Immigrant Teens Receive Grant for Business Ventures in Pursuit of Economic Justice

Philadelphia, PA – The local committee of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has awarded the Aquinas Center a three year grant of $20,000 annually to launch a Youth Entrepreneurship Project. CCHD is a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that is focused on ending cycles of poverty by empowering low-income individuals to act for themselves following the belief that those affected by unjust systems are the most knowledgeable in approaching solutions. In the Philadelphia archdiocese, the CCHD collection is taken up in early July and while 75% of the funds raised are distributed nationally, 25% are distributed locally through a grant application process.

Aquinas Center’s Youth Entrepreneurship Project (YEP) was designed by a group of teens who gather weekly to collaborate with their peers on projects that improve, strengthen, and empower the community. This program, called Youth Voices, is comprised of immigrant, refugee, and native born youth who lead tours for the center, speak about pressing issues, support events, introduce visitors to the neighborhood, and give back through community service hours.

Bernard Convento, a seventeen year old leader in the program, enjoys volunteering in the center’s garden and preparing meals with the harvest. Like his peers, Bernard felt that gathering afterschool once a week was not enough. Soon he and fifteen other teens started coming to the center two to three other days a week to work in the garden, cook together, and help each other with homework. The group soon began discussing issues that they felt required action and Youth Voices was born. Youth Voices members identified employment, food sovereignty, and racial/cultural/ethnic justice in public spaces as key focal areas.

Over the next three years, the teens will formulate a brand, develop a farm stand concept, strengthen their winter cafe series, and create a non-perishable or shelf stable product to fund other ventures. Youth will acquire important career training in the process and be mentored by immigrant business owners.

Sinta Hite will serve as a technical assistance consultant for the teens. She explained that South Philly is the perfect location for this approach, saying, “The neighborhood consists of many different immigrant communities and businesses. From mom and pop neighborhood cafes to Passyunk’s five star restaurants, you name it, it exists in the area around Aquinas Center.”  Sinta went on to explain, “These businesses are truly unique case studies for our youth to learn from. The challenges that immigrant business owners face are almost endless including language and cultural barriers. The Youth Voices represent the next generation that will learn and discover how to turn these entrepreneurial skills turn into life skills. Skills that they use to survive and prosper.”


Teens celebrate the CCHD grant award on June 14th.

Aquinas Center is located at 1700 Fernon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145. To learn more about our community and mission, visit To get involved with our different programs, contact or 267-702-3454


Aquinas Center Honors Chinh Dinh and Community Literacies Project

Philadelphia, PA – Aquinas Center is pleased to announce the creation of two annual awards to recognize the outstanding contributions of a community leader and a partner organization that have helped us advance our mission to build unity in diversity, support learning, and inspire thoughtful action. These awards will be presented at 12:45PM on Saturday, May 7th at our One Table event at 1700 Fernon Street.

Chinh Dinh

Mr. Chinh Dinh

The 2016 Community Leader Award will recognize Mr. Chinh Dinh who is a longtime resident of the Aquinas neighborhood. He is known both locally and nationally for his work in the Vietnamese Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. English language learners at Aquinas Center have benefited immensely from Mr. Dinh’s consistent and positive presence as a volunteer in our classes. As someone who learned English as a Second Language (ESOL) himself, Chinh can personally connect with the students. This is true even across language boundaries, as reflected by the fact that Chinh does not assist just the Vietnamese speakers, but any student in class who needs his help. His patience and good humor have contributed so much to make our classes a more beneficial experience for everyone involved. As Aquinas Center board treasurer Matthew Davis remarked, “Chinh is the type of leader that you know you can depend on. When he commits to doing something, you know his words mean something and you know that his actions will follow through. Chinh is very generous with his time.” You can learn more about Chinh’s journey to America in this StoryCorps interview.


Dr. Gerald Campano

The Partnership Award for 2016 will go to the Community Literacies Project, led by Dr. Gerald Campano, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Through the project partnership, which is in its sixth year, Gerald has brought together doctoral and master’s students from the Reading/Writing/Literacy program at the University of Pennsylvania with community members from St. Thomas Aquinas to support educational access across the various linguistic and cultural communities of the parish.

