Summer sessions connect Burmese children to their heritage

Sister Sarah Rosie leads students in fourth and fifth grades in reciting the Burmese alphabet during morning lessons at the former Holy Family School in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY ELLIE MELERO

by Ellie Melero
@eleanor_melero

KANSAS CITY, Kan. —Sisters Rosie Judith, Rose Susie and Sarah Rosie were running a little late one Tuesday morning when they were surprised by a loud chorus of “Minglaba!” when they entered the classroom.

“Minglaba” is Burmese for “good morning.”

The greeting proved that these three Sisters from Myanmar (Burma) — in the archdiocese to teach Burmese and religion to the Burmese children who belong to Holy Family and St. Patrick parishes in Kansas City, Kansas — were getting the job done. 

The Sisters were two weeks into their three-week stay — and they were delighted by the proof of what the kids were learning.

“Now, after two weeks, they are improving, and they are starting to speak,” Sister Rose Susie said.

This is the second summer Sisters from the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier came to teach Burmese and religion at Holy Family and St. Patrick. Father Michael Van Lian, the head of Burmese ministry in the archdiocese, invited the Sisters to teach the children about the language and culture of their parents.

The Myanmar Catholic Community established itself in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas about 10 years ago, and many of these families came to the United States as refugees. Their children have grown up in the U.S., and most of them don’t speak Burmese, which is the common language in Myanmar.

Father Van Lian said he wanted to help the children communicate with their parents better, and he also wants them to follow along better at the weekly Mass in Burmese.

“The parents do not speak English, but the children do not speak Burmese,” said Father Van Lian. “So my first idea was to teach them the Burmese language because by learning Burmese they can have more familiar contact with their parents, and then also grandparents.

“For better worship, also, is why we teach the children our Burmese language and, at the same time, catechism classes.”

The Sisters taught at Holy Family from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday starting June 10. Tuesday through Friday, they would finish up at Holy Family only to go to St. Patrick to teach until 4 p.m.

At Holy Family, they taught 42 students from kindergarten through high school; at St. Patrick, they taught 63 students. The students were split into four classes by age.

The Sisters taught the students the Burmese alphabet and numbers, some basic prayers in Burmese and some basic conversation, like “minglaba.” They also taught catechism.

Stanislaus Ling, a second-grader from Resurrection Catholic School in Kansas City, Kansas, was in Sister Rosie Judith’s class.

“My favorite part is playing soccer, and having tests is, too,” Ling said. “There were three tests and I got all 10 of the questions [right].”

Ling was in the youngest age group, and Sister Rosie Judith said all five of the children she taught last summer who were still in that age group did well. 

“For me, when I see last year and this year, they had improved a lot,” said Sister Rosie Judith. “I hope next year they can go another step.”

Like any second language, learning Burmese is hard, but many of the students embraced the challenge.

In Sister Rose Susie’s class, Kua Paw, a senior at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland, said he was grateful to learn more about his culture.

“It’s a humble feeling, just learning about cultures and language,” Paw said. “There’s not a lot of kids that come from here that have these types of opportunities that we have. Usually, when they come here to live, they just speak English and forget their language and forget their culture, so it’s a blessing just to have this type of opportunity.”

Paw was not the only one excited to have the Sisters come teach.

James Khung Min Thang is a leader in the Catholic Myanmar Community, and he has a daughter who was in Sister Rosie Judith’s class. Min Thang said the community raised the money for the Sisters’ plane tickets to Kansas City because it was important to them that their children have these classes.

“I’m so excited for these religious classes because in my country we do not have the opportunity to go to a religious school,” Min Thang said. “Here, we have an opportunity for all of our children to go. I’m so proud and so happy.”

The Sisters said they were happy to teach the classes. One of the “charisms” — or spiritual gifts of their order — is to teach, but in Myanmar they aren’t allowed to teach in schools. The Sisters teach catechism to children who stay in their boarding houses. During the summer, they go from village to village to teach preparation classes for sacraments like marriage and first Communion. 

For the past few years, they have been in Jacksonville, Florida, ministering to the sick in hospitals, and all of them said they were happy to teach children again for a little bit.

“For me, I feel that I can fulfill something according to our charism,” said Sister Rosie Judith. “I am very happy and very blessed.”

All three expressed gratitude to Sister Marie Kathleen Daugherty, who helped them with the children and helped house them, and to the Myanmar community at Holy Family and St. Patrick for inviting them.

On June 28, they started a one-week retreat before returning to Florida, but not before Father Van Lian invited them to return next year for a third summer.

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