Author: Rosalee Polk Rhodes INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
When Peter O'Connor accepts his award at the first Justice for All awards ceremony to be held by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, this month, he will do so with trepidation.
O'Connor, 62, will receive the social-justice award for his work in bringing affordable housing to low-income people throughout the region.
O'Connor, who believes the battle for equitable housing and racial equality is far from over, said he would "try to promote the award as an appeal for this work. . . . With some reservations, I approach this award. I'm just using my career in the way I think I should in the areas of racial [equality], poverty and social justice."
Kevin Conner, director of development for Catholic Charities, said the annual awards were established to "raise the awareness of folks who are doing the social-service ministries in the six southern counties of New Jersey." In years to come, the awards will carry the names of the first rec! ipients.
O'Connor is the executive director of Fair Share Housing Center, which he founded in 1975, and of Fair Share Housing Development, which he formed in 1985. Both organizations are in Cherry Hill. Other recipients on April 29 will be: Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, former bishop of Camden; Sister Grace Nolan, coordinator of Atlantic County Family Services and Community Center in Atlantic City; Msgr. Michael Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Camden; and Msgr. Robert McDermott, pastor of St. Joseph Pro Cathedral in Camden.
"Most of these people are very humble people. We were very happy that they accepted the award," said Conner, adding that the five were chosen by the Executive Committee of Catholic Charities from a pool of 12 candidates.
O'Connor, whose nonprofit organizations have worked for affordable housing, hopes that the creation of the awards will bring a "breakthrough" concerning the plight of the poor, not only in cities.
"The chu! rches adopted a policy of serving the poor where they are rather than challenging the system," he said. "There should be a more affirmative effort to regionalize services to the poor."
Sister Grace, 84, too, has devoted herself to easing the plight of poor people. She has worked in the Atlantic City community for 34 years, and she said the award she would receive for social ministry would be shared with the people she has worked with at the Atlantic County Family Services and Community Center.
"It's really a great honor," she said. "It's a humbling experience and a great tribute to a whole lot of things and a whole lot of people."
Sister Grace, who taught in Catholic schools throughout the diocese for 22 years, said her agency, with the aid of volunteers, helps people who need emergency services in food, shelter and transportation, and with such things as getting prescriptions filled.
DiMarzio, the bishop of Brooklyn who served as Camden's bishop from July 1999 to October 2003, will receive the award for leadership.! While serving in the Diocese of Camden, DiMarzio said in a statement Monday, he reorganized Catholic Charities and expanded its services.
DiMarzio, a trained social worker who has worked extensively with immigrants, said it is the church's responsibility to be of "service to humankind and to do its best to alleviate human pain and suffering."
Doyle and McDermott will share the parish and community-ministry award.
Doyle, who has been pastor of Sacred Heart Church in South Camden for 29 years, said being named a recipient of the award was a "bit embarrassing."
Working with the city's poor has fulfilled a "driving need to do something about it," he said. "I was blessed to be given an opportunity to be here in Camden."
Sacred Heart's congregation, which consists of 300 families from the inner city and from the suburbs, has bridged a gap between the poor and the affluent, Doyle said.
"They can work together. We work with the principle t! hat we are called to honor the poor," he said.
McDermott was bo rn and raised in the parish that he now serves. "This is home to me," he said.
Now in his 20th year as pastor, McDermott founded the St. Joseph's Carpenter Society in 1985, which has rehabilitated more than 500 homes.
He said the award was a tribute to the 1,000 families that make up the close-knit parish.
"I want to accept it in their name," he said.
Contact suburban staff writer Rosalee Polk Rhodes at 856-779-3237 or
If You Go
What: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, Justice for All awards dinner.
When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. April 29.
Where: Collingswood Foundation of the Arts Grand Ballroom, 315 White Horse Pike, Collingswood.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio; Msgr. Michael Doyle; Msgr. Robert McDermott; Peter O'Connor; Sister Grace NolanPHOTO
Copyright (c) 2004 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Record Number: 7005120431