St. Mary’s School for the Deaf History

The 2011-2012 School Year will be the 158th year St. Mary’s School for the Deaf has been serving the deaf community of Western New York. We are proud of our history.

On September 26, 1853, a Society to be known as the "LeCouteulx St. Mary's Benevolent Society for the Deaf and Dumb", was established to aid and instruct the deaf.

Louis LeCouteulx de Caumont, one of the trustees, presented to Bishop Timon an acre lot in the city of Buffalo for the purpose of establishing an institution for the education of the deaf. The Bishop purchased three small frame buildings to be moved to the lot. Four Sisters of St. Joseph from St. Louis came to the Buffalo Diocese at the request of Bishop Timon.

Four Sisters of St. Joseph from St. Louis came to Buffalo to teach the deaf. Among the four teachers were Mother Agnes Spencer, Superior; and Sister Rose Geghan.

Instruction for the deaf was begun with "four girls and a few boys".

Bishop Timon sent Sister Mary Anne Burke for specialized training to Mt. Airy State Institute for the Deaf in Philadelphia to become acquainted with the methods used to teach the deaf. She brought back with her The Combined Method, using signs, fingerspelling, and speech.

The Edward Street School was erected. Additions to this first building were made in 1866, 1871, 1876, 1878 and 1880. At this new school, there were eleven pupils.

Mother Mary Anne Burke was appointed Principal of the school.

Mother Mary Anne Burke obtained state aid for all pupils attending St. Mary's School for the Deaf over the age of twelve years. Younger pupils were provided for by the County.

Present site at Main and Dewey was purchased. A frame building on the grounds became the BRANCH HOUSE, and thirty boys, all under the age of twelve, were transferred there.

The school magazine, "The LeCouteulx Leader," was published, and ended publication in 1949.

Present Main Building was dedicated on December 8, 1898, by Bishop Quigley. In January, 1899, all pupils (77 boys and 75 girls) were moved to this school from Edward Street.

The Sixteenth Triennial Convention of the American Instructors of the Deaf was held in Buffalo at St. Mary's, July 2-8. At that time, Dr. Edward Miner Gallaudet, also President of Gallaudet College, in Washington, D.C., presided over the convention.

St. Mary's School for the Deaf Alumni Association was formally organized.

Bosco Hall Building and Trades Building were erected.

The St. Mary's Teachers' Preparation Program was established.

Mother M. Constantia Driscoll was appointed Principal of the school.

St. Mary's On-The-Lake, a summer home for deaf, orphaned children was purchased.

In August, the Third World Congress of Educators of the Deaf was held in Buffalo. Some 3,000 educators were present from all over the world. During this event, the National Association of the Deaf presented St. Mary's with a statue of Abbe de L'Epee (who had opened the first school for the deaf in Paris, France). This bronze monument is the work of Eugene A. Hannon, a deaf sculptor who began his study of art at St. Mary's. This statue stands to this day on Main Street in front of the school.

St. Joseph's Primary Hall was built as a Preschool (one of the first Preschools established to serve deaf children in the nation), and for the Primary classes.

The school name was legally changed to St. Mary's School for the Deaf. The Teacher Preparation Program, previously operated solely by the school to train its teachers became affiliated with the University at Buffalo.

St. Joseph's Boys' Camp was opened at Java Lake.

St. Anthony Hall, for Intermediate classes, Ungraded Units, and a Professional Library was built.

Sr. Rose Gertrude Kirk was appointed Principal of the school.

New Gym Building with an up-to-date gymnasium, Senior Girls' recreation rooms and homemaking units was built.

St. Joseph's College for the Deaf, located at 40 Agassiz Circle, opened with fifteen students as a division of Mount St. Joseph College (now known as Medaille College).

With the conversion of the University at Buffalo from a private university to a state affiliated university, the Teacher Preparation Program determined it was in the best interest of the program to affiliate with Canisius College.

Sister Nora Letourneau appointed Superintendent.

Recognizing the trends in education of the deaf and that traditional approaches had limited success with many students, the school converted its programs from a strictly oral approach to a Total Communication philosophy, which incorporated sign language and fingerspelling, as well as other communication strategies, into its overall educational program.

The Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, Michigan, established the Special School of the Future Project at Gallaudet University. St. Mary's was selected as one of six schools throughout the country to serve as a regional demonstration and outreach center. This program lasted, in various auspices, until 1989.

The Reginald Taylor Family contributed $1,000,000 toward the construction of Taylor Hall Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.

St. Mary's Square Condominiums opened, located on the site of Edward Street. Originally it was one of the early school buildings of St. Mary's School for the Deaf.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who operated the St. Joseph's School for Exceptional Children at Dunkirk, decided to close that school and turned over ownership of the land and buildings to St. Mary's School for the Deaf.

The school established the Northeast Cochlear Implant Center. Unfortunately, funding could not be found and the Center did not meet its original expectations and never became fully operational.

The name "Northeast Communication Achievement Center" was adopted as the umbrella title which St. Mary's School for the Deaf and the other centers (i.e. Cochlear Implant, Dunkirk, etc.) would operate. Again, the other centers could not be sustained through funding and programmatic efforts, and so the NCAC label was no longer used. Sister Nora Letourneau retired. The leadership of the school passed from the hands of the Sisters of St. Joseph to lay professionals with the hiring of the first Superintendent not from the religious community. Dr. George W. Severns appointed President.

The office of the Governor initiated a budget proposal to change St. Mary's funding, as well as other 4201 schools, from direct appropriation through the State Education Department to a reimbursement methodology. Through political action, this proposal was averted. Dr. Judith Kohl appointed acting President.

Dr. David Updegraff appointed President.

The Letourneau Recreational Park was completed on St. Mary's campus. This was in honor of Sister Nora Letourneau, last member of the Sisters of St. Joseph to serve as Superintendent.

The proposed budget presented by the office of the Governor eliminated direct state appropriations for St. Mary's and the other ten 4201 Schools throughout New York. Under this proposal, the schools were to be funded by tuition payments from local school districts which would have been reimbursed by the State Education Department. Costs to local school districts would have increased from approximately 13% of the per student cost at St. Mary's to approximately 40% of the educational costs, with 100% of the residential costs being charged to the County Department of Social Services. Most school districts would have opted to offer their own programs, and St. Mary's would have either had to close or would have been significantly reduced in size. Through a very active campaign conducted by the 4201 Schools Association and our own staff administration, and Board of Trustees, the crisis was averted and the Legislature was mobilized to support restoration of our funds.

Inasmuch as there have been three significant efforts in recent years to eliminate or significantly reduce direct state appropriations to St. Mary's and the other 4201 schools, and in view of the changing needs of the deaf and hard of hearing student population, the Board of Trustees has initiated a Strategic Planning Process, Implementation Phase, to set new strategic directions for the school's future.

Mr. Winfield McChord, Jr. appointed President

Ms. Patricia Velocci appointed Interim President.

Dr. William Page Johnson appointed Superintendent

Mr. Timothy M. Kelly appointed Superintendent

St. Mary’s School for the Deaf opened their historical museum/archives rooms

Budgetary cuts changed the way St. Mary’s School for the Deaf is funded. The money no longer is a direct appropriation from the State, but rather, the money is funneled through the school districts St. Mary’s serves.



Hosted 1st Annual I-90 Classic Basketball Tournament between St. Mary's School for the Deaf & Rochester School for the Deaf for Elementary and Secondary Boys and Girls Teams.


Abbe de L'Epee's 300th Birthday Celebration.


Opened new state-of-the-art Science Lab in the Main Building.


Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools & Programs for the Deaf, Inc. (CEASD) Accreditation Team Site Visit to St. Mary's School for the Deaf.


Rebirth of St. Mary's School for the Deaf Foundation.



St. Mary's School for the Deaf receives Full Five Year Certificate Accreditation from CEASD.


St. Mary's hosts 50th Annual Eastern Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association (ESDAA) Boys Track & Field Tournament.


Mayoral Candidate Debate held at St. Mary's School for the Deaf.



Opening of the Educational & Auditory Resources for Sound Program (EARS).


The Main Building Assembly Hall is dedicated to Sisters Loretta and Virginia Young and renamed the Young Assembly Hall.