Sophomores Experience a Working Retreat in Camden
Seventeen years ago, St. Augustine Prep was looking for a program whereby the sophomore students could better focus on their lives and the lives of others who are misfortunate. At the time, Brother David Graber, M.SS.CC. (Science and Theology Departments) was in residence at Our Lady of Fatima/Mt. Carmel Parish in Camden, a parish staffed by his Congregation. A program was proposed so that sophomore students, about 30 at a time, would spend several days living in Camden and working with the citizens of Camden. Hence, the Metanoia Retreat was born. Metanoia is a Greek word which means to have a change of heart or an inner conversion.
Led by Bro. Dave and another teacher, the students stay in the parish hall. After morning prayer, the students are transferred throughout the city for different work experiences. In 5 different schools, the Prep boys work with students in grades Kindergarten through 2. There, they assist teachers with reading and math tutoring. The principal at Holy Name School has said that she always looks forward to the Prep guys coming to visit because they are such wonderful role models. Other work modules include Heart of Camden, a ministry of Sacred Heart parish in South Camden which is similar to Habitat for Humanity. Purchasing abandoned houses from the City for back taxes, groups such as St. Augustine, demolish the insides and the houses are then recycled into a beautiful home that is sold to low-income families. Frank’s Place is a ministry of the Lutheran Church of America. It is a daytime shelter for homeless and street persons. There, the students help to prepare and serve breakfast and lunch and to interact with the clients. Kevin Moran, the director, says that he looks forward to the visits by the Prep students who lend a spirit of hope and joy to the many clients.
At night, after dinner, the students listen to guest speakers. For several years, a favorite speaker is Mike Moffa, a law enforcement officer in Camden. Mike, a Prep graduate, class of 1996, explains to the students the difficulties and trials of everyday life in one of the poorest and crime ridden cities in America. On another night, Mass is celebrated with Fr. Pat McStravog, O.S.A.
After the experience, some students ask if they can continue their working relationships with persons with whom they encountered, especially the young children. In their upper grades, many of our students have continued this relationship.