BOONTON Spanish-speaking immigrants, who open the doors to weekly English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) classes at Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) Parish here, are actually stepping into a larger and ever-expanding ministry — one that gives them some important life lessons: ways to get more acclimated to U.S. language and culture, building community, coming back to Mass and get more involved in the life of parish.
OLMC offers ESL classes on Mondays at 7 p.m. in the Father Hinds Room of the parish — its first outreach of a growing ministry to Hispanics that now includes a monthly Spanish-language Mass, a prayer group, a Bible study and sacramental preparation. In fact, the Masses, held on the last Saturday of the month, attract about 100 churchgoers and have become so popular that OLMC plans to hold them weekly starting in June. The next Mass will be held this Saturday, March 28, for Palm Sunday starting at 7 p.m. with Father Thomas Fallone, pastor, said Margaret Mainardi, one of the ESL instructors, who also teaches Spanish at Seton Hall Prep, West Orange.
“The classes are a good way for these Spanish speakers to get comfortable with English, which is not their mother tongue. Sometimes, they speak two other languages: Spanish and an indigenous language in their home countries. Most of the students do really well,” said Mainardi, who noted that classes begin and end with prayer. “The classes also are a way to bring our students back to Church and pull them into the parish. They all have come back to the Church. There has been good integration of the Spanish speakers into the parish. It [ESL] has become a way to evangelize,” she said.
The students — who come from around the Boonton area and originate mainly from Mexico, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador and Honduras — learn a lot, despite the occasional chaos of the ESL class. Sometimes, they have to answer questions or work together, amid the children whom mothers and fathers bring with them because they have no other childcare. To learn vocabulary, students often enjoy fun activities, such as drawing pictures that correspond with the words or playing an educational form of Bingo, Mainardi said.
“They help each other during Bingo. They are not competitive in class like Americans. They look at themselves as one big team,” said Mainardi, who also noted that hearing about that hardships her students experienced in their native countries makes her realize, “We are very fortunate and undervalue our freedom here in the U.S.”
These classes seat up to 12 students, young and old people, and teach them practical skills that they will use often. They learn how to order at a restaurant and explain to a doctor what ails them. At the end of each academic year, students receive a diploma and have a standing invitation to return for more instruction next year, said Mainardi, who teaches with another instructor, aided by some of her Seton Hall Prep students.
The ESL classes at OLMC join other such classes already offered at parishes in the diocese, among them: St. Ann and St. Peter, both in Parsippany; St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Sparta; and St. Joseph, Newton, she said.
In a short period of time, the ESL classes have become a springboard to a much more expansive outreach to Hispanics at OLMC and the Boonton area. Today, the Morris County parish also offers a prayer group dedicated to the Blessed Mother on Wednesday evenings, a Bible study in Spanish, rehearsals for a choir that sings during the Spanish-language Mass and class for preparation for the sacraments, held during the same time at the ESL classes on Mondays at 7 p.m., Mainardi said.
These outreaches at OLMC take place with the support and encouragement of diocesan Migrant Ministry. In fact, Father Raimundo Rivera, Migrant Ministry’s director, has concelebrated the Masses, which began in February, while Luis Arias, its assistant director, conducts training for liturgical ministers, such as lectors. Already, some members of this new community have received the sacraments of Baptism and first Holy Communion, Mainardi said.
“We have many success stories,” reported Mainardi, who spoke about one man, Heriberto, who came to the U.S. from Mexico alone at 16 with no English skills and started attending Mountain Lakes High School.
While in school, Heriberto worked six days a week as a farm worker and held a second job in retail. One of the Seton Hall Prep students tutored him for four years, and by the student’s senior year, the native Spanish speaker “was getting higher grades in English than his English-speaking peers,” Mainardi said.
“Heriberto went on to attend college here. His sister, Fina, studied basic literacy with us for five years. Currently her son and daughter are preparing to receive their Sacraments of Initiation at Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” she said.
In another instance, a family in Boonton who has been attending ESL class, has gotten involved in OLMC’s Bible study in Spanish and in its Spanish-language Masses and plans to enroll a child in the parish school, Mainardi said.
“This family, like many others, did not know that there was a Catholic church in Boonton until hearing about the ESL classes. Like others, they heard about the classes through word of mouth, through our visiting them and personally inviting them,” she said.
OLMC’s Hispanic outreach, in addition, continues to grow with the full support of Father Fallone, who plans to concelebrate the Spanish-language Masses regularly.
“Boonton is a special town that is diverse and embracing. The Spanish Mass is a natural outgrowth, which we offer through the blessing of the diocese,” said Father Fallone, adding that the liturgy has attracted some non-Spanish speakers. “Many people are coming back to Mass. There is such a joy around town [about the liturgies],” he said.
Information about OLMC’s Hispanic outreach: (973) 334-1017.