Women who are ‘the face of the church’ in Camden


Photo by James A. McBride

womenofholynameministries-webEvelyn Sabando; Zoraida, accepting for her sister Delia Lugo; Violeta Olavarria; Kitty Del Duca; and Nancy Jerome stand on the stage after being honored at the annual dinner for Holy Name of Camden Ministries, held on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Tavistock Country Club. All the women have been working in various capacities for Holy Name Ministries for the past 20 years or more.

TAVISTOCK — As each woman came up to the stage at the annual Holy Name of Camden Ministries dinner at Tavistock Country Club here, she was given a framed painting with the Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene at the foot of Jesus’ cross, with the words: “It was the women who stayed.”

Five women — Kitty Del Duca, Nancy Jerome, Delia Lugo, Violeta Olavarria and Evelyn Sabando —were honored on Tuesday, Oct. 25, for their “faithful presence and unceasing commitment to Holy Name Ministries” for 20 years or more, and in that time embodying “the selflessness and service reflected in Jesus.”

The programs under Holy Name of Camden Ministries, located in North Camden, include the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice; Holy Name School; Guadalupe Family Services; and St. Luke’s Catholic Medical Services.

“Tonight is a celebration of the women of Holy Name,” said Sister Helen Cole, executive director of Holy Name of Camden Ministries, at the event.

Father Matt Hillyard, OSFS, rector of the Parish of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, said in his welcoming remarks that the women, with different backgrounds and ministry experiences, were “the face of the church” in the City of Camden, working amidst the poverty, drugs and violence.

Father Hillyard noted that the women were the perfect exemplification of St. Francis de Sales’ words, to “be who you are and be that well.”

The women and their work:

— For the past 20 years, Kitty Del Duca has worked at Holy Name School. Her work has included organizing the Halloween parade and the Christmas show, facilitating a speech contest for eighth graders, and her current volunteer work with first and second graders, helping them with math and reading skills three days a week.

— Nancy Jerome first heard about the needs of Holy Name School in 1991 when she heard a sermon at her parish, St. Rose of Lima, Haddon Heights, about the Camden school. That year, she made her two children, Laurie and Tim, buy Easter outfits for Holy Name schoolchildren. Soon, she became a teacher’s aide at the school and the gym teacher. She is also a member of the board of Guadalupe Family Services. And for Sister Helen Cole’s summer camp every year for students, she takes them for a day at the family beach house in Ocean City.

— Delia Lugo began working at Holy Name Parish as a secretary in 1983. To everyone who rang the doorbell at 522 State Street, she was “the face of Holy Name.” Since Holy Name’s recent merger with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, she has continued her work on Market Street.

— On Oct. 3, 1983, Violeta Olavarria opened the doors of St. Luke’s Catholic Medical Center with founder, Jesuit Father Mark Aita, a physician, to provide quality health care to the poor, underinsured, and uninsured in Camden. She has a number of jobs at the center and has counseled women who are considering abortions, offering them alternatives. She is also St. Luke’s liaison with the Camden Coalition for Health Care providers.

— After arriving from Puerto Rico in 1987, Evelyn Sabando enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, and started working with the Office of Immigration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities in 1988. Twelve years later, her office merged with the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice, and today, as the senior immigration advocate, she advises clients of their rights, helping them through the immigration process.

Over the years, Sabando has assisted thousands of individuals, has counseled priests, sisters, and seminarians in the Diocese of Camden on the religious visa process, and she speaks to South Jersey residents about immigration law basics.

Introducing the nominees was WPVI-TV, Philadelphia reporter Cathy Gandolfo, who is no stranger to the city of Camden, having worked as the station’s New Jersey correspondent since 1978. A Catholic, Gandolfo has traveled to Vatican City to cover church issues for the station, including the canonization of Philadelphia native St. Katharine Drexel, and the funeral of Blessed John Paul II.

Noting that she has covered the worst of Camden throughout the years, she was happy to take part in “a good news event, of women who work tirelessly for the poor in Camden.”

“Nothing brings me more pride than to cover the positive work of the Catholic Church,” she said, adding that the five women “make up its true mission; they believe it is the right thing to do, sacrificing their time to improve the lives of others.”

Gandolfo also was certain that accolades for the women would extend far beyond Camden. “I am sure there is a higher reward that awaits you,” she said.