Saint Monica’s Catholic Church, located on the corner of 17th and Ritner streets in South Philadelphia, has been serving the Catholic community for decades with weekly mass and confessions, as well as community programs that provide aid to parishioners for the entirety of their lives in the neighborhood.
The parish has many organizations for community outreach, providing services for people of all ages. An early learning center, a bereavement program, a bowling center, CYO, a prayer partnership program and an eldercare program are just a few of the services the church and parish school provide.
These programs allow for all parishioners to help one another both inside and outside of their lives at the church.
“I think it really helps for everyone to feel like they’re giving back,” said Bonney DosSantos (pictured below).
It was 14 years ago when Bonney DosSantos and Father Joseph Kelly started the church’s elder care program, made to provide assistance to older parishioners in the community who wish to continue living alone. The program was funded by money donated by the Farrell-Townsend Trust for the benefit of the parish.
DosSantos, the director of geriatric care management, is originally from Mansfield, Pennsylvania, but after attending Temple University decided to make Philadelphia her home. Now, the trained social worker shares her skills at Saint Monica’s.
“I help people access services,” she said. “It has becoming increasingly difficult for people to access services. There are very complicated forms for people to fill out and frankly sometimes I wonder how anybody will get any services through the government if they don’t have an advocate helping them.”
Theresa Cavallaro (top photo, sitting) lives just a few blocks away from Saint Monica’s on Chadwick Street. Cavallaro went to Saint Rita’s as a child, but later switched upon moving closer to Saint Monica’s parish. Now, she has been a member of this church for 64 years and has been taking advantage of the elder care services that Saint Monica’s has offered since 2013.
Cavallaro and her caregiver, Margie Marincola (top photo, standing), have become good friends ever since being paired up. DosSantos does the pairing and said she takes special care in making sure she makes the best match for the participant and the caregiver.
Marincola performs a variety of different tasks for Cavallaro during her twice weekly visit to Cavallaro’s home. Laundry, cleaning, helping the elderly get around their home, escorting them to doctors appointments and keeping the person company are all things caregivers do when they visit the homes of those using the eldercare program’s services.
“Margie is doll,” said Cavallaro. “I’ve adopted her. She’s my third daughter and [DosSantos] is the best head of the group. There is just some stuff I don’t know. It’s the first time I’ve been like this. So, I ask [DosSantos] and she’s very informative about everything.”
Marincola and Cavallaro have tea together every week and sometimes even lunch during their visits.
“Our time together is very special,” said Marincola. “I love taking care of the elderly.”
Since caretakers DosSantos supervises often become faithful friends of the participant she assigns them to, she believes the church’s prayer partner program is one of the most effective programs it is running.
That program is led by Sister Kathleen White and allows for children who attend Saint Monica’s School to be paired with a participant in the eldercare program.
“It’s really wonderful,” said DosSantos. “We had a man who was very sick on hospice and his family decorated his room with the cards he had received from his prayer partner. It put a positive spin on an otherwise hard time.”
The program is meant to ensure parishioners who may no longer be able to make it to church or to see friends and family in the community have some kind of interaction to look forward to.
“We deliver the crafts that they make over the course of the school year,” said DosSantos. Older students have the opportunity to deliver their crafts and letters themselves.
“This is really a walking community,” said DosSantos about the neighborhood Saint Monica’s is located in.
According to DosSantos, the community is full of people at all ages and stages in life.
“Everyone is willing to sit out on their stoop and say hello,” she said about the families, single people and elderly the neighboring community houses. “We have a great community here and it shows.”
-Text, images and video by Alexander Bonner and Kayla Babicki.