At age 36, Dr. Mary Hilaire Tavenner, of Lorain, with an
Irish and French background, went to Puerto Rico to teach junior
high students English as part of her convent requirements. She
only had a few weeks prior notice and did not have time to
prepare. She had little confidence in her Spanish skills.
But the trip would be a blessing in disguise. It would pave the
way for her future profession, and help her better relate to the
people she greatly helps today: the immigrants.
“I was in Puerto Rico for three months [during my first visit],
and I missed America,” Tavenner said “It gave me a huge respect
for what immigrants go through.”
Today, Dr. Tavenner teaches English as a Second Language classes
to Latinos and other immigrants, and has written and published
books about her experiences in two Latino countries.
To date, she has written and published 8 books, including
“Memoirs of a Writer in Perú” detailing her experiences there,
and is currently chronicling her experiences in Puerto Rico in
her ninth book to be called “Memoirs of a Writer in Puerto
Rico.” She hopes to complete it by Easter, 2010. She said her
goal is to write 30 books in her lifetime.
Now, Tavenner, 61, who has a doctorate in Education, in reading
and language arts from the University of South Florida, is
fluent in Spanish, and has made it her priority to teach
immigrants the English language.
Dr. Tavenner, said education is the key to success and learning
the English language is the first stepping stone to that
“I was so overwhelmed [when first sent to Puerto Rico in 1985]
Tavenner said “I don't want (immigrants arriving in the United
States) to go through what I experienced,” she said.
Through Lorain County Community College’s Adult Basic and
Literacy Education (ABLE) program, she teaches English as a
Second Language in Lorain’s Vine of Hope, through the Pass it On
Outreach Ministry at 1310 Colorado Avenue and in Elyria’s
Employment Network near the Lorain County Job and Family
Services, located at 42495 North Ridge Road. The classes will
begin Jan. 11, 2010 and are free of charge.
Eligible students are 18 years and older, and must have their
native language be one other than English. She said she
currently has 50 students signed up for her classes, with 25
attending regularly. Though her students are predominately from
a Latino, especially Puerto Rican background, she also has
students from Asia and the Middle East.
“What I love about my students is it’s so enriching to enter
into these cultures,” Tavenner said “They are so desirous to
belong, to understand. People come here with a dream for a
better life.We try to facilitate their transition.”
But Dr. Tavenner who’s been involved with the program for six
years, said English is not the only thing she’s teaching her
“We try to teach them about our culture, the money system. We
ultimately want to get them to college, to trade school or
employment. Many students go off to college and it's nice to see
the process,” she said.
Dr. Tavenner joined the convent at the age of 17 and confessed
that being forced to travel to Puerto Rico with little
preparation of the language and culture was what ultimately made
her decide to end her 20-year career as a Franciscan sister in a
convent in Syracuse, N.Y. She gave English as a Second Language
courses in Florida for nearly a decade before moving back to
Lorain where she would begin her writing career.
She now has fallen in love with the island of Puerto Rico and
calls it “an enriched island, so blessed, it was kissed by God.”
Memoirs of a Writer in Puerto Rico
In the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Tavenner was able to visit
many of the larger towns including San Juan, Ponce, Mayagüez,
and Caguas, and the tropical rainforest.
The Island, about 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, is home to
roughly 4 million people, plus an additional 3.5 to 4 million
Puerto Ricans have migrated to the United States.
The city in the United States with the highest concentration of
Puerto Ricans, in comparison to its total population size, is
not in New York or Florida but is in Ohio, in the city of
Lorain, Dr. Tavenner said.
She said she was amazed to find racism appeared to not exist in
“The warmth of the people was so wonderful; I experienced
incredible hospitality,” Dr. Tavenner said. “There’s no
difference made because of the color your skin. Perhaps because
they know they can find a dark-skinned person and a
light-skinned person within their own family. I wanted to bring
that back to the United States with me,” she said.
Dr. Tavenner said she loved the Christmas celebrations, and the
rich ancient history of the island.
The biggest issues she encountered were drugs and crime usually
strengthened by the overpopulation. One of her favorite natural
riches of the island was the bioluminescent waters in Bio
Florescent Bay, near Fajardo.
This natural beauty is caused when dinoflagellates, one-celled
wonders, display an unusual defense mechanism of light when
disturbed. There are just five places in the world where
bioluminescent dinos can reliably be seen - Puerto Rico has
three of those.