Thursday, October 28, 2010

Meet the DSW Volunteers

Pictured (from left to right): DSW Volunteers Mike Morgan, Tim Gallagher, and Tom Briese.

Editor's Note: The following entry is from Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ.

De Sales Service Works presently has two aspects to it. First, we welcome groups who come to Camden for a time to serve here and to reflect on the experience in light of their faith. In addition, we have a program for year-long, full time volunteers. I want to take this blog entry to introduce this year’s volunteers. In the near future, look for blog entries from each of them sharing experience and insight from their time here since the end of August.

Tom Briese
Tom found DSW via online advertisement through Catholic Network of Volunteer Service. He is a recent graduate of St. Mary’s University a Christian Brothers school in Winona, MN. Tom graduated with a degree in biochemistry and has several research internships under his belt. In addition to serving as DSW volunteer, Tom has been doing the hard work of applying to medical schools in the Midwest. He is a skilled musician and can basically play anything in front of him. Trombone is his main instrument, but we have witnessed keyboard, guitar, tin whistle and fife. Tom is originally from Rochester MN, the home of the Mayo Clinic---one of his inspirations for a career in medicine.

In Camden, Tom works at a variety of service placements in the neighborhood. In the medical field, he works at St. John’s Pre-natal clinic and at Lourdes Hospital’s mobile clinic, Project Hope. Then he volunteers at Holy Name School and at Camden Center for Law and Social Justice each one day a week. In addition, he shares his musical ability in liturgy at St. Joseph Parish in East Camden and at Holy Name School Masses with Sr. Claire.

Mike Morgan
Mike is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech. He earned a BA is in the field of Public and Urban Affairs. He was a freshman at Blacksburg at the time of the tragic shootings in 2007; he says people always ask. He experienced the efforts at healing and processing of that event facilitated by the Catholic Student Center. Campus ministry also got Mike to Camden. He first served here in May of 2009 with two other guys from Tech and several Oblate Associates. That experience made an impression, and he kept in touch and now is here for the year.

Mike works full time at Hopeworks, the project nearby that uses computer skills and web design to teach life skills and job skills and is, at the same time, a business that designs and runs websites for non-profits around the nation. His has many responsibilities there, but spends a lot of time recruiting trainees for the program.

Williamsburg, Virginia, is his hometown. Mike also plays the guitar, runs, and enjoys woodworking.

Tim Gallagher
Tim has been part of DSW since we moved to Camden. As an Oblate Associate, he was part of the January 2008 service retreat held here. He was back with the Virginia Tech group in May and then participated in several groups that came from DeSales University last year, his senior year at DSU. Tim began his association with the Oblates in high school at Father Judge, a school we staff in Northeast Philadelphia. In June 2008 Tim even spoke about DSW at the annual Oblate Convocation.

Tim hears a clear vocation to teach, evident in his comfort presenting to our convocation and in his service this year as a DSW volunteer. This volunteer year, he works at Guadalupe Family Services, an agency that reaches out to the families of murder victims in Camden. In addition, GFS engages in anger management and conflict resolution training in the community. Tim does this at our parish grade school at all the various grade levels. In addition, he has been teaching English to four newly arrived young men from the Dominican Republic since August.

The volunteers live in a deliberate way as a community for the year. Each has his full time job, and each is involved with the various service groups who come to Camden to serve. They pray together each morning. They study Salesian spirituality and Catholic social teaching book-club style by reading and discussion some very good books through the year.

Camden has so much need, and because of that situation, many people come to serve here. A great thing for DSW volunteers is that there are three other volunteer groups made up of recent college grads in Camden. One group, five members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, live one block away from DSW on Vine Street . They are great neighbors because of friendship---and also because they like DSW’s internet connection.

Four retreats are part of the volunteer experience. The first one is this weekend at the DeSales Hall in Washington, DC. This will provide an opportunity to check on goals for the year, to evaluate and to reflect on themes of justice and Salesian spirituality.

We will also take advantage of some of the attractions the nation’s capital has to offer including a visit to the Holocaust Memorial and Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the Mall. Mike Morgan will get to try out DC’s new trail that runs from the Brookland section of NE Washington downtown, where it connects with the Mall and all the trails along the Potomac. He will be running 20 miles this Saturday in training for the Philadelphia Marathon on November 21st.

Look for blog entries from the volunteers reflecting on their insight and experience in Camden with DSW.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Experience of Student Visitors to DSW

Editor's Note: The following blog entry is from Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ. Fr. Mike shares the experiences of some seniors from Salesianum School in Wilmington, DE, who have been on retreats this semester in Camden. As someone who has participated in all of these retreats, I can attest to the powerful impact the experience of serving in Camden has on the students.

Salesianum School, the Oblate high school in Wilmington, DE, has been a great partner with DSW since we began in Camden. Last year 12th graders came in small groups for service, prayer, and reflection. This year seniors have been here again in groups of around 20 students for Tuesdays and Thursdays in September and October. In February and March juniors will come for service retreats. In addition, we will host two weekend retreats, one in February and the other in April. The school community has also been generous in donations of money and (very practical) socks and underwear. Participating with DSW is one way for the school to demonstrate its commitment to Salesian spirituality and Christian service.

Each service retreat begins with Mass followed by a morning service period where students go to one of three sites: our food service, New Visions day shelter, or working with Ken on the “peace garden.” As noon approaches, we tour part of Camden as we walk from the Cathedral in downtown to North Camden. Just in walking the 7 blocks, students get a picture of life in our city. We pass vacant lots, abandoned houses, graffiti-covered walls, all too abundant evidence of drug use and human desperation.

