Written by Mary Beth Peabody/The Diocese of Camden
Daniel Jarsen is ready to give the Thanksgiving placemat he made to his new pen pal, Mr. Cole. The placemat has a cornucopia that shows all Daniel is thankful for: his school, family, talents and two cats. Daniel and Mr. Cole met for the first time in mid-November, one of many pairs in a new friendship between the third grade class at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School and seniors at Saint Simon Stock Parish, both in Berlin.
While the pen pal program is new for students at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (OLMC) and seniors at Saint Simon Stock, letter-writing has bridged generations in the Diocese of Camden for 20 years. OLMC principal Alice Malloy was quick to give credit to Sister Bianca Camilleri.
Since her 2002 retirement from teaching, Sister Bianca has served as school librarian at Saint Michael the Archangel Regional School in Clayton. She said retirement has given her more time to develop the pen pal program, which she introduced at every school where she taught. At Saint Michael’s, 50 students exchange letters with 70 seniors in four parishes. And with some seniors inviting their out-of-area friends to participate, Sister Bianca said there are a few others “floating here and there.”
Students and pen pals in the Saint Michael’s community meet every year in May at a special Mass and party.
Sister Bianca is passionate about the letter-writing program as a way to forge friendships between youth and older members of a community. She said she sees it as an ideal way to practice Corporal Works of Mercy.
“It teaches students about respecting others, forming a bond between community and school,” she said, at the same time acknowledging that not all seniors write back.
“We write every month. The kids understand if they don’t get a letter back. We do it not just for writing, but for caring.”
In addition to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Sister Bianca has helped Holy Angels Catholic School in Woodbury connect with its senior parishioners. Principal Patti Paulsen is thrilled with the new program.
“Our fourth graders have written to our elderly parishioners and received such wonderful letters. We cannot wait to meet our pen pals. Thank you to Sister Bianca for all that she does for our Catholic Schools. We love her!” said Paulsen.