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By Steve Klug ’74, President, ND Club of South Jersey

Throughout the 1980’s, the State of New Jersey used the slogan “New Jersey and You: Perfect Together” in its tourism ad campaign.  Though it hasn’t been used in over two decades, it’s one of those slogans that people of a certain age still remember – like “Don’t squeeze the Charmin” or “Where’s the Beef?”.  The Notre Dame Club of South Jersey has taken that old slogan to heart in developing an ongoing relationship with St. Anthony of Padua parish in Camden, NJ.  It has been working with St. Anthony for seven years now, helping with a variety of ministries and projects within the parish.  It also helps that the club has an insider as the pastor of the parish – Fr.  William “Jud” Weiksnar, OFM, Notre Dame Class of 1979.

Camden makes headlines at least once a year as one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the United States.  But as others fled the city of Camden, St. Anthony has held fast. They have developed Francis House, a house of refuge for the HIV/AIDS community, where support is offered over the warmth of a shared meal, with education and assistance with basic needs. They have cultivated a Community Garden across the street from the church, where their parishioners can harvest fresh, healthy foods and build fellowship and pride in their community. They have also fought for justice through the community organizing group Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP), yielding victories against many issues such as abandoned housing,   trash clean-up, violence prevention, and job creation.   St. Anthony of Padua is a light in a dark place. They are a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.

This call to action on behalf of the Eucharist leads the St. Anthony community to the tenets of JPIC––Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.  They are each a call to live the Gospel through a commitment to the common good. St. Anthony’s fights for justice with CCOP for countless people in Camden who struggle with abandoned houses every day. They strive for peace in the troubled hearts and minds of those who come into Francis House, their HIV/AIDS ministry. They protect the Integrity of Creation by cultivating their Community Garden and cleaning up their neighborhoods. Their commitment to JPIC is still wanting, however, for there are still people in Camden who suffer from terrible violence, people in Camden who are still in need of jobs, and people throughout the city who are still in need of the healing love of Christ. As long as these people still exist, St. Anthony’s commitment to JPIC is unfulfilled.

The South Jersey Club supports St. Anthony in many ways.  It sponsors community service days in the spring in conjunction with the Hesburgh Month of Service and in the fall.  This year the Jersey Shore Club also sent volunteers in part to thank the South Jersey Club for the help and aid it gave to Jersey Shore’s super storm Sandy relief fund.  During these community service days, South Jersey club volunteers help with building improvement (painting, roofing, repair, reconstruction, etc.) of the church, school and community center buildings, weeding and planting in Br. Jerry’s garden, and general cleanup of the grounds around St. Anthony.  The community service days always start with early morning mass in the church and end in the afternoon with a delicious home-cooked meal for the volunteers prepared by members of the St. Anthony family.

Club members also provide assistance and professional service to St. Anthony.  It has provided numerous members to work on the St. Anthony Development Board and has a member who sits on the parish’s Finance Committee.  The club has also started a mentoring program for students in the school’s 6th, 7th and 8th grades.

The club has also sponsored Summer Service Learning students for the past six years.  These students are housed at St. Anthony and work in a variety of ministries including assisting in the school, working at Francis House, CCOP, Br. Jerry’s garden, community involvement and other programs.  In addition to immersing themselves in the more traditional roles of the SSLP program, the students have also developed public information programs for St. Anthony.  Two years ago, they produced four write-ups for use by the Development Board describing St. Anthony and its major ministries.  Copies of these documents can be viewed on the St. Anthony website at http://www.stanthonycamden.org.  Last year they produced a three minute video for the Development Board to be used for its fundraising efforts.  Click on the link http://youtu.be/-tc8OF5kZe8 to view the video.

The South Jersey Club also regularly runs fundraisers for St. Anthony.  Among these are ND at the Shore, a party at a nightclub in Avalon, a Southern Jersey shore town, SuperBowling, a party at a bowling alley on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, and the Bread of Life basketball tournament which involves local high schools participating in South Jersey’s version of Bookstore Basketball coupled with the collection of can goods and other food items for Francis House.

The South Jersey Club’s involvement with St. Anthony of Padua parish is a great example of NDSA’s Christian Community Professional Assistance Program.  The club has partnered with a church within its boundaries to provide a variety of professional and practical services to the church and the community.  Participation in the program is not limited to Senior Alumni.  Club members of all ages participate.  But it shows the power of what a committed Notre Dame club can do and how it can help make a difference to a parish and a community. 

If you watch the St. Anthony’s video, you’ll hear Fr. Jud open it with the question “Camden?  Who would come to Camden?”  Well, the Notre Dame Club of South Jersey has answered, “We would!”  And they’re perfect together.  To learn more about St. Anthony of Padua parish and its ministries please visit its website at http://www.stanthonycamden.org.