By Fr. Bill O’Donnell, C.PP.S.
The popular song “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey was chosen by our staff at St. Augustine Parish in Cleveland as the theme of its Rainbow Camp held this summer.
It began the last week of June with a five-day Bible study focused on Jesus’s ministry to the people forgotten by others. This was followed by four weeks of camp, which ran from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., five days a week. Over 150 children ages 4-12 attended. If COVID had not restricted the number who could attend, we probably could have welcomed 200 campers.
The time was filled with fun activities, educational projects, swimming and field trips. Breakfast and lunch were provided and everyone was given an opportunity to take leftovers home. One of the trips was to the Cleveland Metropark Zoo, which is only three miles from St. Augustine. It was surprising to me that a majority of our campers had never been there.
The beauty of our annual Rainbow Camp is that lack of resources never prevents anyone from attending. Neither does religious affiliation. All are welcome. The camp also has a wonderful tradition of reaching out to children with special needs, including those who are blind, deaf or autistic. The Rainbow Camp also provides a much-needed summer break for parents and older family members.
It takes a large number of young people and adults to make the camp possible. Many of the junior counselors were campers when they were younger.
Many ask me how I ended up at St. Augustine, a parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. For several years I have wrestled with the challenge that our ministry of reconciliation places before us as Missionaries of the Precious Blood. I believe and our mission states that we are called to serve the hungry and homeless, the lost and forgotten, people young and old who are pushed to the margins of society. That is exactly what St. Augustine has been doing for well over 50 years.
My own reflections on this call came as a gentle but inspiring invitation when two things happened. The message of the last General Assembly confirmed clearly what I had been thinking about and the Diocese of Cleveland gave me the opportunity to consider this ministry as they enthusiastically sought to encourage our return to the diocese in the spirit of our mission. I said yes to the diocese and I am grateful the Cincinnati Province said yes as well.
So on January 4, I assumed the pastorate of St. Augustine. I can only say after seven months, it is where we belong as Missionaries of the Precious Blood. When I think about the new creation we hope to embody with the foundation of the United States Province,
St. Augustine is one example of a place we belong.
The Rainbow Summer Camp is only one example of the ministries we provide to those in need. I am especially impressed at this time in our national life, as we struggle our way through the pandemic, rising homelessness, environmental crises, etc., by the support these ministries we provide to those suffering from mental illness and the way we stay open, providing much-needed services during the pandemic when many service organizations did not.
The generosity of the local community is amazing, making so much of what we do possible. The Sisters of the Precious Blood stepped forward as well. Deepening and developing ministries with the sisters’ group could also potentially be a part of our new creation. And for all of this I am grateful to the diverse community of St. Augustine parish, a Samaritan Church with a Missionary heart.
(To learn more visit staugustinecleveland.org/ministrytothepoor.)