News Post

Students Serve Others in Camden, New Jersey

Three St. Joseph’s Academy students traveled to Camden, New Jersey, for a week of service, June 23-29. The experience was hosted by Romero Center Ministries, formerly a Franciscan convent now owned and run by St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Parish. The urban retreat center grounds people in Jesus’ call to serve the poor.

Once a thriving working-class community across the river from Philadelphia, Camden was devastated by the decline of the manufacturing industry and today suffers with high poverty, unemployment and crime rates. 

Trip chaperones were faculty members Chelsea Colomb and Sharon Ogra. 

Rising junior Louisa deBlieux said she enjoyed a variety of experiences, including visiting nursing homes and adult daycare centers as well as serving meals in the Cathedral Kitchen. “Each place we went to, we met new people with different backgrounds and experiences in their lives, and it was truly a learning opportunity,” she said. “While serving at Cathedral Kitchen, I got to talk to many of the people dining there, and I learned about their lives, families and interests. Just being able to talk to the patrons was such a privilege. It was such an honor to just be there and be trusted to hear their stories. To be honest, I chose this trip mostly for the location, and I knew we got an off day in Philadelphia. Now I can say Philadelphia was nothing compared to the people I met and the stories I heard.”

Ogra said a message on a wall in the Romero Center states, “You say you know the poor. Name them.” She said the weeklong experience enabled the students to do just that. “Serving food to those in need, extending dignity by a ministry of presence to the residents of an adult daycare center, helping the disabled at a home facility and interacting with 3- to 5-year-old children in a less advantaged preschool environment, we could all name the poor,” Ogra said. “The young ladies gave to the community by helping the dear neighbor but also received the joy of helping others. No one left without being impacted by the experience. It was wonderful.”

Colomb said visiting with the Sisters at The Villa retirement center was among the highlights of the trip. “I loved witnessing the girls seeing the threads that connect all throughout our country of the great impact the Sisters of St. Joseph have had on various aspects of our world,” she said. “As we visited with them during their ‘soft pretzels and sweet tea social,’ they shared with us stories of their days of ministry and how they became Sisters. Many shared about the days of wearing a habit. The Sisters shared that they wanted to dress like those around them in serving the dear neighbor.” 

The SJA travelers also toured Chestnut Hill College and visited the historical sites of Philadelphia. They were joined by a group of students from Mount St. Joseph Academy, a sister school in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. 

“Each of us was profoundly impacted by our experience in Camden,” Colomb said. “I hope the girls remember that even the smallest acts can have the greatest impact. Whether it’s visiting with someone and listening to their story, playing a game, dancing, a shared smile, a passing hello, a simple meal or a few words of encouragement, that is being to Jesus to those most in need. The people in Camden, as well as the Sisters of St. Joseph, also showed us the great witness of seeing a need and responding. The seeds that are planted will one day grow, and we must trust that we are doing our part in building the Kingdom.”


Mindy Brodhead Averitt
Communications Director