Heart of a pastor, mind of a businessman

Msgr. Robert T. McDermott
Msgr. Robert T. McDermott

By Kevin Moran

As word spread of Msgr. Robert T. McDermott’s retirement, parishioners, friends and community members began to reflect on the impact that Father Bob, as he is affectionately called, had on the St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Parish, the Camden community and the church in South Jersey.
Father Bob has been the pastor of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Church for the past 30 years and a priest for 45 years. I’m sure many priests would love to minister to the church community that raised them as a child. Father Bob had that opportunity, attending St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Elementary School while growing up in East Camden.
I had the opportunity to work for Father Bob as director of the Romero Center from 2005-09. Since that time, I have been fortunate to call Father Bob my pastor, my spiritual mentor and my friend.
He has impacted the lives of thousands and thousands of children, of young people and adults, of homeless men and women, of low-income families, of community leaders and of politicians. I once heard someone describe Father Bob as having “the heart of a pastor and the mind of a businessman.” That description is true as evidenced by the community that he built in East Camden over the past 30 years.
Back in 1985, when a low-income family came to St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral looking for housing, Father Bob decided to start St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society. Since then, more than 800 families have benefitted from affordable housing in the city of Camden. When a young person came to Camden looking for a service opportunity, Father Bob started the Romero Center. Since 1998, the Romero Center, a peace and social justice retreat center, has provided opportunities to thousands of students and adults. When Father Bob realized that there were limited opportunities for middle and high school students, he started L.U.C.Y. (Lifting Up Camden’s Youth). Hundreds of Camden youth have been surrounded by a supportive community thanks to their involvement in L.U.C.Y.
When Father Bob observed homeless men and women sleeping on the front steps of the rectory, he decided it was time to start Joseph’s House. Since 2010, hundreds of homeless men and women have benefitted from sleeping indoors in the café, and being referred to social service agencies to end their cycle of poverty.
Father Bob has been supportive of the community at St. Joseph’s Elementary School and St. Joseph’s Child Development Center, both providing a nurturing and educational experience to boys and girls. When Father Bob wanted communities to take ownership over their neighborhoods, he, along with other community leaders, began CCOP (Camden Churches Organized for People); congregations working together through collective action in addressing the problems facing families and congregations in the city. Since 1985, Camden residents have been empowered to hold their community leaders accountable for positive change.
Father Bob has approached everything that he has done with the intention of filling a significant need. He would always ask, “How are we, as a church family, called to answering that need?” As Pope Francis said, “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.”
Because of Father Bob’s commitment to the poor and those suffering from injustices, I have chosen the career path of working with the homeless.
In closing, on behalf of the parishioners of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Parish, the Camden Community and the church in South Jersey, I want to thank you, Father Bob, for your dedication, your love, your passion and your commitment to living the Gospel through word and deed. I feel blessed to call you my pastor and my friend. We wish you all the joy, the happiness, and the blessings that retirement has to offer.

Kevin Moran is executive director of New Visions Homeless Day Shelter, Camden.