By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – The Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center in the Kensington section of Philadelphia is under new management. Formerly administered by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS), as of July 1 it was turned over to nearby Visitation B.V.M. Parish.

“This is a unique opportunity for CSS to collaborate with a parish with a spanerse social outreach program, a vibrant school and dedicated staff,” said James Amato, deputy secretary of Catholic Social Services. “Visitation has served the local Kensington community for many years, so the addition of CBCC will only add to that vital ministry.”{{more}}

The Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center was formally opened in 2003, along with Visitation Homes. The two facilities were erected by the Archdiocese at a combined cost of $5.2 million.

Adjacent Visitation Homes, which is still run by Catholic Social Services, provides transitional housing for homeless women and their children.

Under CSS, the Cardinal Bevilacqua Center provided recreational, educational and social services to the community through its full-size gymnasium and three floors of multi-purpose rooms. Many similar services will be offered now that it is run by Visitation, but the parish offices have also moved into the building.

“The space for our parish offices was very much needed. This is a tremendous blessing,” said Father Bruce Lewandowski, Visitation’s pastor.

From a social outreach perspective, “This is a great opportunity for us to serve the broader community in a unique partnership with Catholic Social Services,” Father Lewandowski said. “We are grateful to those who worked to make the center what it is today. It had a wonderful, talented staff.”

Most of the CSS Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center staff has been placed with other facilities, Father Lewandowski noted, including the former administrator, Estela Reyes-Bugg, who is now administrator of volunteer and community relations programs for CSS.

St. Joseph Sister Karen Owens, who resides at Visitation Convent, has been appointed administrator for the now parish-run center.

“We are working to target programs for seniors, for youth and for immigrants in this neighborhood,” Sister Karen said.

Among the programs either up and running or in the planning stages are ESL (English as a Second Language) classes – a real need in an area where many residents are newcomers to America from various areas of the world. There will also be GED classes for young people who did not finish high school as well as classes to prepare them either for college or on a career path. There will be high school youth programs and an Out of School Time program in conjunction with CSS.

A family wellness program will utilize the services of a trained therapist, according to Sister Karen.

As a community center it will provide meeting space for the New Sanctuary Movement and the New Kensington Development Program and Narcotics Anonymous for all-day “marathon meetings.”

The state-of-the-art gym, which was already being used by Visitation School, will feature open gym nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays for high school and middle school students, as well as after school programs in conjunction with CSS.

At the Cardinal Bevilacqua Center, CSS had built upon many programs first established by Visitation, which has always had a dynamic presence in the neighborhood. For example, the community garden, which more recently grew to include a greenhouse, was first begun by parish volunteers before there was a Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center. In fact, much of the work done at the center will now rely on committed volunteers. There is one notable exception – Sister Karen.

“It’s a full-time job,” she said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.