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Mark Hayward's City Matters: Community honors Sister Jackie, who helped immigrants, refugees learn English

By MARK HAYWARD
October 06. 2017 11:06PM
Laxmi Mishra, left, and Sister Jacqueline Verville, founder of the Holy Cross Family Learning Center, bow to each other during her retirement party in Manchester on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)


THE SIZE of your IRA.
 
Your below-par golf score.

Your college GPA.

Everyone counts success differently.

Sister Jacqueline Verville tallies success in words and in sentences. In the ability of adults who didn’t know English to read this newspaper. Or to hold their own in a job interview. Or to speak breezily on the telephone in their new language.

Verville’s success was recognized this week, when a couple hundred people — from silver-tongued city politicians to immigrants who speak in heavy accents — gathered to honor Verville.

She is retiring, after nearly 60 years in the education field, seven of those years running the Holy Cross Family Learning Center. Verville opened the learning center in 2010 with the goal of helping immigrants and refugees learn our English language.

“I like it here; students good and teachers good,” said Noel Hamad, who moved to Manchester two and a half years ago from Iraq. She takes classes in English and sewing.

And Verville — whom everyone calls Sister Jackie — was instrumental in getting her disabled niece connected to services through the Moore Center, she said.

Sister Jackie’s retirement party was held at the old Brown School on the West Side, where the learning center occupies the first floor.

In what was the most striking sign of a changing Manchester, the heads of several women were covered — a couple of holdout nuns who wore traditional veils, and Middle Eastern and African immigrants sporting headdresses from their native country.

A gray-haired Sister Jackie blushed when an elderly Bhutanese man, Laxmi Mishra, said through an interpreter that his community thinks more of Sister Jackie than their birth mothers.

“I’m sad at heart,” she said, her throat tightening with emotion. “I’ll miss you all. Thank you for caring.”

Organizations such as St. Mary’s Bank, the Bean Foundation, Anagnost Companies, the Boufford Funeral Home and Silvertech donate to Holy Cross. And Verville has earned many commendations, including the Union Leader New Hampshire Legacy Award.

“She’s convinced that when people hear about this project, they will donate,” said Sister Pauline Maurier, who teaches at the school. How many church spaghetti suppers, she asks, pull in $20,000?

Sister Jacqueline Verville, founder of the Holy Cross Family Learning Center, gets an emotional sendoff from immigrants she has helped during her retirement party in Manchester on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
Verville taught in public schools for 20 years. Upon retirement, she planned to open up a school for high school-aged children in Manchester.

The Brown School building became available, but it had no sprinklers, which precluded its use for youth. So she concentrated on adults. Classes are free.
Besides English, they include sewing, computer skills and citizenship. At any given time about 100 people are enrolled in classes.

“I love these people, they are so dear to my heart,” Verville said in an interview.
It’s hard for adults to learn a new language, she said. But if they come to classes four days a week, they’ll succeed, she promised.

“These people are so eager to learn. They even ask for homework,” she said.

Her future plans: participating in vigils that religious and immigrant-rights groups hold at the Norris Cotton federal building downtown.

Christine Aindeke has taught at the Learning Center for four years.

A typical class will include immigrants from Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Latin America and south Asian countries such as Bhutan, she said.

An English teacher in her native Congo, Aindeke was thrilled to join the learning center because of its ethnic diversity. Language classes focus on real-life issues, such as car repairs, she said.

The walls aren’t plastered with crucifixes or icons of saints. But it’s easy to sniff out the Catholic school flavor. The classrooms are communion-wafer immaculate, and shelves with flash cards and word games are meticulously organized and labeled. The students dress formally for a mere hour of instruction.

Of course there is discipline, Aindeke said. Not the ruler-on-knuckle kind, but the high expectations kind.
 
“You feel bad if you don’t come to class,” she said.

Chura M. Acharya, an immigrant from Bhutan, has been teaching at Holy Cross for six years. Holy Cross thrived under Sister Jackie because, as a nun, she had no distractions such as family and could dedicate herself to its success, he said.

A Hindu, Acharya finds comfort in that devotion.

“This is like temple, like church,” Acharya said, “very peaceful.”

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.

Sister Jacqueline Verville, founder of the Holy Cross Family Learning Center, gets a visit from state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro during her retirement party in Manchester on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)


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