The Literacy Center offers instruction in English as a Second Language to the immigrant population in these Philadelphia areas. Learners of all faiths and nationalities, at all stages of English acquisition, are welcome at the Center. IHM Sisters, lay teachers and tutors volunteer their time and expertise to serve a diverse community of adult immigrant learners from dozens of countries in small classes that fit the learners' abilities, from beginning to advanced levels.
Officially founded in 1989 by Sister Mary Ellen Eckardt, under the auspices of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), the IHM Center for Literacy was first located in Incarnation parish in North Philadelphia. As the story goes, in 1984 one man asked the principal, Sister Mary Quinn, to teach him English so he could acquire his driver’s license. Two or three times a week they met in the convent parlor and then the man asked to” bring a friend.” Not surprisingly, the two became three, and then five. Finally, when the eight “students” could no longer fit into the parlor, they moved into a classroom in Incarnation School. During the next four years, the growing number of people finding their way to “school” indicated the great need for a formal expanded program and so, The IHM Center for Literacy opened with 165 students from twenty four different countries. The original faculty also grew to include 19 IHM sisters, several lay volunteers and a few members of other religious communities who also believed in the great need for adult literacy.
One year later, a second site opened at St. Francis de Sales parish in Southwest Philadelphia where the tide of immigrants flowing into that area made such a mission imperative. With Sister Margaret Miriam as the coordinator, the first classes opened with 8 instructors and 41 students. Since then, both centers have expanded their programs to include computer technology, GED and Citizenship instruction as well as assistance with employment, educational and immigration applications and documents.
When the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed Incarnation parish in 2012, the North Philadelphia site found a new home in St. Bernard parish’s former school building on Cottage Street in the Northeast section of the city which, by then, was experiencing its own influx of immigrants from Haiti, Central and South America and Mexico. Although statistics are not scientifically kept, we estimate that in our 27 year history, the IHM Literacy Center sites have served over 20,000 students from 45 to 50 countries. With God’s grace and generous volunteers, the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary hopes to continue this important work of social justice mandated by our Christian, Catholic fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.