Later this month, on August 27, the Episcopal Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts commemorates Thomas Gallaudet, of whom it says:
Ministry to the deaf in the Episcopal Church begins with Gallaudet. Without his genius and zeal for the spiritual well-being of deaf persons, it is improbable that a history of ministry to the deaf in the Episcopal Church could be written. He has been called “The Apostle to the Deaf.”
In a previous post, we discussed Thomas Gallaudet’s connection with St. Paul’s Church, and how for 125 years a ministry to the deaf was a significant part of our witness in the city of Albany. We have also described two other figures in that ministry: Thomas Berry (the St. Paul’s curate who, in the early 1870s, organized the deaf ministry at St. Paul’s Madison Avenue mission) and Harry Van Allen (a St. Paul’s communicant who became missionary to the deaf throughout New York State). Today’s topic is yet another member of St. Paul’s who ministered to the deaf both here and across the State.
William Maurice Lange, Jr. was born in 1909. At age ten, he contracted spinal meningitis and lost his hearing. He was educated at the Albany School for the Deaf on Pine Avenue, and like Harry Van Allen, attended Gallaudet College, graduating in 1934. Lange married a college classmate, and the young couple settled in Albany, where William worked in his father’s pharmacy on Dove Street. William Lange had not been raised in the Episcopal Church, but he was attracted to the programs for the deaf at St. Paul’s Church. Through his attendance here, he found himself called to full-time ministry. While preparing for ordination, he led services as a lay reader at St. Paul’s.
With the support of our vestry, William Lange was ordained a deacon in 1940, and a priest in 1943. Both ceremonies were held here at St. Paul’s. Years later, Lange would ponder the coincidence in the date of his ordination:
Father Lange’s predecessor in this unique missionary field was the Rev. Henry [sic] Van Allen of Albany. On Sunday, Feb. 9, 1919, the latter conducted in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a service “commemorative of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Mission of the Deaf, and of his work as a missionary.”
It was during that same week that Father Lange became deaf after being stricken with spinal meningitis. And it was just 24 years later, to the week, that Father Lange took over from the Rev. Van Allen.
He often reflects on these coincidences and asks himself, “Could God have been preparing me for this work?” [Times Union 17 Feb 1952]
So, in 1943, William Lange began a ministry very much like that of Harry Van Allen. From his home base in Syracuse, he officiated at an average of 275 services each year, with one thousand communicants in twenty-two congregations spread over an area of 43,600 square miles in the dioceses of Albany, Central New York, Rochester and Western New York. In 1944, he reported, “I cover over 17,000 miles a year by train, bus and shoe-leather.” By 1952, with access to a car, he traveled 32,500 miles.
The Diocese of Albany honored Lange’s service by making him an honorary canon in 1963; in 1967, Gallaudet University granted him an honorary doctorate. We don’t know much of the later years of his ministry, but he was active until his retirement in 1976, at age 67. William Lange died in Syracuse in 2009, shortly after his 100th birthday.