At St. Michael Parish, language breaks barriers

Ministry builds community while teaching parishioners English skills

By Armando Machado

Patricia Franklin-Therrell didn’t like the growing divide she saw in her parish as more Latinos arrived to practice their faith. But she had a vision for St. Michael Parish — a ministry where Spanish-speaking parishioners could learn English from their fellow parishioners, a way to foster parish unity.

Randy Yates tutors Cecilia Guerrero
Randy Yates tutors Cecilia Guerrero during the weekly class of the ESL ministry at St. Michael Parish in Snohomish. Photo: Armando Machado

Now in its fifth year, the English as a second language ministry offers classes from September to June, using volunteer tutors and bilingual assistants. It also offers free on-site child care provided by parish volunteers. Classes, which can accommodate up to 15 students, are usually full or close to it.

“Many programs that will teach them are expensive and do not allow them to bring their children,” said Franklin-Therrell. Although not accredited, “our ESL program is free and they can come as a family,” she added.

Cecilia Guerrero, a Mexican-born mother of two attending class for the second year, said she is very grateful for the ministry and the volunteer tutors. “Now I can go to the grocery store or the pharmacy without bringing someone to help me communicate. I feel more confident when I speak in English,” Guerrero said.

Classes are held at St. Michael’s from 6-9 p.m. every Tuesday but students are welcome to arrive late or leave early because of family and work obligations. Coordinated by Franklin-Therrell with the help of Silas and Carmen Flores, the ministry has grown from four to seven tutors, including Caucasian and Latino parishioners.

Patricia Franklin-Therrell coordinates the ESL ministry 
Patricia Franklin-Therrell (at desk) coordinates the ESL ministry at St. Michael Parish in Snohomish with the assistance of Carmen Flores and her husband, Silas (seated at right). Photo: Armando Machado 

Mexican-born Martina Barba was a student in the St. Michael’s ESL program the first year. Moderately fluent in English, the mother of two said she has a strong desire to serve the Lord by helping others, so she has been tutoring in the program for the past three years. The camaraderie in the ESL ministry has been good for her spirit, she added.

Besides helping parishioners pick up English skills, the ministry aims to develop that sense of camaraderie throughout the parish community, according to Franklin-Therrell. She encourages other parishes to consider starting an ESL ministry.

“This is a positive way to gain unity and commonality within any parish that otherwise seems more like two or three churches,” she said. “If you find a non-threatening common ground among people who are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with each other, you have a basis to bring them together for the common good.”

October 09, 2013