All this contrasts with the experience at the end of the walk: we join Holy Name School kids in recess. The middle school kids are very lively, friendly, and they enjoy the interaction with the high school students. Each group of Salesianum young men is made up of different individuals, but there is a sense in which the service has become a corporate project. The grade school kids meet new visitors each retreat, but they have come to expect good things from the “high school boys.” The same is true of the peace garden; last year’s seniors began it, transforming an urban desert into an ordered, flourishing garden. The Class of 2011 has taken up where they left off, working with Kenny and enjoying the comments and appreciation of all passers-by.

The retreat finishes with discussion of topics raised by the time in the city. As part of that we ask the seniors to spend a few minutes answering journal questions. I share some of these below, to give a picture of the reaction of these generous students to their time here.

Why is it important for me to be here for this service retreat today?

To see what it’s like to live poor so we understand it better.

When I wake up everyday, I have food to eat, clothes to put on, and a bed to come back to at night. People here do not have these things. We all need to see these things so we can learn how to fix them.

I think that, now that I see what goes on in this city, it means a lot to the people just for us to be here. I think that we also need to see what life is like in the world we do not see.

It is important because it opens our eyes to a completely different world. This place just makes you want to help and to make a change. This is not how America should be and those of us who are fortunate enough should help make a difference here. People need our help, even id it is just to listen to their story.

I need to see how an area so close to me was completely different from my life. I helped people by listening to their life stories; about how they became homeless and why they use drugs.

To learn about the lives of other people who live so differently from the way I live. To walk in someone’s shoes who lives in Camden. To see how someone can fall to the bottom so easily. It’s a learning experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Because some people don’t realize how bad certain areas are in this country. For myself, I have taken my life for granted and have not appreciated the thing I have like a home, clothes, and food. This has certainly opened my eyes.

It is important for me to see how poor of shape Camden is in and see if I can make a difference.

To give people in need something money can’t buy: time. Just to give them some one to talk to.

I think that the importance behind my reason for being here is simple. simple, meaning doing small things like talking to kids at the grade school or making sandwiches makes mw realize how lucky I am to have what I do. All the things I need to live my life. Then a realization opens my eyes even more, looking at the big picture not just seeing what’s in front of me but the people and what they go through every day just to get a meal. It’s the small things I can do that really show the difference

What will I take away from this experience of service and reflections?

The love that everyone around me has shown me and the gratitude I’ve received through my actions.

I now realize all the bad things that can happen to you when you live on the streets. And it’s made me thankful for the family I have and all that they have given me. And I think that I can better understand why it is necessary to get a good education and to be successful so as to one day be able to give back to communities like this.

I have a feeling of how lucky I am for what I have been given. I want to help people and clean up our country. ---Really showed me that I am blessed and shouldn’t take anything for granted.

Coming out of this mind-opening experience, I take away images of people sleeping on the streets and how using drugs will not solve your problems. The kids at the school were smiling the whole time we hung out with them, and I think we made their day a lot better.

To be the best that I can be in any situation I am in because I saw today what can happen if I don’t. It really made me feel how lucky I was to have a nice home, to go to a great school and to live in a great place that I do with a great family.

The love that everyone around me has shown me and gratitude I’ve receive through my actions.

Not every one is a lucky as the next person but they know that they still have their pride and their life. I can take away anything and everything from this opportunity. Respect, forgiveness, humility, gentleness, civility and more.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Salesian Spirituality in Haiti after the Earthquake

In a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter, Gerard Thomas Straub details the experience of Fr. Tom Hagan, OSFS, in his work in Haiti after the earthquake.

While much of the media coverage that immediately followed the earthquake has died down, Straub notes that the situation in Haiti these days is getting worse. Poverty, disease, and violence continue to be large problems, just as they were before the earthquake. In this pro-life month in the Church, we are reminded that "Poverty is death."

In this violent, chaotic world, Fr. Hagan articulates how Salesian spirituality and his prayer life sustains him in what can be tiring, thankless work. Fr. Hagan notes that Salesian spirituality gives him what he calls a "positive arrogance" because of his unfailing trust in the providence of God.

Straub gives a beautiful description of Fr. Hagan's ministry in the slums of Haiti, "In a world of shadows and despair, Hagan is a gentle ray of light and hope." Fr. Hagan is doing extraordinary things in Haiti, but we all live in a world that can be marked by violence and despair. Being a gentle presence in a violent world in the tradition of Salesian spirituality is a valuable gift we can all offer to the world today.

The complete article can be found here:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pro Life Month

October is pro-life month in the Church, and all Christians are invited to reflect on the threats to the dignity of the human person that exist in the world today. After gaining a deeper understanding of the issues that threaten the dignity of human life, we are challenged to work for change so that human life, in all its stages, will be recognized as a gift from God.

The dignity of human life should be at the center of all of our policy decisions and moral reflections according to Catholic social teaching. We believe that God is passionately in love with every human being God has created, from the womb to the tomb. This "seamless garment" approach to human life prevents us from being co-opted as Christians by one political party or another to promote a limited view of what is important. Abortion is not the only pro-life issue, despite its importance. Poverty is not the only pro-life issue, despite its importance as well. The list could go on and on. Poverty, abortion, euthanasia, affordable health care for all, etc., etc., are all important pro-life issues that Christians must be concerned with. We do not respect human dignity when we only focus on one issue at the expense of others. Further, we also have seen over the past few years how many of these issues are interrelated, and a just response requires looking at how sinful systems affect the dignity of human life. During this month of October, and throughout the year, we pray and work for a respect for the image of God present in all human beings.

Cardinal DiNardo, the chairman of the committee for pro-life activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated, "If we allow the dignity of human life to guide the decisions we make as voters and public policy advocates, we can surely succeed in creating a more just and humane society." For the full text of Cardinal DiNardo's statement for pro-life month, please click here: