Gentle Strength in Camden, NJ

(Pictured, L-R: Ryan Cronshaw, Bob Killion, Sr. Claire Sullivan, Mike Montavano, and Tim Gallagher)

(Pictured, L-R: Ryan Cronshaw, Bob Killion, Sr. Claire Sullivan, Mike Montavano, and Tim Gallagher)

Tim Gallagher is a senior at De Sales University and a member of the Oblate Associate Program, a discernment program for college-aged men considering a religious vocation with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. During the summer, Tim has spent a number of weeks working in Camden, NJ, with De Sales Service Works, a Catholic service organization sponsored by the Oblates in Camden. For more information on the Oblate Associate Program, please visit For more information on De Sales Service Works and to find information on how you can volunteer, please visit The following is Tim’s reflection on this experience of service.


At the beginning of this summer I had the opportunity to volunteer in Camden, NJ, with De Sales Service Works. It was a life changing experience of service. As a native of Philadelphia, I knew that Camden was going to be a different and challenging experience, but I had no idea what my feelings were going to be once I was actually living in the city that has such a reputation for violence and crime. I joined three other Oblate associates, two students from Virginia Tech, and the director of De Sales Service Works, Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS. We were informed that we would be walking around the streets of Santo Nombre (Holy Name) Parish and conducting house visits with a religious sister, Sr. Claire Sullivan. Sr. Claire was going to be our guide and “protector” for the next couple of weeks. Knowing the area in which we would be working, I was expecting someone at least a bit bigger than I; what we got was Sr. Claire: a 4’5”, 90lb, well over 70 year old IHM nun. Needless to say, I was a bit uncomfortable with this older nun walking me through the streets of Camden.


On our first night walking around the streets, Sr. Claire’s habit turned into my shield. I found comfort in this seemingly frail nun as we walked through one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. We soon realized that it wasn’t her strength or her size that people respected, rather, it was her gentle presence. 

On a number of occasions, she walked up to a group of young men on the street corner, a task most of us would avoid at all costs. However, Sr. Claire just walked right into the middle of the group and said “Hello gentlemen, can I give you a Salesian thought for the day?” This one act was probably the most influential experience from my time in Camden.


Sr. Claire embodied the Salesian idea that “Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing as gentle as true strength.” Her simple act of just saying hello to a person on the street was her gentle way of bringing the church to the people. I think we can all take a little guidance from Sr. Claire: always treat the people we meet with respect and as if they were a member of our own family, and gentleness is the ultimate strength.
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