"Just go for it" follow our example in helping refugees

Sarah Teather with refugees at St Aloysius  Credit: Flourish
Sarah Teather with refugees at St Aloysius Credit: Flourish

Fr Tim Curtis SJ, parish priest at St Aloysius Glasgow, is urging fellow clergy to provide English classes for refugees, following the huge success of his parish’s own initiative which launched a year ago.

The parish is committed to continuing the English classes at the St John Ogilvie Centre in Garnethill, which are now at full capacity, prompting Fr Tim to appeal, through an article in the Flourish newspaper, for other churches to consider running similar schemes.

Fr Tim told Flourish “There is clearly a demand.  At the start we had four people on the first day, one person on day two, but as word spread, they were literally queuing round the block to get in.  The numbers have settled now, but the demand has not gone away.”

Fr Tim’s remarks came as 200 Syrian refugees flew into Glasgow as part of the government’s vulnerable persons’ resettlement programme which has seen around 1200 find homes in Scotland in the past 18 months.  Fr Tim stressed “many churches have surplus space during the day time, and many, like us, have teachers and retired teachers in their parish who would I’m sure be willing to help.  It would be wonderful if other churches, especially those in areas where refugees live, were to roll up their sleeves and just go for it”. 

Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, visited Glasgow last week to deliver the Gonzaga lecture, and took the opportunity to visit the Garnethill English classes. She observed “You’ve just got to spend a little time here to see the way that everyone is so enthusiastic, it’s quite infectious. The students feel secure and are really keen to learn, and I'm very impressed indeed with the dedication and patience of the volunteers.  There’s also a lot of laughter here so that’s always a good sign.”  She added “it just shows what you can do with goodwill and determination, and this model here in St Aloysius is one that deserves to be copied and I’d encourage other churches to do so”.

The Garnethill project grew out of the appeal from Pope Francis for practical responses to the migrant crisis in which hundreds drowned crossing the Mediterranean. While many parishes considered taking people into their own homes, the parish council at St Aloysius sought advice from the City Council who advised that English classes were the most urgent need.  Some funding came from the Council, supplemented by the parish’s poor fund, while books and equipment were donated by St Aloysius College and Clyde College.

Over the past year 250 refugees have registered for the Garnethill courses.  Each day around 40 people attend the two morning and afternoon sessions led by a rota of 28 volunteer teachers.  Volunteer teacher Kay Archibald told Flourish “They are all so enthusiastic about learning English for all sorts of reasons, but mainly so they can get work here eventually but at a basic level they simply want to communicate and so become part of the community.  Everyone here is delighted to help them achieve that.”

You can contact Fr Tim to find out more about the Garnethill model.

Photo by and copyright of Paul McSherry.