“This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice!” Sister Bonnie McMenamin declared as the sun shined and people from near and far gathered to celebrate and experience the new Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Center in Camden, New Jersey. And what a glorious day it was!
The afternoon of June 1, 2019 marked a monumental step in the progress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Center as sisters, associates, neighbors, benefactors, and friends gathered to officially dedicate and bless the SSJ Neighborhood Center in the Cramer Hill section of Camden. After years of planning and preparation and months of renovations, the Center opened its doors to those who have been present and engaged throughout the establishment of this new ministry.
The day’s festivities began with words of gratitude from Sister Anne Myers, Congregational President, as she welcomed the crowd, spoke of the mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph alive in the Neighborhood Center, and thanked the many people who brought the project to this moment in time. “It is so wonderful that we could all be here for this great celebration,” Sister Anne shared as she thanked Sisters Bonnie McMenamin, Colleen Gibson, and Mary Berryman, who are missioned at the center, as well as Sister Ron Roche who has coordinated the Center’s English classes over the last year. Thanks was also given to the faith community at Christus Lutheran Church, which owns the former preschool building the Neighborhood Center has given new life to, as well as the countless SSJ Associates, volunteers, workers, and neighbors who have brought the center to fruition. “We look forward to many, many years of being here in this neighborhood and working together on behalf of people in need.” Sister Anne happily declared.
The Neighborhood Center adds to the historic presence of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in the city of Camden, where the congregation has served since 1874 and currently serves in a variety of ministries including the Catholic Partnership Schools and Guadalupe Family Services. Sister Regina Bell, Council Liaison for Ministry, spoke to this legacy and the long road that lead to the foundation of the Neighborhood Center. Stemming from the directives of the 2014 General Chapter, a committee to identify a site and develop a process for needs assessment in the city was formed in January 2016. When the current site was selected the Congregation found a faith community at Christus that was warm and welcoming.
“They embraced us from the very beginning,” Sister Regina said, “They were welcoming, open to us and really wanted us to come.” From those beginnings and with much hard work, the Center developed and, with joy, Sister Regina exclaimed, “Today we celebrate the ministry of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Center that is now underway and ready for any good work!”
After a brief ceremony and prayer of blessing, led by the Neighborhood Center’s director, Sister Bonnie, Pastor Jesse Brown sprinkled the building with holy water and those in attendance stretched out their hands to bless the space as the center’s mission statement was read. Following this blessing, a specially selected group of neighbors, associates and sisters cut the ribbon on the space and welcomed all in attendance to bless themselves with holy water and to explore the newly renovated space, as well as the Center’s community garden and food pantry.
Inside the Center, a spirit of gratitude and joy permeated the space. “What a wonderful gathering space and blessed community!” one benefactor remarked. “I can’t stop smiling,” said another, “I’m just so proud and amazed by this great undertaking!”
Furnished with donated furniture and artwork and featuring stained glass from the renovations of the Mount Saint Joseph Convent Chapel, the Neighborhood Center merges history and mission as it undertakes this new ministry in Cramer Hill. With pictures of the renovation scattered throughout the space, as well as photos of people involved in the project, the space was filled with the gift of community and the zeal of new beginnings. “We’ve found the face of Jesus in each one of the people we’ve encountered,” Sister Bonnie remarked as she greeted those present, “And we are so very grateful!”
Gratitude is a gift and as this new ministry takes form and continues to foster relationships, the SSJ Neighborhood Center will undoubtedly become an even greater gift to the community in Cramer Hill, Camden, and beyond.