South Philly resident Henry Jones met his wife several years ago at an archdiocesan senior center, where he would shoot a few games of pool while she caught up “with all the ladies.”
Now, the couple and a hundred of their closest friends are enjoying a brand new facility that was officially dedicated this week.
More than 120 people gathered Dec. 5 as Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre blessed the St. Edmond Senior Community Center in the West Passyunk neighborhood of South Philadelphia. Located on the lower level of St. Edmond Church, a worship site of St. Monica Parish, the recently renovated facility will offer access to nutritious meals, supplemental food resources, recreational activities and benefits counseling.
The center is one of four operated by archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS), which provides a continuum of care to the region’s older adults through activity centers, in-home support and affordable housing.
The St. Edmond site superseded CHCS’s St. Charles Senior Center, formerly on the 1900 block of Christian Street in the Point Breeze section of the city. Karen Becker, CHCS director of senior services, commended staff and supporters for ensuring that services were suspended for just one day during the transition, which was completed in mid-October.
Becker also noted that the move had already enticed more seniors to take advantage of St. Edmond’s free membership.
“At St. Charles, we averaged about 60 seniors per day, and those numbers have gone up a lot,” said Becker, adding that St. Edmond can accommodate 100 or more regular clients.
St. Edmond director Kathy Boles, who had previously managed the St. Charles site, thanked the number of partners whose combined efforts had made “prayers come true.”
CHCS deputy secretary John Wagner highlighted his agency’s longtime collaboration with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), which with the archdiocese provides major funding for CHCS’s senior centers.
PCA president and CEO Holly Lange was on hand at the Dec. 5 event, which was also attended by state Sen. Lawrence Farnese, state Rep. Jordan Harris and office representatives of state Sen. Anthony Williams and Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Father Joseph Kelley, pastor of St. Monica Parish, welcomed center participants as “an integral part of the parish.”
“You complete what we should be,” said Father Kelley, noting that “the church is not made of bricks and mortar, but of the people of God.”
Archdiocesan senior centers have historically “had their roots in parishes,” said James Amato, secretary for archdiocesan Catholic Human Services (CHS).
In his remarks, Amato described how in 1967 Msgr. John Sefton, then pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Philadelphia, had purchased a nearby home for use as a senior clubhouse. Now CHCS’s Star Harbor Senior Center (West Philadelphia), along with the facilities at Norris Square (North Philadelphia), Nativity B.V.M. (Port Richmond) and St. Edmond’s “form the core of (CHCS’s) partnership with PCA” and “enable 300 seniors daily to receive social support, nutrition and health education, and a flat-out good time,” Amato said.
He also noted that the archdiocese had made a $1.2 million capital investment in St. Edmond’s and the recently opened Nativity B.V.M. center “to provide help and create hope for so many in our community, regardless of need.”
As part of its continuum of senior services, Amato said, the archdiocese would continue to invest in affordable senior housing. Currently, CHCS operates five such communities, with a new facility planned at St. Rita Parish in Philadelphia.
The need for broad-based senior support is projected to increase exponentially in coming decades. At a recent conference on parish-based eldercare services, Wagner noted that Pennsylvania alone is facing “a virtual tsunami of aging.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s older adults will outnumber its children by the year 2034, a historical first for the country.
Centers like St. Edmond’s play a crucial role in fostering overall senior health through shared meals, benefit resources and, above all, “socialization and recreation,” said Becker, which work together to promote “joy and vibrancy.”
Patricia Bowman, a St. Edmond center client and member of its advisory board, agreed.
“If seniors retire and sit in the house, they don’t know what to do and end up getting depressed,” said Bowman. “Coming here, they can meet new people, talk and play bingo.”
St. Edmond’s keeps her energetic, she said, adding that her favorite activity was “messing with her fellow seniors” at the center.
“And then I run,” she said, “because they can’t catch me.”
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