Those in need of a strong dose of hope would do well to acquaint themselves with the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHMs) in Scranton, Pennsylvania. One need only visit the Congregation’s website, www.sistersofihm.org, to encounter such rallying language as the above referenced quotation or phrases like: “acute sensitivity to urgent need”, “great-souled visionaries” and “prophets of vision and pilgrims of a dream.”
What prompts the IHM Congregation to provide and to expand these programs to the immigrant community in Scranton is its vibrant Alphonsian concept of justice, a concept which recognizes that when limitations are lifted.
The Congregation is a community of 485 Catholic women religious whose roots date back to 1845 when it was established by Father Louis Florent Gillet, a priest of the Redemptorist Order (founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori), and Theresa Maxis Cuchemin to minister to French Canadian immigrants in Michigan. In 1858 , after the community had grown, Mother Theresa accepted the invitation of Bishop (now Saint) John Neumann to serve in Philadelphia. From there in 1871 a new foundation was established in the recently erected Diocese of Scranton. Since then, the IHM Sisters of Scranton have committed themselves to advocacy for the economically poor and the spiritually neglected by concentrating on education, health care, social service, and pastoral and spiritual ministries. They exercise these apostolates in 16 states and two foreign countries.
Over the past three years an especially compelling example of the Congregation’s “unremitting orientation to life and to the future” is the assistance the Sisters provide – in collaboration with others in the Scranton area, including students from the nearby Marywood University – to the growing Latino population and other immigrant groups through its ESL (English as Second Language) Program. Indeed, the program is proving to be so helpful and appreciated by the immigrant community that the demand to expand it has become critically clear. Although the costs for doing so are relatively modest in light of the benefits realized and even though participants pay a registration fee, funds are not readily available for the added expenses of expansion, i.e. materials, training tutors, etc. But, the Sisters, “pilgrims of a dream” that they are, are undaunted.
At present there are around 50 students. Some are foreign professionals who want to advance their careers. Some are parents concerned about their inability to communicate with their school aged children for whom English is now their primary language; others need help consulting with local medical providers; and still others want merely to be fully acculturated in civic life. For these and other reasons, all are frustrated by the linguistic limitation and, therefore to overcome it, are willing to commit three hours a week for nine months a year for three years!
The ESL programs (and the Rosetta Stone programs also used by the Sisters) have been proven to be successful elsewhere in the country for many years now. What prompts the IHM Congregation to provide and to expand these programs to the immigrant community in Scranton is its vibrant Alphonsian concept of justice, a concept which recognizes that when limitations are lifted – be they educational, physical, economic or social – fuller human dignity can be realized. Beyond the opportunity to speak and write English, what prompts the immigrant students is the trust and comfort they have in working with the Sisters.
Lifting limitations and building trust: Aren’t these necessary in the advance of the Kingdom?