Historically, sign language wasn’t seen as a true language and hence there were no teaching institutions that used sign language – until 1760.

Charles-Michel de l’Épée was known as the Father of Deaf for more than one reason. Not only was he a Catholic priest, but he also founded the first ever sign language school.

During a charitable foray into the slums of Paris, by chance he came across two young deaf sisters who communicated with sign language.

Deciding to dedicate himself to the education and Salvation of the deaf, l’Épée founded a school so they could understand and receive the Sacraments and avoid going to Hell. There he developed an instructional method using sign language to teach the French language and religion, making his school free and open to the public for all. As a consequence, deaf people were able to defend themselves in French court for the first time, too.

One of his most famous students, Laurent Clerc, went on to co-found the first school for the deaf in North American using l’Épée’s methods, bringing with him the sign language that went on to become modern American Sign Language.

l’Épée taught his students religion in sign language so they could receive the Sacraments. But is sign language valid for the Liturgy and Mass to be celebrated in? Yes!

Click to here watch a Catholic Mass in sign language, and read the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments answer to that very question.

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