When Ellen was either 7 or 8 years old she caught Scarletina (also known as Scarlet Fever) which left her profoundly Deaf, but because she did have those years of influence with the English language she did have something to build on as far as communicating was concerned. Ellen started at St Mary’s Dominican school for the Deaf, Cabra in 1851. She became an assistant teacher’s aide around 1856 at a very young age and stayed there until 1864.
In August 1867 she became the first nun allowed to take vows with what was seen as a disability because she could not fulfil her requirements of a religious sister to announce her vows to god and be able to hear the word of the lord. In 1871 a twelve year old Deaf girl named Catherine was accepted into St Mary’s Convent, Maitland N. S. W after her father (Patrick Sullivan) requested for her to get a Catholic education. The sister’s at the convent immediately wrote for assistance and Sister Mary Gabriel volunteered.
Sister Mary Gabriel was sent to The Star of The Sea Convent when she arrived in N. S. W in 1875 where Catherine Sullivan who was aged 16 now and Elizabeth Rewault aged 10 were waiting for her. Only thirty children were admitted between 1875-1885, but by 1886 they required a new school, Sister Mary wrote to Cardinal Moran and asked them to look into the amount of Deaf children not receiving a good Catholic education and a school was built in Waratah, Newcastle called ‘Waratah Deaf and Dumb Institution’, but it was changed to ‘Rosary Convent, school for Deaf”.
The school used the method of Manualism to teach the students until a congress of teachers of the Deaf in Milan in 1880 made the decision that all schools for the Deaf were to be taught through Oralism. In 1892 a new teacher named Sister Mary Mechtilde Corcoran that was trained in Oralism in England came to the convent, even though Sister Mary Gabriel Hogan had already expressed her negative views about Oralism and had gone to extreme lengths to keep Manualism in the schools.
Sister Mary Gabriel threatened to go back to Ireland if Manualism was taken out of the school, but she did not get the response she was after, the Bishop wrote that he would accept any decision she made and even pay for her ticket home, but Sister Mary Gabriel stayed at the school. In 1910 the Sister’s health declined and had her friend (who was also a teacher at the school) Marianne Hanney stay with her at all times. In 1914 the sister’s travelled to Sydney for the last time for a reunion with former students and it was recorded in the 1915 Report.
The Report included an extract of her eulogy which was: “She came to labour for those similarly afflicted to herself, and began in a humble but earnest way the great work of hidden worth, which she continued almost to her last earthly hours. She was in all truth a messenger of glad tidings to such of the Catholic Deaf mutes as sought her services. All her thoughts and interests in life were for her silent children, who looked to her as a mother, and sought her counsel and guidance long after their years of school-life had passed away.
To her life-work – the education of the Deaf and Dumb – Sr M. Gabriel was ever a pillar of light and strength, one whose place many cannot fill – whose work many can scarce do … Though Sr M. Gabriel is no longer amongst us as the guide and inspiration of her cherished work, we cannot but feel that she still watches over it and obtains manifold blessings for her children and for their teachers, whom she has left to continue the struggle… I would also like to read you an extract from one of the references on your summary sheets to sum up Sister Mary Gabriel’s presentation: “Today there are no more institutions. Deaf people are no longer considered dumb. Hearing aids, cochlear implants and Auslan have changed profoundly a person with hearing loss’s engagement with the hearing world. Dominicans still support deaf education.
Teachers of the deaf learn of the pioneering work of the tiny deaf Irish Sister who left homeland, friends and family hoping to make a difference in the lives of those who shared her disability. The senior deaf community continue to use the Irish signs, and identify proudly with the heritage given them by Sr M. Gabriel. Her story has been passed on, and her name reverenced because Sr M. Gabriel’s love for her students was legendary and she taught them that disability is not a handicap to becoming a person whose life has meaning. ”