The organizations often referred to as the “Ministries of St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral” have a long history, beginning with the opening of the Elementary School in 1929. Decades later, the Child Development Center was established in 1962, led by the Franciscan Sisters of the Infant Jesus. The Ministries took on a new life and importance upon the return of Monsignor Robert McDermott to serve as the new Pastor of his childhood parish in 1986. “Father Bob” as he is known, learned early on in his tenure of the intention of the Diocese of Camden to close the Elementary School, an action which he fought stridently and successfully.
In his new role as Pastor, Father Bob noted with alarm the devastating decay that had befallen the city of his youth and he quickly saw the need to serve his community in new ways. Beyond the focus on educating children, Fr. Bob’s first initiative was the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, formed in 1987. Seeing the widespread abandonment of homes in his neighborhood and recognizing the sad irony of families living in sub-par, crowded condition with empty homes all around them, he embarked on a journey to transform abandoned homes into homeownership opportunities for the families of Camden. Nearly 1000 homes later, the Carpenter Society is a national model for community redevelopment.
Also in 1987, again responding to a serious and unmet need, Father Bob created a Youth Outreach Program to provide support for Camden’s teen population. With few programs in the City to help this most vulnerable age group, this parish youth group was an answer to a desperate need by providing educational, social and spiritual support to guide teens through their adolescence. Offering an alternative to a life of danger and failure on the streets, the program focuses on healthy, productive choices in an environment of encouragement, optimism and positive reinforcement. Today, the program is known as L.U.C.Y., for “Lifting Up Camden Youth” Outreach, thrives in serving upwards of 400 young people with astonishing success and achievements.
Next, Fr. Bob turned his attention to a different group of youth and young adults which is referred to as the Romero Center Ministries. Seeing the need to provide young people of faith with the opportunity to strengthen their faith and commitment to helping those in need, he created the Ministry in the name of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, a revered leader and model for serving the poor. Since its inception in 1998, the Romero Center has hosted approximately 20,000 students from across the country, who come to the Center to participate in service and spiritual reflection. Today, about 1,400 students visit annually, conducting 20,000 hours of community service at approximately 25 service sites.
Finally, in 2010, seeing a troubling increase in the number of homeless people seeking shelter on the Parish campus, Father Bob once again resolved to do something about it. He established the
Joseph’s House, originally a winter refuge for homeless citizens, providing a warm place to spend the night, a nutritious meal and the dignity and respect shown by the caring staff and volunteers. Now with its own facility on Atlantic Avenue in South Camden, Joseph’s House accommodates up to 75 guests each night, 365 days a year. This vital, life-saving ministry has evolved from a place of hospitality to a leader in providing very success transitional housing counseling for the city’s homeless population.
The Joseph Fund of Camden
With six thriving and growing organizations, it became clear that despite their growth, the needs of the people of Camden were outpacing the ability to meet them. Requiring more resources and a more coordinated approach to supporting growth, The Joseph Fund, Inc. was created in 2012 to provide fundraising and consultative support to these critical service organizations positively impacting and improving Camden. A Board of Trustees was established in April and with a call to begin fundraising activities in earnest. By July of that year, Mark Hodges was hired as the first Executive Director, and in May of 2015, Jim Catrambone was installed as Executive Director with the primary duty of leading the fundraising efforts. In it’s short existence to support these partner organizations, The Joseph Fund (now referred to as The Joseph Fund of Camden) has reinvested more than $1.5 million in this work.
The Joseph Fund of Camden’s mission continues in support of Fr. Bob’s vision conceived more than three decades earlier to be “Passionate stewards of resources; supporting missions and transforming thousands of lives!”