Written: July, 2017
I was transferred from Holy Rosary parish to St. Mark’s High School in June, 1989.
Coincidentally, Fr. Joe Drobinski was assigned as Pastor of Resurrection Parish at the same time. Joe asked if I would be willing to help him with weekend masses at Resurrection. It was an honor to do so. I learned so much during that time… the teens at St. Mark’s taught me that what they wanted in a priest was authenticity and prayer; what the good people of Resurrection taught me was the power of gratitude and affirmation (I used to say that every “new” priest should be assigned to Resurrection in order to receive the gratitude needed to learn how to be a loving disciple of Jesus). I stayed and helped at Resurrection for 9 years. Then, I felt called to “do” something else.
I had heard about Sacred Heart Parish in Camden, New Jersey by way of a “60 Minutes” report I had seen on Sunday night television years earlier. At the time, so impressed by what I saw, I wrote myself a note, “Go to Sacred Heart.” That note sat on my dresser for years. Then, I decided it was time to go.
I attended the 8:30 a.m. Sunday mass for the next three years. Many times, people would say, “You drive all the way to Camden for mass?” And I would respond, “Yes, my soul is worth it!”
I have introduced many people to Sacred Heart and all, unequivocally, have nothing but the highest praise for this remarkable community of faith, which, despite the dire, overwhelming, and even violent, circumstances of its existence, continues, not only to be a healing force in such a broken city, it remains true to its proclamation that “Christ is Risen and, ultimately, All Will be Well.”
If Sacred Heart is a Light of Hope for Camden (which it is!), then Michael Doyle is the fuel that lights the lamp. He has shone brightly in Camden for more than 40 years. He is saint, mystic, friend, healer, advocate, defender, poet, magnet, bridge-builder, groundskeeper, prophet, shepherd, crossing guard, and Irish blessing all rolled into one. He is pastor. He is holy. He is Christ.
Sacred Heart school opened in 1920 and no doubt, remains open, due to the love that Michael Doyle invites others to shower upon the “beautiful children of Camden.” It is a school that welcomes ALL children of the neighborhood, regardless of the family’s ability to pay. More than 80 percent who attend are not Catholic. But Michael believes that all children deserve a good start to life and a good education in a city of inadequate public schools.
Each month, Michael writes a letter to his friends (there must be hundreds of them!). I received this month’s letter today and in it, he asks prayers for John Valerio, on the first anniversary of his death. John graduated from Sacred Heart School in 2008, and was murdered, along with his fiancée, in East Camden, just over a year ago.
Michael will never forget John. Nor will he ever forget the all encompassing command of Jesus: “Love one another.”
This “Way” of life is the promise and perhaps the only way of hope left for so many children like John, who deserve the love that God desires for all children.
Michael Doyle’s prayer is for Camden:
All loving God, we praise you for all you have done. Help us with all that you want us to do! Come, Holy Creator, and rebuild the City of Camden so that we do not labor in vain without you. Come, Holy Savior, and heal all that is broken in our lives and in our streets. Come, Holy Spirit, and inspire us with energy and willingness to rebuild Camden City to your honor and glory. Amen.
Since early 2016, Michael Doyle has struggled with cancer of the jaw. He had major surgery on March 17, 2016 and continues his struggle for life. I am sure that he fights so hard to live because he loves the little ones so completely. As the quintessential Irishman that he is, I am sure he “offers up” whatever pain and sufferings each day brings him so that “the beautiful children” may benefit from such redemptive love.
Michael asks me, and now I ask you: “Will you sponsor the education of a child for $300 dollars?”
Here is a copy of the sponsor card for Sacred Heart School. Please consider becoming a sponsor. As Michael says, “An investment in a child is the world’s greatest investment.” Thank you.