Service Matters – Christmas Weekday

7 January 2013

Christmas Weekday

St. Raymond of Penafort


A project of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, in Camden, NJ,

DeSales Service Works welcomes volunteers to join

in service, prayer, and learning in our struggling neighborhood.


  •  Service Word
  •  Last Week in Camden
  •  Upcoming Events
  •  Links


1. Service Word  Matthew 2:1-12

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, 

until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.

They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 

and on entering the house

they saw the child with Mary his mother.

They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

Then they opened their treasures 

and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.


Juan Santiago (his real name; I ordinarily change names for privacy) is a guy in Camden.   We first met him because he and his girlfriend, Dorothy, were homeless, living in the doorway of Camden’s old Bell Telephone building, now enveloped by a modern Verizon tower.   It is a very exposed spot, at the intersection of one of Camden’s busiest streets with the street outside the Cathedral parking lot.   This unlikely spot to camp out fits Juan’s personality, because he is so positive and friendly.   His life is exposed—what you see is what you get.   What you see immediately is that he has cerebral palsy and is hard of hearing—totally deaf in the left ear.   And it doesn’t take long to learn that he is diabetic, used to be a drug user, has lost all family members except his mom who has nothing to do with him and an uncle in Florida, and has seizures.    Even one of these hardships would knock me out of commission, but Juan makes it work.   He’s not at all shy about asking for help, but is unfailingly grateful, and playful.   He is so positive, childlike, and friendly, you have to love him.


When they lived homeless on that corner, at the beginning of each month Juan would take their combined income from Social Security and “disability” to get a motel room.   When money ran out, they were back on the street, just getting by.    This cycle continued until Guadalupe Family Services got them into an apartment; he loves Sr. Helen Cole.


On the first evening of the year, an ambulance took Dorothy to Cooper Hospital with a severe infection that took her life Saturday morning.   I should mention that Juan is 44, girlfriend/wife/fiancée, Dorothy, was twenty-some years older.   Where Juan is outgoing; Dorothy was passive, and quiet.   Juan always advocated for her and got her going, but he could not get her to go to the hospital before she finally was taken there Tuesday at 9:00PM.


Helen, Tim Gallagher, and I (along with Juan’s whole world via his ever-present phone) kept watch with him in the ICU over Dorothy swaddled in 21st century medical technology’s warming system, tubes, and machinery.   The medical staff were great—and of course Juan endeared himself to all of them.


On the surface the ICU could not be more different from Bethlehem, the Mother and Christ Child, Herod, the star, and the magi.   But Juan brought his gifts to lay at the manger, a small, scruffy teddy bear—but more deeply, his devotion to Dorothy.   Incarnation is not for “long ago and far away.”   Here and now we can find the Savior in our acts.   I bet the magi would have recognized the Divine in that hospital bed in the helpless one, the one in need—and in the compassion and care offered there.

-In what unlikely scenes do you find the Lord?

-What gifts to you bring to the manger this new year?

-How are you in need as we begin this new year?



2. Last Week in Camden

Cristo Rey High School in Philadelphia has scheduled eight service Saturdays for the spring semester.   The school has been in operation only since August, but they already have a service component as a natural part of its identity.

Saturday seven students and two staff from Niagara University arrived for a week of service.



3. Upcoming Events

Niagara has a great week ahead of them.   University of Wisconsin man and third time service retreater, Tyler Hinnendael is hear for the week during winter break.   Tyler first came with a Madison group Holy Week, then came for a week last summer, and now is back for more.

A Salesianum School homeroom will be here Tuesday.



4. Links

Read past reflections at the archives of Service Matters  and on DSW’s Facebook page.


Bob Killion, OSFS, has produced a great new video to convey the faith that inspires the Oblates to work here and offers insights about what DSW is trying to do in Camden.   Check it out.


This week is National Migration Week an effort of the US Church to support efforts to welcome new Americans and to work for fair and sane immigration laws.



Peace, Mike McCue

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment