CASA, an organization that offered literacy programs to immigrants, responded to the needs of numerous immigrants in Quebec for almost 25 years. Competent teams of directors, sensitive to the experience of newly-arrived immigrants, along with groups of teachers, mostly members of religious communities, generously invested their time and talents throughout those years. They were an “educative presence” promoting the learning of the French language, both spoken and written.
When Centre CASA opened in 1991, Sister Gilberte Comeau, SSA, its foundress, served as Director. Madame Thérèse Messier succeeded her and continued the development of programs until December, 2013. Sister Lise Bluteau, SNJM, then took charge until its closing in June, 2016. From the very beginning, SNJM sisters were committed to this project. Sisters Lise Geoffrion and Thérèse Bibeau were the first, beginning in 1992. Several others followed: Sister Carmen Leduc for 3 years, Sister Liliane Bourdeau for 2 years, Sister Denise Mercier for 15 years and Sister Lorraine Beauchamp for 4 years. Sister Magella Cadorette continues to give advanced lessons to a student from CASA.
The inestimable contribution of directors, who had faith in the relevance of this project and who demonstrated such extraordinary zeal, brought life and happiness to all at the Centre. By gradually establishing a trusting relationship between the personnel and the immigrants, the latter led the personnel to discover the richness of each immigrant, with his/her values, motivation, and already-existing talents and abilities.
To promote the integration of people recently accepted into Quebec, many cultural activities were organized within, as well as outside, the CASA building. The outings prepared by the teachers led to the discovery of many significant sites: a visit to the office of the Mayor of Montreal, a trip to Quebec City including a guided tour of Parliament, and recreational trips to a sugar shack.
Choir, drama, role-playing, exhibitions of various cultures, all contributed to opening new horizons and deepening friendly relationships. It seems important to make special mention of the play by Cécile Chabot, “Le Noël des Bêtes”, directed by Sister Lorraine Beauchamp and presented at the Center, as well as in other locations, at the request of the students. Approximately ten students brought all their spontaneity to this optional activity, and through it they deepened the language skills that they had already acquired.
Many times, while learning French, the students were warmly welcomed at Marie-Rose-Durocher Residence where the sisters showed particular interest in their progress.
My daily experience with immigrant people led me to change my outlook on my own situation as a spoiled woman, having always lived in a stable and secure environment! These people, who have experienced great suffering and feelings of disorientation, helped me to develop a greater concern for solidarity and mutual support, and helped me accept things which cannot be changed. They would often say, “That’s life!” . . . In spite of the struggles associated with their exile and being separated from those close to them, these people displayed pride in their countries and happy memories of their national identity. Their joy at being alive, their gratitude for the slightest sign of attention given, and their eagerness to help call forth our admiration!
Could meditating on the Word of God to Abraham: “Leave your country . . . and go to the land that I will show you,” be a call for us to welcome immigrants and to be willing to learn from their experience, while at the same time discovering and sharing with them more about our own homeland, their new home? May our thoughts and prayers increase in solidarity with all the migrants in the world.
Denise Mercier, SNJM