Mary Ellen Duffy had an especially soft heart when it came to helping people struggling to learn English, says her pastor Ed Grant of Calvary Lutheran Church.

Grant recalls the day Duffy told him she wanted to start a class there for those needing to learn conversational English.

Specifically, she wanted a class to help people living in communities near the North Charleston church.

“We prayed about it and believed it was what God wanted,” Grant says.

The English for Speakers of Other Languages program, which began in the fall of 2011, serves 30 mostly Spanish speakers. They are taught by Grace Duddleston, wife of Calvary’s former pastor, Robert Duddleston.

Duffy was born in April 1945 and died June 3.

During her life, she spent years as a nun and a school counselor. She also taught Spanish for many years in educational, community and employment settings.

She was passionate about the Calvary program and worked to provide support services, such as child care, enabling more adults to attend the two-hour Thursday evening classes.

“It’s because of Mary Ellen and her heart that the lord blessed it,” Grant says.

One student can’t say enough about the difference the program Duffy started has made in her life.

Bielka Hidalgo, 45, is a permanent resident from Panama who arrived in the United States in 2008. She responds energetically when asked if the English classes have been a benefit.

“Absolutely! I started to understand everything. I watch movies in English. My mind is thinking in English all the time. I read ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’ I’ll never stop watching movies (in English) and talking in English.”

“I was very shy and afraid before I took English lessons. I would never go out without my husband. Now, anytime I find people in the grocery store and the mall, I am promoting the English class. Any opportunity I have, I am inviting.”

Hidalgo, who was a secretary in Panama, also says she can now get a job working with the public because she can communicate.

Duddleston says Duffy opened every one of the classes with prayer.

She also put her passion, humor and wit to work when role-playing in classes, something she also did working with students at the border patrol school and at MUSC.

“She was our ‘Mary Ellen, come here I need you’ person. We were studying how to tell a doctor what’s wrong. At one point, she wore an arm bandage as she acted out the situation,” Duddleston says.

“It was hilarious! I know that because of the program that she started, we are able to help people who needed to know how to speak English. Most of the people have been here eight, nine, 10 years, but needed to learn conversational English. They come from Uzbekistan, Iraq, Panama, Chile and other countries.

“Mary Ellen was always smiling, always had a joke, she was always upbeat.”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.