Mount Angel Abbey photoKathy Akiyama, Mark Van Ness, Sr. Hilda Kleiman, Jim Sisley and Etsuko Sisley help future priests with language skills.

                                                                                       Mount Angel Abbey photo
Kathy Akiyama, Mark Van Ness, Sr. Hilda Kleiman, Jim Sisley and Etsuko Sisley help future priests with language skills.

The English Communications faculty at Mount Angel Seminary enjoys a professional and committed team approach to refining the written and spoken skills of non-native and native speakers of English. They also teach many other courses in the college curriculum. The team consists of Director Sr. Hilda Kleiman, Associate Professor Jim Sisley, Assistant Professor Etsuko Sisley, Associate Professor Dr. Mark Van Ness, and Associate Professor Kathy Akiyama. Each would like to share some insights and stories with you.

• Sister Hilda Kleiman, Director and Assistant Professor

“Earlier this semester, I was wrapping up work on an interview in my office with this semester's journalism students. The students were looking at the icons and other items I have on the table and on the walls in my office. One of the students said that each of those items could be a journalism story, that in fact ‘life is a bunch of interviews!’ Yes! That curiosity and interest in all of the people and activities around you is fundamental for a successful journalist.”

Director Sister Hilda Kleiman, Assistant Professor of English Communications, currently teaches Writing in the Humanities for students in College I, the capstone seminar for students in College IV, and journalism electives. She also coordinates the Writing Center. In addition to her work at the seminary, she is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry through the Graduate Theological Foundation.

• Associate Professor Jim Sisley

“Fr. Peri frequently tells his Theology students that ‘It's all about relationships,’ meaning, of course, the various duties of a parish priest. More and more, I am beginning to see just how this advice is equally applicable to my job as a teacher of seminarians. When I first began teaching at the seminary, there was a certain student who struggled with all of his academics – papers were often late for my writing class and he just didn't seem willing to make much of an effort. The next year, he told me that he was on probation from his bishop. Of course he worked more diligently and I worked a little more carefully with him. Still he was afraid that he wouldn't be allowed to return. In my written review of this student, I mentioned how hard he had worked for my class and that he seemed to be improving. Somehow, he came to believe that my comment, which was read by his bishop, saved him, keeping alive his dream to become a priest. Ever since he has worked hard, believed in himself, and sought out my assistance whenever possible. Yes, relationships matter on our Hilltop.”

When he is not in the classroom teaching Speech, Research Writing, Pronunciation skills, graduate Link courses, and coordinating the Speech Center, Associate Professor Jim Sisley can be found teaching the Japanese martial art, Aikido.

• Assistant Professor Etsuko Sisley

 “I teach Culture Roundtable in which students talk about cultural differences and their experiences. I try to keep it close to their life, so we were talking about being sick and going to see a doctor the other day. One of the expressions I introduced to them was "under the weather." The students like to learn new expressions, and they try to use it with their friends and teachers. One of my students, Pál Juház, from Hungary, really enjoys trying new expressions with his friends. Then a couple of days later he heard that my husband was ill, and he asked me, "Is he under the water?" I was puzzled at first; then I started laughing because I realized that he meant to ask, "Is he under the weather?" I explained the difference between "under the weather" and "under the water" to him. He was very embarrassed, but we shared a good laugh. I hope my students and I will have many such pleasant experiences together.”
Assistant Professor Etsuko Sisley teaches Academic Reading and Writing, Speech, and Culture Roundtable courses. In her free time, she enjoys playing the mandolin with a mandolin orchestra in Hillsboro. She also enjoys gardening when it is not raining!

• Dr. Mark Van Ness, Associate Professor

“Although I had been a teacher for more than a decade prior to joining the faculty at the Seminary, I quickly realized how unique the learning environment was here. Instead of teaching students purely how to give academic speeches, my speech classes now include a component that deals with scripture readings and the retelling of a call to ministry. My pronunciation and phonetic courses are also designed to not only help students pronounce general and academic vocabulary, but also include the pronunciation of theological terminology. When addressing the importance of intonation, stress, and rhythm in communication, we include the application of these skills in the context of delivering homilies and giving church announcements. In addition, the plots and characters we read about in our literature courses are compared and contrasted with the narratives found in biblical texts. I thoroughly enjoy teaching at the Seminary and being a part of such a dedicated department. It is truly a privilege to work in this context and being involved in the lives of those who will later touch the lives of so many.”

Dr. Mark Van Ness teaches courses in phonetics, speech, reading, writing, and literature. He just completed his doctoral studies in Intercultural Education. The title of his dissertation was “Honoring Voices: Understanding and Communicating Respect in an Adult ESL Contexts.”

• Associate Professor Kathy Akiyama

“When I first started supervising faculty and students in the English program, I had the good fortune to learn about the diversity of traditions, languages, and cultural orientations through unexpected challenges. One of them concerned a perceived conflict between an American English teacher and her Samoan student. The teacher reported to me that her Samoan student was disrespectful, uninvolved, and even defiant. When I called the student in for a meeting, he told me that he really enjoyed his teacher and her teaching methods. I was taken aback. Then I explained that his teacher felt he was belligerent and surly in class.  Now he was taken aback. We both looked at each other in confusion. When I met again with the teacher, I asked her to describe the behavior to me in detail. She said, “He sits in the back of the room, arms crossed tightly in front of his chest, head and eyes down, and doesn’t open his mouth to say a word.”  I returned to the student and asked him how students show respect in Samoan classrooms.  He said,  “We sit very still and quietly, cross our arms in front, and look down. Staring right into the teacher’s eyes is a sign of disrespect.” The fog cleared and I smiled, knowing how to take it from there.”

After fifteen years as Director of the English Communications Program, Associate Professor Kathy Akiyama has happily returned to full-time teaching. Her courses this academic year include literature, performance studies, philosophy link courses, humanities, philosophy of love, and multicultural ministry courses. In addition to teaching, Professor Akiyama enjoys singing soprano in the seminary Renaissance Schola and the Willamette Master Chorus.

The English Communications faculty has a great deal of fun while, at the same time, working persistently, meeting once a week during lunch to discuss ways to improve teaching and learning. The hard work has obviously brought benefits to Mount Angel Seminary since the English Communications Department has achieved national recognition among many bishops, vocation directors, and religious superiors around the country. For more information about the English Communications Department or other programs at Mount Angel Seminary see the website at For information about seminary life, including student work, see the blog found at