At the same time, he was not satisfied that the oral method produced desirable results. While still in Great Britain, he met Abbé Sicard, head of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris, and two of its deaf faculty members, Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu. Sicard invited Gallaudet to Paris to study the school’s method of teaching the deaf using manual communication. Impressed with the manual method, Gallaudet studied teaching methodology under Sicard, learning sign language from Massieu and Clerc, who were both highly educated graduates of the school.”

  3. I am confused. Is the photograph that of the Rev. Thomas Gallaudet or that of his father Thomas Hopkin Gallaudet? On Wiki, it says that the portrait is that of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, the father of the man whom we commemorate today.

    St. Ann Church for the Deaf ended its existance as an separate parish in 1976 when it became part of the parish of Calvary-St. George, New York, New York.

    • The pictures on the website that I finally managed to get posted correctly are those of The Revds Gallaudet and Syle. Who the gentleman is on this blog page is anyone’s guess. 🙂

      • According to the caption, he is someone called Hallaudet. I did a Google search on that name, but the only hits were the result of digitizing errors by GoogleBooks that changed the first letter from a G to an H.

  4. In the caption to the Propers, I suggest substituting “and” for “with”, to conform with current practice.

    I suggest showing that Henry Winter Syle was born in 1846 in Shanghai.

    In the fifth paragraph, the reference to “St. John’s, Cambridge” should be expanded to “St. John’s College, Cambridge”, because of the many parishes with that name, and because that would help identify it as the University of Cambridge, in England. I also suggest adding
    “, England”, since Cambridge, Mass. has TEC connections, and a seminary.

  5. What guidance or assistance is given to congregations to make worship and programs accessible to all participants and officiants? Our worship spaces often have so many interior steps, How could anyone using a wheel chair participate actively?

  6. As a late-deafened woman, I have to tell you that deaf people find the term “deaf-mute” offensive. “Mute” implies inability to make sounds, and most deaf people are far from mute.

  7. I am so happy to see this commemoration! I have 2 hearing friends, both of whom received degrees at Gallaudet, and both of whom are active in ministries to the deaf. As the Episcopal Church is known for our spirit of inclusion, this is absolutely an appropriate commemoration.

  8. Having posted a comment, I now have access to other comments and I’m feeling a little foolish. While I would certainly advocate for Gallaudet’s and Syle’s inclusion, I am just as certainly no editorial authority.

  9. With a quick google search I found that Gallaudet University has a very extensive collection of the writings of Henry Winter Syles. Their bio has a few more facts as well: “he was the first deaf person to receive a degree from a hearing college” (St. John’s College); “he opened a free night school for the deaf in New York;” and he “helped establish the Aged and Infirm Deaf Mutes in Philadelphia.” I presume the latter was an association to provide support and assistance to a marginalized group of people who had become further at risk due to age and illness. A former librarian, Syles appears to have been a prolific writer and note-taker. Gallaudet’s collection of his sermons, letters and other documents is open to the public. The closing comment on his bio is, “Both the Church and the Deaf community lost a very important man on January 6, 1890 to pneumonia.

  10. This commemoration should definitely be retained! Since Thomas Gallaudet’s time if ministry, there have been less than 50 deaf clergy ordained in the Episcopal Church. I am pleased that the Diocese of Western Massachusetts will likely ordain one of our transitional Deacons to the Sacred Order of the Priesthood within the next several months, in order to continue this ministry, and to remind the church that this mission is NOT finished!

    Without the commemoration of Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle, I fear that we are in danger of forgetting that, and that would be a tragedy. Inspired by their witness, aided by their prayers, the Episcopal Church can recommit itself to the mission they began in our midst, something for which we devoutly pray, and follow where the Lord us leading us in this time and place.

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