Roamin' Catholic Seniors

Rallying and Roamin’ in Town and Gown

on October 2, 2014

In many university towns, it’s typical to refer to “Town and Gown” when speaking of the different ways life is viewed on the campus and in the public square.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This last week, I had the chance to roam in both — the stately and vibrant campus of Georgian Court University in Lakewood and the gritty immediate surrounds of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Lakewood.  It was an amazing and instructive bit of roaming, let me tell you.

First, there was  the Sept. 23 visit of  Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. to GCU to celebrate Mass with the Sisters of Mercy, the faculty, administration, staff and community at large in honor of Mercy Day.

A special part of what is an annual, start of the school year visit, is bishop’s sit down with student leaders that follows the Mass. With bishop — a lifelong academic who was president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for 13 years — leading the way, that session is always a free flowing exchange of insights and ideas, the kind of hour and a half or so that could uplift the spirits of even the most fossilized  seasoned souls.

Put simply enough, the bishop gets the students and the students get the bishop. Check out their insights and exchanges on

The students jumped right in when he asked for their insights on what makes them hopeful , what worries them and what they feel they will be able to contribute to society at large in the future.

They, in turn wanted his take on those same questions.

For me, the high point came when the bishop asked them to reflect on the good works the Church has done — to “look at the good, look at Mercy, look at people of faith ” and  “to stand for something  … speak up for the faith and to understand that  just because you may not have the same beliefs, doesn’t mean you can’t walk down the street” with your neighbors at large.

A few days later, I had the chance to see GCU students put those sentiments into practice in the public square when some of them hoisted signs at a rally to garner signatures on a petition to save the landmark, 1938 WPA built U.S. Post Office on Clifton Avenue which is slated for closure.

Students of GCU sociology professor Dr. Rumu Das Gupta, an ardent advocate of making your societal concerns public, the young people joined quite a few seniors like myself and folks frankly of all ages, in a last ditch effort to call attention to the looming loss of the building. If it goes, a smaller sub station will replace it in the densely settled downtown area and the main operation will be located in the Lakewood Industrial Park, 3.8 miles away from downtown.

Like Das Gupta, a member of St. Anthony Claret Parish down the road,  who has been active in the public square since 1967  and Eugene Espinoza of the Puerto Rican Action Board, who has been a community activist for 38 years, who were with them, the students “get” the fact that anyone who needs to access the main branch in the industrial park will need a car to do so.  That’s a hard nut for a whole lot of residents of the very diverse downtown area to crack.

Signs in hand, the students graciously invited all within earshot to sign the petitions and within a little more than an hour, they had garnered more than 150 signatures reflecting all residents and age groups of the community: Hispanic, African-American and Anglo residents,  many segments of the diverse Jewish community as well.

The students included Isalin Howard, a grad student in accounting, Nataya Culler, a “super senior” who will graduate this coming year with a degree in humanities and biology and Edwana Hollowanger. They shared with passersby that they use the post office themselves to return or buy text books. They explained that they don’t have cars and if they needed to get to the industrial park, they would have to find a ride.

“If you don’t have a car this will affect you,” Culler said. “A person who is poor will be affected.”

Hollowanger, a member of Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton, said that this was the first public square rally the students had participated in. It thrilled them, she said, to have people representing the whole community, sign the petitions. The effort, she said, represented just what the students in a Mercy University should go about doing.



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