When I heard last week on NPR that an Italian priest who “helped the deaf” in the late 1800s had been canonized as a saint, I couldn’t help wondering: was he at the Milan Conference of 1880, a conference of “educators of deaf-mutes” who moved to forbid sign language and mandate oralism.
Filippo Smaldone lived from 1848 to 1923 in Italy, and the infamous Milan Conference was held in 1880. According to one source, he founded “institutes for deaf-mutes” (not necessarily a disparaging term back then) in 1885 and 1887, but he had already worked with “deaf-mutes” as far back as the 1870s. He might truly be worthy of sainthood if he had rebuked the Milan Conference and promoted deaf people’s preferred mode of communication, but somehow I doubt that happened, because that would have gone totally against the grain.
Just think what an irony it would be if our dear Father Smaldone had been one of the killers of sign language and “got away with murder” by being canonized as a saint!