A Matter for Research – Jesuit Education & Deaf Sign Language

Jesuit Sources

A number of years ago a Jesuit friend put an article in my mail box.  Published in the New York Times Review “A Lesson of September 11” was written by a noted and frequent reviewer and commentator, Ingrid D. Rowland. The article was partly about the renowned Jesuit Athanasius Kircher who published a famous work (1669), “Ars Magna Sciendi” (The Great Art of Knowing).

At one point in the article, Rowland says, ” His (Kircher’s) Jesuit colleagues could ostensibly use ‘The Great Art of Knowing’ to convert the heathen to Christianity though this version of Esperanto in pictures. They were already hard at work in the seventeenth century trying to create a universal language of gesture…

The sign language they evolved may not have worked among the heathen, but it worked wonders with deaf children in Jesuit schools, and now works wonders with deaf people everywhere: American Sign Language is its direct descendant.”

Source: lifeprint.com

The article continues on along another vein, but what intrigues me is that business about

a) Jesuits teaching deaf children in their schools.

b) that they developed a sign language which was the forerunner of ASL [American Sign Language].

Was Rowland out in left-field with the Cardinals?   I have subsequently never been able to find any documents to substantiate either of these claims. Any researchers ready for the task?

Peter Monty, SJ is Chaplain for the Deaf in Ottawa.

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