Greetings to everyone on this very hot July day!
This past week I enjoyed time at the shore with three of our children and six of our grandchildren, including the newest addition, a boy of 5 weeks! One day I was at the shore line with three of my grandchildren (Sean, Kieran and Lily). The water was at low tide, so there was a vast expanse of beach to run and play on. Lily had the idea of creating a fort of sorts, and then digging a channel from that fort to the sea, so that the incoming waves would send a stream of water up the channel into the belly of the fort. So, the four of us got to work, and soon we had our long channel, and sure enough, the surf began to reach it. By this time, I had decided to stand back and watch the little ones work feverishly at their creation. The inevitable happened, of course; despite their fierce efforts, the waves erased their work, and soon there was no channel and no fort!
As I stood there, watching the children try to resist the work of the waves, I thought of the work the Center does in Camden, in the neighborhood of Waterfront South. I also thought of the work of Sacred Heart Church, and the work, specifically, of Michael Doyle, the pastor. This past May 31st, Fr. Doyle celebrated 54 years as a priest. That month he also celebrated 39 years since he became pastor of Sacred Heart Church. Having done his “bit” to protest the insanity of the Vietnam War in the famous Camden 28 Action at the federal building in Camden, Fr. Doyle asked to do his “bit” to fight for his beloved city of Camden, from the streets of Waterfront South. Since that time the results of his prodigious efforts, and his undying loyalty to the people, are nothing short of astounding. Over 220 abandoned homes have been rehabilitated and now belong to first time homeowners; all done by the Heart of Camden Housing, Inc. His commitment to the arts, and the truth that beauty can save us from ourselves, was the seedbed for a 99 seat theatre, called the Waterfront South Theatre. That commitment to the arts has led to the renovation of the old firehouse into a home for aspiring artists, as well as a writer’s house, which will be home to a café on the first floor. His commitment to affirming that matter matters, not only in the Eucharistic celebration of his Roman Catholic faith community, but also in the land, air and water that sustains all life, led to the vision of embracing Camden’s environmental challenges as an opportunity to educate people to their responsibility to the environment and to the people who suffer due to our irresponsible living. This gave birth to the Center for Environmental Transformation with its greenhouse, gardens and retreat facility; CFET’s growth has been accomplished in large part because of his generosity. However, the most important commitment that Fr. Doyle manifests each day of his life is to the children of Sacred Heart School, a K-8 school, with 220 children, that beats so strong and bright because of the generosity of so many people who Fr. Michael reaches out to through his monthly letter.
So much is happening, so much beauty, so much commitment, so much faith in the power of life over death. All of this embodied in Michael: priest, poet, observer of miracles and prophet. Everything that has grown out of his vision and commitment, including CFET, is a testimony to his faith, faith in God and in the people around him.
I return to the shore, watching the waves make quick work of the energies and imagination of my grandchildren. I wonder about the buildings, the gardens, the school, the gym, and all the other things that exist because of Michael Doyle. They will all pass away, eventually. The “sands of time” has new meaning for me as I watched the children play in the surf. However, for the people of this time, for the people who have been blessed with a new home, a good education for themselves and their children, nutritious food, beautiful and bountiful gardens, Saturday meals at Joe’s Place, the monthly Food Sharing program, a gym, a place to celebrate beauty and a place to praise God, there is something magnificent in the realization of the dreams and hopes of faith. For this time, for this period of time, those buildings and dreams and hard work nurture and protect and celebrate human beings who live in the “invincible city” of Camden.
What cannot be wiped away by the “sands of time?” Faith, commitment, vision, persistence, humor and wisdom: qualities of character found in Michael Doyle. For the sake of my grandchildren, for the sake of the children of Camden, for the sake of all those who are hurting, struggling, hungry, homeless, addicted, and poor in the city of Camden, for the sake of CFET, and for my own sake, I bear witness to the gift of God that is Fr. Michael. His presence in Camden has always been a source of inspiration for many; may that always be the case, despite the power of the waves.
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
President, Board of Trustees