Facebook IconInstagram IconSpotify

Teaching those in need

Associates logoSchool Sisters of Notre Dame Associates

Living out the works of mercy in their everyday life

By Associate Kate Fontanazza – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Associate Kate FontanazzaAs a member of St. Michael parish in Milwaukee, I have had the fortune to volunteer in the English as a second language (ESL) program, teaching English to Karen people from Burma. My SSND companion, Sister Lillia Langreck, previously ran an ESL program at St. Michael helping Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian people when they arrived from refugee camps in the 1980's, 1990's and 2000's.

Blind men from Burma, students of Associate Kate Fontanazza.
Blind Karen men from Burma
explore Milwaukee and learn
English along the way.
ESL students on hayride.

My first student was Poe Ru, from Burma. He has made so much progress in English and has recently become a citizen. I have since taught other refugees from Burma, and because of his progress, Poe Ru is my assistant teacher. Together we teach five blind men. As these students are blind, he translates what he can see to those who cannot.

Poe Ru and I also help others navigate the health care system in the United States. He had a friend who needed help going to the doctor, and I agreed to help. We assisted his friend to overcome the language barrier by helping him do things such as make an appointment. Since then, Poe Ru has had many other friends who have required assistance, as well.

Men of Burma learning to dress in layers.
Learning to dress in layers for the cold Milwaukee winters is part of the Karen people’s new experience.

One day, my students and I were talking about the oceans and feeling sand and shells, and I played a Judy Collins song that had whales singing in the background. One of the men said the sounds made him sad because it reminded him of his mother who is still in a refugee camp. The refugees have very limited resources, but much to share.

It has been a joy getting to know the people I have met through tutoring. I had been an art teacher, so I was used to teaching visually and now practice conversational English through common experiences like going to cafes, museums, farms and numerous parks. Working with the Karen people from Burma has been a blessing.

Related stories:
  • Beekeeping shows mercy and compassion Most people may not think of beekeeping as an act of mercy. However, if the main reason to care for bees is to help them survive in an increasingly unsafe environment made so by human action, and to refrain from exploiting them for the honey they produce, beekeeping surely represents compassion and mercy. Read more...
  • Prayer quilts I am an SSND Associate and a member of the Quilt Club at Guardian Angels Parish in Santee, California. We provide handmade prayer quilts for those who are ill and ask for our prayers.

    The prayer quilt is a visible sign that people are praying for the person in need. Read more...
  • SSND associates take a stand against human trafficking Associates throughout the Central Pacific province are taking a stand against human trafficking through prayer, education and helping those who are impacted. Three human trafficking conferences were held in St. Louis, Elm Grove, Wisconsin, and Chatawa, Mississippi, in an effort to educate associates. Read more...

Want to learn more?


School Sisters of Notre Dame

320 East Ripa Avenue

St. Louis, MO 63125

Phone: 314-561-4100



© 2022 School Sisters of Notre Dame