This is about Sacred Heart, a Catholic school in the heart of South Camden and also my service site two days a week.

Sacred Heart is comprised of students grades kindergarten through 8th grade with the addition of a Montessori pre-K program. My role at the school has been to collect classes and deliver them again between the school and their recently found new art space down the street. To this effect I’m also the art aid. In addition to art, I tend to also just fill in wherever they need an adult. Sometimes that’s the cafeteria (where the kind women down there never fail to sneak me food) other times that’s working the front window or the occasional subbing. My favorite role of all, however, has to be the after school program.

The afterschool program is where kids whose parents can’t pick them up or be home right away following school can hang out, eat snacks and if they get their homework done and checked, play games. It’s during this time that I get to really know the students. The group is small and consistent enough that it is my opportunity to actually build relationships and it being outside the context of normal school, I get to give up the role of fake authority and replace it with a sisterly understanding. “Oh yeah, I hate math too. You should let me help so we can play Miss Mary Mac.” There’s no game like a handshake game.

The similarities between Sacred Heart and St. Paul’s (the Catholic school I went to for 9 years) were at first uncanny but upon closer inspection they really do more to contrast than to compare.  We wore the same uniform, but we never had to wear clothes with rips in them. We had lunch in the classrooms when a funeral was going on during a school day, but those funerals were never for someone unjustly murdered in our neighborhood. A police officer spotted during recess was always sure to create a buzz but a buzz is different than fear and fear was all I saw as a black student sat down with his hands on top of his head this week.

Since graduating from Catholic school I had never wanted to step foot in one again. God had other plans and this experience has shaped my appreciation for Catholic education in a way that couldn’t have been anything short of intentional. While I do value this education. While I do see the absolute beauty in that we get the privilege to tell these kids that God loves them on a daily basis, if we stop here we are failing them all.

The resurrection of the kingdom on Earth includes bringing justice to its children. Failing to do so is to accept this reality as normal.



erinrileyErin Riley is a current Philly Mission Year team members serving in the Hunting Park neighborhood. She is originally from Owosso, MI. Read more on her blog or visit her donation page to support her.