Sister Ivana Oblak – the first female teacher of the deaf and speech-disabled girls in Slovene in Novo mesto
Sister Ivana Oblak from Škofja Loka was the first head of the School Sisters of Notre Dame monastery. She was also a teacher qualified for teaching the deaf and speech-disabled children and takes the credit for a successful operation of the school for deaf and speech-disabled girls, which was run in Šmihel near Novo mesto from October 1886 to 1904. Ivana Oblak joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Gorizia in 1867 and started her novitiate in Munich in 1875 under the guidance by the order establisher, Maria Theresia Gerhardinger. She made a vow to the order of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Gorizia only two days before arriving to Šmihel near Novo mesto, where the order operation was enabled by the baron Tadej Merkl. His wish was to establish a school for girls in the Novo mesto region and thus enable them at least the basic education. On 20 October 1886, the private school for girls started to operate and at the end of October 1886, the first head of the school, Ivana Oblak, joined it. She came to Šmihel to start teaching the deaf and speech-disabled girls in Slovene. The school established a special department with adapted programme, representing the beginning of the deaf education in Slovenia - this was the first school for the deaf and speech-disabled children in the Carniola region.
The Ljubljana newspaper Slovenec reported on this important event on 27 October 1886 as follows: “Next month, the school sisters will start running a school like no other in the Carniola region - a school for the deaf and speech-disabled girls. The deaf and speech-disabled children will be taught in Slovene, which is priceless because such children who come back from Linz or any other German town understand only German and thus cannot speak with their families, they are sort of dumb again. If there are any parents with a deaf and dumb daughter in the Carniola, Styria, Carinthia regions or in Croatia, they should include her in this school, where she will be trained in reading and writing in Slovene, in maths, women handicrafts, the Christian religion and will almost certainly be able to speak. There is no better dowry a parent can give to a deaf and dumb daughter.”
The lessons first started on 15 November 1886 and were lead by sister Ivana Oblak. There were seven students at school in the first year and their number has gradually increased; in 1899, the school recorded over 30 deaf and dumb students from all over the Carniola region.
The lessons were organised similarly as at the Gorizia institute for the deaf and dumb youth, where the first teachers came from and were familiar with the organisation and methods of teaching the deaf and speech-disabled children. In the six years of study at the school in Šmihelj, the deaf and dumb girls were trained for housewives, household assistants and workers. Afterwards, they returned to their parents and some of them found work; those students with no relatives stayed with the sisters who mostly could communicate using gestures. Besides education, those girls found a second home at the monastery: they dedicated their time mostly to practical work, such as household chores, sewing, gardening, washing and ironing. The sisters took care of them and supported them all their lives, although the monastery has been always facing financial difficulties.
The school for the deaf and speech-disabled girls was abolished on 30 July 1904, four years after the establishment of the national institute for the deaf boys and girls in Ljubljana. During 18 years of its operation, the Šmihel school has educated around 100 deaf girls in Slovene using the voice and speech method and trained them for living in the society they had been excluded from. This represents the biggest achievement of the school. During all this time, sister Ivana Oblak has worked as a teacher. She has been the head of the monastery until her death on 30 November 1927. Moreover, she has also prepared the candidates for the order of the School Sisters, who had an important role in upgrading the education among girls in the Slovenian area.