FAREWELL, SISTER MERITA, AND THANK YOU!
Sister Merita has returned to Ohio, and the students and tutors of the Literacy Council of Upper Pinellas attended her farewell party. Her friend, Sister Renetta, also attended. Here’s the story of her life of dedication and love:
Sister Merita (left) with her friends at her LCUP farewell party.
Sister Merita Strahler
Sister Merita Strahler, SND (Sisters of Notre Dame), a resident of Dunedin for 17 years, has been a longtime teacher, advocate, and volunteer helping refugees and immigrants make a new start in this country.
In 1949, she began her career as an elementary school teacher in Ohio and met many refugee and immigrant families in need of help. The parents depended on their children to translate during parent-teacher conferences and needed help to learn English. Working with Catholic Charities, Sister Merita helped refugee and immigrant families resettle in the United States. She accompanied them for health checkups, escorted them to their new apartments, made sure they had food, enrolled their children in school, assisted in job searches, and helped them learn English.
From her many experiences that demonstrate the importance of freedom in America, Sister Merita remembers vividly the day she met two Croatian refugees at the airport who had been set free from a war prison. Arriving refugees were required to have a tuberculosis screening immediately upon landing, so Sister Merita took the refugees to a local hospital for the testing. While they waited for a technician, the police brought in two Americans in handcuffs and leg chains who also needed medical services. The contrast was stunning: two men from Croatia who had had no freedom and now were so grateful to be free, and two men from the United States who had willingly given up their freedom.
After 40 years of teaching, Sister Merita retired from classroom teaching and accepted an invitation to become a certified teacher of the ESOL (English Speakers of Other Language) program in Cleveland, Ohio.
She moved to Dunedin in August 1998 and worked in the office of the Lady of Lourdes School for 10 years. Since 2011, she has continued her ministry of teaching English as a volunteer with the Literacy Council of Upper Pinellas. Every week she tutors six adult students from different countries, who range from an immigrant who knows very little English to one who will soon graduate from college thanks to Sister Merita’s tutoring skills and the student’s dedication. When her students finish a session, Sister Merita always tells them “I love you” in their native language.
She explains her mission in this way: “My students come to America to find a better life and to escape poverty, persecution, fear and injustice. This ministry is most gratifying because my students gain self- respect, security and a chance to accomplish their goals.”
In addition to tutoring, Sister Merita assists with weekly Conversation Classes at the Dunedin Library and the Clearwater East Library offered by the Literacy Council of Upper Pinellas. She registers new students, keeps records, and helps with tutoring. Sister was named “2012 Volunteer of the Year” by the Literacy Council of Upper Pinellas.
Sister Merita is very concerned about human trafficking of immigrants, a problem in many states, including Florida. She is working to raise awareness about this important issue and the need to protect children from trafficking, in addition to the time she devotes to her students and the Literacy Council.
Sister Merita’s love of teaching and caring for all people and her life of service, both in Ohio and here in Dunedin, certainly qualify her as an upstanding citizen who has served the communities in which she lived.