Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle, Priests, 1902 and 1890
Ministry to the deaf in The Episcopal Church begins with Thomas Gallaudet and his protégé, Henry Winter Syle. Without Gallaudet’s 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 3rd, 1822, in Hartford. He was the eldest son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founder of the West Hartford School for the Deaf, and his wife, Sophia, who was deaf.
After graduating from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Thomas announced his desire to become a priest in the Episcopal Church. His father, who was a Congregationalist minister, 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 a deaf woman named Elizabeth Budd.
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 Rector 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 continuing into its merger with the parish of Calvary-St. George in 1976. As a result of this ministry, mission congregations were established in many cities. Gallaudet died on August 27th, 1902.
One fruit of Gallaudet’s ministry was Henry Winter Syle. Born in China, he had lost his hearing as a young child as the result of scarlet fever. Educated at Trinity College, Hartford; St. John’s College, Cambridge, England; and Yale University, Syle was a brilliant student, who persisted in his determination to obtain an education in spite of his deafness and fragile health. He was encouraged by Gallaudet to offer himself for ordination as a priest, and was supported in that call by Bishop William Bacon Stevens of Pennsylvania, against the opposition of many who believed that the impairment of one of the senses was an impediment to ordination. Syle was ordained as a deacon in 1876, the first deaf person to be ordained in this church, and later ordained as a priest in 1883. In 1888, he built All Souls Church for the Deaf in Philadelphia, the first Episcopal church constructed especially for deaf persons. He died on January 6th, 1890.
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