School serves as a ‘beacon of light in the City of Camden’


Photo by James A. McBride

stjoeproschool-webFrances Montgomery, principal of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral School, Camden, visits with children at lunch time.

Third in a series of profiles of the five Catholic Partnership Schools, the others being Holy Name, Sacred Heart, St. Anthony of Padua, Holy Name and St. Cecilia. The stated goal of the Partnership is to develop “already good schools into great schools” because education holds the greatest promise for breaking the cycle of poverty.

Stepping into St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral Elementary School in East Camden, one immediately notices the lighthouses. Student art. Tapestries. Logos. Sculptures.

All these represent the school’s theme: “Beacon of Light in the City of Camden: Lighting the Way to Excellence in Education.”

Since 1902, the school has served East Camden students; it has been at its Federal Street location since 1929. Today, the school educates 264 K-8 students. Predominantly Hispanic, the school’s population also includes Asian and African-American students.

Noting that today’s school students are children or grandchildren of former St. Joseph’s students, school principal Frances Montgomery said that, indeed, the school is “an anchor in the community.”

As a member of the Catholic Partnership Schools initiative —which aims to revitalize the five Camden-area schools with “increased enrollment, funding, and emphasis on excellence,” through outreach to corporate and individual sponsors, with staff who have experience in the fields of development and enrollment — St. Joseph’s is strengthening its school, to bring in more resources and provide better education and opportunity for Camden’s children.

“We’re blessed to have this partnership,” Montgomery said.

With a before-school and after-school program; breakfast and lunch; gym; art; computer science; and girls’ and boys’ basketball, the school is dedicated to forming well-rounded students, grounded in the Catholic faith.

“I’m happy the partnership is preserving the school,” remarked Msgr. Robert McDermott, pastor of St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral Parish. “The vibrant, vital school has a rich tradition of serving East Camden.”

Outside organizations have also partnered with the school, bringing new experiences for the students. The Philadelphia Museum’s Zoo on Wheels, Perkins Art Center, and Campbell Soup Company’s “Read and Believe” Program, where company employees come to the school and read to students, have all been crucial to the school’s success.

Last year, St. Joseph’s students participated in the Coriell Science Fair Competition, with two going on to the Delaware Valley competition, and garnering honorable mentions for their projects.

This month, as part of its “beacon of light” year-long theme, the students are reading the Dr. Seuss

classic, “Oh The Places You’ll Go!” with its opening line of “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”

With Catholic Partnership Schools, the hope is that St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral students will go “off and away” to “great places” after they leave the school, and be their own “beacon of light” to all those they meet.