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Meet Sr. Kathleen Ryan of Dominican Literacy Center Aurora

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sr. Kathleen Ryan.

Sr. Ryan, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
On a cold Sunday morning in February, 1993, I was watching the Charles Kuralt Show on TV. One of the features was about the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where two Catholic Sisters of Mercy had the Mercy Learning Center.

That Center was a one-to-one tutoring program for women, pairing trained tutors with women who needed help in reading, writing and speaking. I loved the idea, and started thinking about adapting it to the Midwest. After speaking with several East-Side Aurora people, I came to see that the most underserved segment of the population in Aurora was immigrant women. I called the Sisters at the Bridgeport Center, and they gave me some instructional hints and some tips on curriculum.

With encouragement from my own congregation, the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL, I planned to spend a year planning, writing grants, etc. I found a small space in a church basement to use, and one day the secretary, Bertha Manzo, told me that she had found some women who wanted to receive ESL tutoring………and that they were here today, ready to start! So, I started a year ahead of schedule, and learning by doing! By May, 1994, we had 5 volunteers and 5 evening students, and I was tutoring 4 people in the morning–and we had a waiting list!

Since that time, we have moved into a large, 17-room building, have expanded the staff from one person (me) to seven people, and have an Advisory Board and Corporation Board. Each year, about 200 women are tutored individually by 200 trained tutors. We register and test the students, train the tutors, and match them. They then meet here at the Center every week for 1 1/2 hours. We also provide twice weekly Conversation Class, and have a large group of men and women who are studying with us at Citizenship Classes, which meet two mornings and two evenings a week. These immigrants are studying to take the naturalization test and become new U.S. citizens.

Next year, we celebrate our 25th anniversary of working with the immigrant men and women in Aurora, IL and the surrounding areas. We’ve tutored over 2,000 women, who have learned to read, write and speak English, and more than 1,500 men and women who are now U.S. citizens.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Since the first day of class, we’ve had a waiting list, so student recruitment is never a problem. The city of Aurora is 42% immigrant, and this year we have students from 16 different countries coming to our programs. We are always welcoming new volunteers to be ESL tutors and/or citizenship volunteers.

Finding funding is always our biggest problem. We are totally funded through grants and donations, and we are constantly looking for new sources of funding.

Dominican Literacy Center, Aurora – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a not-for-profit corporation. We do not sell anything. Our mission is to provide educational opportunities for the immigrant population in the Aurora, IL area.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
When our first students completed their three-year course with us, and gave short graduation speeches in English–that was a proud moment for me!


  • The cost for educational materials and supplies for one tutor and one student is $100 for one school year.
  • The total cost of education for one student and tutor, including building, salaries, etc. is $1,000 per year
  • The cost for one semester of Citizenship Class is $250.00

Contact Info:

  • Address: 260 Vermont Street,
    Aurora, IL 60505
  • Website:
  • Phone: 630-898-4636
  • Email:
  • Facebook: Dominican Literacy Center

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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