The partnership has resulted in a number of activities designed in conversation with community members. Programs have included: a family literacy night, an afterschool comics group, a girls of color writing club, a Penn-Pal letter exchange between Master’s students and local kids, an Inquiry into College with young children and another with older youth, a family literacy/ESOL class with Latina mothers, adult ESOL, a literacy project where youth learned research methods to investigate topics of interest in their community, and an intercultural inquiry community where families and youth from across the parish could investigate the issues of educational access that impact all their children.

AERA group

Mr. Chinh Dinh and Dr. Gerald Campano pictured with St. Thomas Aquinas community members at a presentation on education advocacy for immigrant families.

This collaborative work is chronicled in a new book released this month by Teachers College Press. Partnering with Immigrant Communities: Action through Literacy will be available for sale at One Table.


For more details about One Table, visit
For press inquiries, contact Bethany Welch at bwelch @ or 267-702-3454

St. Thomas Aquinas Selected to Host Jubilee of Migrants & Refugees


In response to the invitation of Pope Francis, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will sponsor a Jubilee of Migrants and Refugees celebration on Tuesday, June 21 at 7 pm at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in South Philadelphia. The theme of the gathering comes from Pope Francis and is ‘Migrants and Refugees challenge us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy’.   It will be a Liturgy of the Word celebration and Archbishop Chaput will preside. It is being sponsored by the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees office, the Office for Black Catholics, and the Office for Hispanic Catholics. The Prayer Service will feature 4 different choirs, 3 testimony speakers, and readings and prayers of the faithful in different languages. All are invited to join!

Global Youth Service Day Grant Strengthens Multicultural Community Garden

For Immediate Release
April 15, 2016

Contact: Bethany Welch at bwelch [at] or 267-702-3454

Global Youth Service Day Grant Strengthens Multicultural Community Garden in South Philly

Philadelphia, PA – Aquinas Center will participate in Global Youth Service Day on Saturday, April 16th from 10am-12noon with support from a national grant to fund improvements to our Multicultural Community Garden. The center and the garden are situated in a culturally and linguistically diverse area in South Philadelphia, offers children and youth a place for hands-on, interdisciplinary learning and also serves as a vehicle to engage their parents and relatives in the powerful cycle from planting to harvest.

On Saturday, neighborhood teens and adult volunteers will turn over soil, install a new rain barrel, assign plots, create signage, and prepare the garden for a new growing season that will:

  • Reinforce both unique and shared cultural practices around food and community
  • Encourage healthy eating and physical activity for children and their families
  • Cultivate children’s cultural knowledge
  • Celebrate kinship relationships within immigrant families
  • Foster shared understanding and mutuality across boundaries of class, race, ethnicity, and religion

This local community service project is made possible by through an application facilitated by Lan Ngo, Ph.D. who volunteered with Aquinas Center during her graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. As a recipient of a Critical Language Scholarship through the American Councils for International Education, she was eligible to apply for a grant through Global Youth Service Day Initiative. Dr. Ngo came to appreciate the value of shared learning spaces while studying Chinese in Beijing through CLS where the city and its people also became her classroom. She sees the Aquinas Center Multicultural Community Garden as a similar space. “Repairing garden beds and tilling dirt side-by-side, volunteers for this GYSD project from across diverse backgrounds will chat and joke, and in so doing, learn from one another,” explains Dr. Ngo.

Global Youth Service Day is an annual campaign that celebrates and mobilizes children and youth who improve their communities each day of the year through service and service-learning. Established in 1988, Global Youth Service Day is the largest service event in the world dedicated to children and youth. GYSD 2016 will take place on April 15 -17.


Aquinas Center is located at 1700 Fernon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145.
To learn more about our community and mission, visit
To get involved with our different programs, contact or 267-702-3454.

24 Hours for The Lord

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Pray with us!

If you can’t join us in person, submit a petition below and our community will pray with you. Petitions will be printed and placed in the chapel in a special basket. Your name and contact information will not be included.

