July 21 – THE DEAF-BLIND PUPILS
THE DEAF-BLIND PUPILS
At the end of the 19th century, the Daughters of Wisdom had opened a centre at Lamay, near Poitiers, to welcome children and young girls who were deaf or blind. A book of Louis Arnauld, professor of literature at the university of Poitiers, Ames en prison (souls in prison), with several editions between 1900 and 1926, did much to let known the success brought about by Sr. Marguerite with Marie Heurtin and by Sr. Saint Louis with Marthe, the sister of Marie. Lamay was the first French school for the deaf and dumb. A similar one for boys was lacking. Now on 21 February 1925, Mr Ruez, foreman in an industrial estate at Le Creusot introduced to Br. Benoit-Labre, Director of the Institution of Poitiers, his handicapped child Bernard. At seven years of age a tool had fallen on his head and his human functions got deranged: meningitis, tuberculosis of the vertebra, general atrophy, loss of hearing, blindness, forgetfulness of articulated language. Pinned down to a hospital bed for eighteen months he suffered real martyrdom. When he could be up again his father led him to Poitiers. With the help of Br. Benoit-Labre and then Br. Douillard, the child made rapid progress. Gifted with prodigious intelligence, he became a highly educated man capable of reading treatises on philosophy and theology. He was also a sure traveller with his fingers on an embossed world map and a winner at chess against any opponent.
On 21 July 1926, one and a half years after the arrival of Bernard Ruez at Poitiers, the first congress of the Federation of Institutions of the deaf and blind in France (the FISAF), which was held in Nantes, decided to create the equivalent of what already existed at Lamay for girls. The plaque at the school in Poitiers thereafter bore the inscription: Regional Institution of the deaf and bind and deaf-blind. After the Second World War, the street leading to it changed its name and became the avenue of Liberation. There could not be a better name.
In 1937, it was the turn of Richard Schmitt, come from his native Lorraine at 9 years age, to be liberated from his triple prison. Then there would be Marius, Claude, Joseph, … In all about thirty deaf-blind were admitted at Poitiers until their transfer to two different places: children to Lamay in 1968; adults to LaPeyrouse in 1972 (See 26 February).
At Poitiers, Br. Douillard was assisted by other Brothers: Odilon Morio, Franc;ois Dantec and Rene ThomasReaching the Institution· in 1933, Br. Thomas – usually called by that name- was never to leave the world of the deaf-blind. Charity, devotion? He dreaded those words. With his sweet voice and smiling face, he only spoke of friendship and the joy of loving. Of peace too, which he wanted to convey to his “friends” closed up in their night and experiencing terrible fits of revolt. In 1956, the beautiful book of colonel Remy, Les mains revetues de lumiere [Hands clad in light] made known to the readers the emotional letters exchanged between Br. Thomas and the mother of a deaf-blind child by name Franc;ois Thebaut, familiarly called Francinet. Also known through many articles and conferences, Br. Thomas enlarged his public on 15 February 1967 when, within the framework of a televised series Les Coulisses de !’exploit [Behind the scenes of feats]a broadcast was dedicated to him as well as to Sr. Anne of Lamay under the title Silence sans lumiere. One of the many dailies which made the reporting the next day wrote: “The result obtained through patience and generosity is more than an feat”.