Gallaudet was a missionary with a difference. His work was not in steamy jungles or among primitive tribesmen. He did not sail the seas to reach it. His souls were not immigrants or gangsters. No, Thomas Gallaudet's subjects were silent people.
Like his father before him, he was concerned with the problems of the deaf. The older Gallaudet had founded a school for deaf mutes and married a deaf-mute named Sophia (Thomas's mother). In his turn, Thomas married a deaf mute, too--Elizabeth Budd, one of his college students. Clearly God was preparing him for his special ministry.
In 1850, he found a treatment: he started a deaf class in St. Stephens Church in New York which quickly outgrew its space. The next year, he was ordained as an Episcopal priest. The death of a deaf student from tuberculosis convinced him that more had to be done for the spiritual needs of those who cannot hear. With help from his denomination, he set out to improve his treatment by establishing a church for the deaf. On this day, October 3, 1852, he held the world's first church service for the deaf in the little Washington Square chapel of New York University.
Seven years later, his congregation bought a church building and rectory. The St. Ann's Church for the Deaf was a world's first. Under Gallaudet's leadership, St. Ann's undertook mission work for the deaf.
Thomas Gallaudet's deep spirituality can be seen not only in his concern for those who cannot hear, but in this verse from a lovely hymn he wrote.
Jesus, in sickness and in pain,
Be near to succor me,
My sinking spirit still sustain;
To Thee I turn, to Thee.
- Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987.
- Gallaudet, Edward Miner. Life of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet; founder of deaf-mute instruction in America. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1910.
- Various encyclopedia and internet sources such as cyberhymnal.org
Last updated April, 2007.