Serving the Community: Our Lady of Fatima in Perth Amboy, New Jersey
It is refreshing to see good news come out of our communities, and for Our Lady of Fatima in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the good news abounds with the opening of the Claret Community Center. Just down the street from the parish, this 15,000 square-foot two-story building will be home to offices for programs such as religious education, youth ministry, and operations for the Bread of Life Food Pantry.
The building, constructed in 1904, was originally apartments with a garage on the first floor. Later, the garage became the site of the first church of Our Lady of Fatima, while the upstairs was used by the Claretians and teaching sisters. After the current church location opened in 1971, the office space went dormant for many years, leading to structural decay.
Several priests attempted to return the building to usable space, but ultimately nothing was developed—that is, until 2012, when Fr. Alberto Ruiz, C.M.F., arrived at Our Lady of Fatima. “We needed space for our growing church,” he said after noticing a lack of meeting space for the different parish programs and committees.
Previous meeting spaces for church organizations included the parish gym and its dining hall plus the dining room of the clergy quarters, but with 400 Holy Communicants, over 100 Confirmation candidates, and a growing selection of clubs and councils, this was not going to cut it anymore.
Eight years after Fr. Ruiz arrived at the parish, his plan came to fruition. On December 7, 2019, Fr. Ruiz, Fr. Gilles Njobam, cmf, the current pastor, and Bishop James F. Checchio blessed the renewed facility in front of community members, including Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz, at the grand opening ceremony for the Claret Community Center.
In addition to the renovations inside the center, the backyard now contains a beautiful garden with a large memorial cross, along with brick pavers available to honor loved ones.
With the center finally open, it isn’t just the parish community that will benefit from this space, but the entire community of Perth Amboy, thanks to the new space set aside for the Bread of Life Food Pantry. For more than 10 years, the food pantry has provided groceries to those in need in generous service to the community. Each month, around 90 families are served through this program, including senior citizens, disabled individuals, low-income families, and the unemployed. The pantry is run entirely by volunteers, who load and unload vans, organize and store food, and pack and distribute bags.
Previously, the food pantry operated out of the rectory basement and used the small gym as a waiting area during the twice-monthly distribution days. Now they have a brand new kitchen, waiting room, storage rooms, preparation rooms, and more.
In addition, the parish youth basketball team, the Wolves, made up of high school boys from across the city, can now use the gym for more practices without worrying about impeding the work of the food pantry. Fr. Ruiz said the Wolves have had quite a winning streak in recent years, so this added practice time and space is sure to bring great things for the team in upcoming seasons. Of course, the team strives to win, but more importantly the Wolves work to empower and develop the minds of young people in a community where 30 percent of children live below the poverty line, come from immigrant families or are immigrants themselves, or are lacking parental guidance.
Who knew that one building could do so much for so many people? Although he is very proud, Fr. Ruiz humbly stated, “I did not come here to construct a building, but rather, build a holy community that believes in the Eucharist and trusts in Mary, who leads us to her Son, Jesus.”