By Sister Kathleen Leary
Special to The CS&T

For many parents and students, the closing of an elementary school can be traumatic, especially when it means the students will no longer be as involved in parish events.

However, in June 2005, when it was announced that St. George Elementary School in Glenolden was closing, Msgr. Michael P. McCormack, who was pastor at the time, had the foresight to ask Christine Guidetti if she would be youth minister.

“The parishioners had been well informed before the actual closing,” said Msgr. McCormack, now pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, Fairless Hills. “Therefore, we had decided to involve two new ministries: a youth minister and a parish nurse. Both Mrs. Guidetti and Mrs. Peg D’Ambrosio, the parish nurse, helped with the smooth transition, and the people of the parish were very encouraging. They have both been a blessing, and their ministries have gone far beyond the immediate persons they serve.”

Guidetti had held several positions at the school before being approached for this ministry. “I was school secretary, director of the after school and lunch programs and other key positions with the school and parish,” she said.

“I’ve been involved since (my own) kids started school,” added Giudetti, the wife of Robert and mother of three children, Robert Jr., Erica and Patricia.

She grew up in St. Hedwig Parish in Chester, which is also closed. “My family was always very ‘Church-oriented.’ So, it was only natural that when I married, I’d be involved in my family’s parish.”

According to Father Christopher J. Papa, present pastor of St. George Parish, “Much of what Chris has done since assuming her position has been to be sure the whole family is involved: children, their parents, homebound and parishioners whose children are grown.”

Including the whole family is an important aspect of the youth program at St. George’s. “The children need to have a family environment in our world,” Guidetti said. “There’s so much going on – single-parent families, both parents working; so many sports and other activities that keep them busy. We encourage parents to become involved with all the activities, then kids want to do more; they love to work with their parents. For us, it’s one big community family.”

Guidetti and D’Ambrosio work together to have the youth reach out to the homebound. This is evident in many activities during the year: Through the Giving Tree at Christmas, students make multiple trips to deliver crafts and gifts. The parents are happy to drive their children and their friends to the outreach stations, and D’Ambrosio delivers on her house visits.

Guidetti, the 2007 recipient of the Companion on the Journey Award given by the Office for Youth and Young Adults, uses a monthly newsletter to list the upcoming events.

Most programs are parish and family-oriented: September is a meet and greet session – including youth from the PREP program – then sign-up sheets for feast and holiday crafts and deliveries; rehearsal for Family Talent Show, which includes an “all-you-can-eat” spaghetti dinner. October means Haunted Hayride and Family Halloween Gathering Night. Most rewarding for all participants seems to be sandwich making day, cookie baking night and family bingo night.

It’s a year-round program with meetings held twice a week. “There might be only four or five young people one day and 20-some another day,” she said.

To sum up the meaning of the program, Guidetti said, “We strive to teach our youth the virtues that help us sustain and develop relationships in life and in our community. Our parish is a community based on our Christian faith, and we need to be active in service and more importantly in fully participating in the life of the Church, especially through prayer and the Eucharist.”