The article below is the first in a series of updates about the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, a program that has three locations – Camden, N. J., Philadelphia, Pa., and Wilmington, Del. The article is based on reflectons from the FVMs in Camden.
CAMDEN, N.J. — The FVMs hosted St. Clare House’s first home Mass on Dec. 14 at which Jud Weiksnar celebrated Mass on a side-table-turned-altar in the glow of candles and Christmas lights in the FVMs’ home. Jerry Hudson andJohn Coughlin attended along with the FVMs and a few close friends. After sharing a delicious meal prepared by the FVMs, John blessed St. Clare House, which hopefully will be home to many future FVMs.
FVM Joanne Lannan who has accepted the temporary role of fourth grade teacher at St. Anthony of Padua School offered a synopsis of her experience below:
“No, offense Miss Joanne, but you should really work on your raps.”
Of course I should. I don’t even like rap. But Jose, one of my inherited fourth grade students, seemed to think it necessary for my survival in Camden, to be culturally adept in the music scene. All I was trying to do was create an interesting way for the children to absorb the information. Based on their vocabulary test scores, and despite Jose’s criticism, I’d say it worked.
Two weeks before, I wouldn’t have been alone in front of a classroom of 18 nine- and 10- year olds. I was an aide in this classroom — the nice one. I went from desk to desk helping stragglers with problems scribbled on blackboards and enlightening inquiring minds with the spelling of words such as amphibian. When an educator suddenly took medical leave, and the fourth grade instructor was indefinitely bumped to that class, I was asked to step up as the new fourth grade teacher for the remainder of the month. I took the job.
I have gratefully adopted the philosophy that it is only through challenge and an occasional bit of discomfort that we can discover ourselves more fully. The eight full days that I’ve spent in the loudest classroom at St. Anthony of Padua School have taught me to trust in God to create a purpose from the chaos into which I had been thrown. The behavior of attention-deprived, hyperactive, prepubescent children provoked a need for discipline, organization, and leadership. God equipped me with the necessary skills and rescued me by softening my heart to the reasons these kids act as they do. Just observing their actions could send any substitute unable to see beyond the disarray running for the door, but it has drawn me closer to each of the students’ hearts and permitted, for me, a glance into each of their personal lives.
Since I will soon be serving my last day, I won’t be bringing in 2007 as a full-time teacher. I will be able to resume my role as the aide in the classroom. It will be tough to hand them back over, just as it will be to leave all of my Camden ministries down the road, but I can check teaching off my list of things to try. I’m now a little less fearful, somewhat more daring and undoubtedly reassured that God will never place upon His children any burden too heavy, any task too daunting.
Now, I ask for your prayers and support as I move into my next adventure — learning to rap, of course.
Highlights of Camden FVM activities
FVM Danny Bourdua has begun an innovative project called “Trash Art.” This fascinating endeavor gives new purpose to trash and transforms it into impressive pieces designed by students of St. Anthony of Padua School.
FVM Mike Smith and Jerry Hudson are in the process of beginning a prison ministry, including a Bible study group and faith sharing.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, the four FVMs assist at Francis House, a walk-in social ministry devoted to people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. They help prepare lunch, organize and clean, and are a general presence for the people who come.
Camden is unique in the sense that there are more unscheduled ministries that come up at a moment’s notice than there are actual scheduled weekly programs. Along with RCIA (Rite of Chrstian Initiation for Adults), CCD, and ESL (English as a second language), there are frequent events and meetings that require a parish representative, a role that the FVMs are always eager to fill. One such organization is the Cramer Hill Development Corporation (CDC). The CDC educates residents on their rights concerning the new redevelopment plan for the city. Some central issues of the group are eminent domain and redevelopment housing benefits packages.
Mike represents St. Anthony’s when attending these meetings, trying not only to take in as much information as possible to bring back to the parish, but also offering his own voice as a young adult resident in the community. Mike says, “in this way, I represent the church, but also set an example for the younger generations that could potentially turn the city around and lead it in the right direction.”
In November, the FVMs from all three sites participated in a fall retreat at the Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Center in Western New York. Shown in photo are Danny Bourdua, Joanne Lannan, John Coughlin, Mike Smith and Kelly Zientek.
Katie Sullivan is program director of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry.