St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf, Bronx, New York, 1886

Madame Victorine Boucher (1812-1883)

St. Joseph’s Institute for the Improved Instruction of Deaf Mutes, Fordham. Incorporated in 1875.
It is provided by a statute of the State of New York, passed April 29, 1875, that whenever a deaf-mute child under the age of twelve years shall become, or be liable to become, “a charge for its maintenance on any of the towns or counties of the State,” such child, upon application of its parent, guardian, or friend, setting forth the facts, shall be placed in one of four institutions named in the act (only one of which, the Le Couteulx St. Mary’s, at Buffalo, is under Catholic direction),”or in any institution of the State for the education of deaf mutes”; and the children placed in such institutions are to be maintained at the expense of the county from whence they came, not exceeding a stated sum, until they attain the age of twelve years. Thereafter, and until they have attained seventeen years, they become pupils of the State, upon procuring a certificate for admission from the Superintendent of Public Instruction at Albany, and their board and training are paid for by the State.

A very large proportion of the deaf-mute children, beneficiaries under the statute in question, are of Catholic parentage and have been baptized Catholics. In non-Catholic institutions they have no opportunity of being taught their religion, and grow up in entire ignorance of it. In the uninstructed deaf mute certain instincts of an animal nature incline to strong development, and it takes long and patient training and teaching to bring them under habitual restraint. The salutary influences of religious teaching can be of great assistance to this end, and, as the instruction of this unfortunate class is accomplished from the beginning through the eye and by object-teaching, it is manifest that the Catholic religion must be particularly well adapted to their wants and capacities.

Accordingly Madame Victorine Boucher, a French Catholic lady, sought to do in this respect for the city of New York what had before been done for Buffalo. Assisted by a number of charitable ladies, who formed themselves into an association under her direction, she established at Fordham, in the fall of 1869, the St. Joseph’s Institute. In 1874 a branch house was opened in Brooklyn. The undertaking had to struggle in the beginning with great difficulties, and, but for the loans advanced by friends from time to time, would probably have sunk under the weight of its pecuniary difficulties.

In 1875 an act was passed by which the institution was empowered to receive county pupils, and by a later act, passed June 2, 1877, it was placed upon the same footing with similar institutions in the State. About 1877 a branch institution for boys was opened at Throgg’s Neck. Madame Boucher, after having presided over the institution thirteen years, died in April, 1883.

The institution deserves to be ranked among Catholic charities, because it specially attends, during other than school hours, to the instruction of Catholic pupils in Catholic doctrine and practice, as in any other branch of useful knowledge. There is a pretty and well-equipped chapel on the premises. Rev. Father Freeman, S.J., who is familiar with the sign-language, attends as chaplain. The management prefers to receive Catholic children only, but accepts others exceptionally upon an express and urgent request for their admission.

Non-Catholic inmates do not attend religious worship, and are assembled in the parlor while the Catholics are in the chapel. This once led to a complaint on the part of one of the former. “What is there in your Catholic teaching,” she asked, ” that you are unwilling to let me know it?” Most of the children return home to spend the summer ; the few girls at present remaining were examined, in the presence of the writer of these lines, on questions from the catechism, and wrote down correct answers. The more frequently they approach the sacraments the more docile, tractable, and kind they become. During the official year ending September 30, 1885, tne number of pupils connected with the school was 271. They were supported as follows: by the State, 160; by counties, 87; by relatives or the institution, 24.

“The Catholic Charities of New York,” The Catholic World XLIII, No. 258 (September 1886): 815-816.

Victorine Boucher was born in France in 1812. In 1837 she joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary and taught in their schools before coming to the United States. The Daughters were a unique community, founded during the French Revolution. At a time when the revolutionary regime outlawed religious habits and garb, they wore secular clothing and were addressed as “Madame,” not “Sister.” They continued this practice after the revolution to this day. Their charism is “to provide for the continuance of religious life under all circumstances and in any milieu.” They have worked in the United States since 1851.

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