In addition, you can pray for the following petitions during different hours:

Friday, March 4th
3PM Mercy for all those who need mercy
4PM Pope Francis and all faith leaders who are instruments of mercy
5PM Safety for those fleeing conflict
6PM Food for those who are hungry
7PM Water for those who are thirsty
8PM Shelter for those who are homeless
9PM Reconciliation and comfort for the suffering
10PM Healing for those who are caught in addiction
11PM Eternal rest for deceased loved ones

Saturday, March 5th
12AM Dedication to equity among leaders
1AM Transformation of broken systems
2AM Peace for all who suffer injustices
3AM Government leaders to honor the human dignity of each person in their decisions
4AM Conversion in our own hearts and in the hearts of our enemies
5AM Understanding and unity across peoples
6AM Care for God’s Creation
7AM Freedom for the victims of human trafficking
8AM Fair wages and work environments for those who labor
9AM Promotion of a culture of life
10AM Healing for the ill
11AM Rehabilitation for the incarcerated
12noon Forgiveness to be practiced and received
1PM Consolation for the doubtful
2PM Church to serve as a home for all
3PM Opening of hearts and minds to be transformed by mercy
4PM Appreciation for the beauty of diversity in the Mystical Body of Christ

One Table: Saturday, May 7th

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Come eat and drink with neighbors at One Table, a South Philadelphia celebration of community! This signature event takes place at 17th and Fernon Streets inside the parish gates of St. Thomas Aquinas.
One Table features flavors from around the world and, for those 21+, local brews served up in our beautiful courtyard beer garden. A donation of $25 gets you two food tickets and one drink ticket to taste the amazing fare. Enjoy family- friendly activities such as music, face painting, balloon animals, kids’ yoga, and more.
Proceeds benefit summer programming for kids and help advance Aquinas Center’s mission to build unity in diversity, support learning, and inspire thoughtful action.

Tickets available here:

Celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12, Saturday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Spanish language Mass will be at 7:00 PM (instead of 5:30 PM). If you have never participated in this celebration, please consider joining the community. While the Mass in honor of Our Lady is in Spanish, the music, joy, and celebration go way beyond any language. Welcome!



Giving Tuesday: Support Youth Voices Program

With the colder weather upon us and early sunsets, it can be hard for urban teenagers to find safe places to gather after school. When they do find a coffee shop or restaurant, they are faced with two problems: High prices and a social bias against boisterous groups of teens, particularly young people of color.
The Aquinas Center Youth Voices program has devised a solution: Create their own coffee shop experience. These 13-17 year olds have determined what they need to host the cafes and even identified a charitable cause for proceeds. On this Giving Tuesday, please consider donating items to help their effort. We need the following:
– Coffee (espresso beans or ground regular and decaf)
– Used espresso machine
– Hot chocolate mix
– Brownie and cake mixes
– Sugar and creamer
– Candy
– Packaged cookies
Items can be dropped off at the center or arrangements can be made for pick up. Contact Shirley at 267-702-3454 for more details.  If you prefer to give online, visit: Thanks!  

Francis Fund Supports Culturally Relevant Food for South Philly Migrants and Refugees

bernardPhiladelphia, PA – Aquinas Center will receive $15,000 from the Francis Fund to make fresh, culturally relevant food available to immigrants and refugees in South Philadelphia. The Fund, a collaboration of the World Meeting of Families Hunger and Homelessness Committee and Project HOME, was established to concretely address issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty in the Philadelphia region and to ensure the transformative effects of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States continue to be felt in underserved communities.

Aquinas Center was created in 2013 in the former convent of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in South Philadelphia, and has the mission to build unity in diversity, support learning, and inspire thoughtful action in order to respond to the changing needs of the neighborhood. The center will use the $15,000 for three main projects: purchasing culturally relevant food selections to supplement holiday meal distributions to local families; creating and distributing garden-at-home kits and training to encourage food-insecure families to grow food of their own; and making upgrades to the center’s kitchen to expand the existing program of nutrition and cooking workshops.

The project design arose out of awareness the problems of both hunger and food security in the South Philadelphia neighborhood where Aquinas Center is located. Lack of fresh food is a particular concern for the large and diverse immigrant and refugee population, who face extra hurdles in obtaining food that meets their cultural diet and food practices.

This three-pronged approach allows Aquinas Center to practice responsiveness in the form of the direct food donations, but also empowerment and community building through the garden kits and ongoing educational food and nutrition workshops. In this way they are able to have an immediate impact on hunger as well as work towards longer-term poverty alleviation.

The Francis Fund was founded in the weeks leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia to ensure that the Holy Father’s concern for the poor and marginalized would motivate real change in this region. Over 50 other organizations in the greater Philadelphia region, both faith-based and non-denominational, are receiving funding from the Francis Fund for a wide range of projects. In choosing recipients, the Fund was inspired by the Pope’s personal areas of compassion and concern. They prioritized projects which would build capacity for existing programs that serve people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty, that serve women who have been trafficked, or that provide healthy and nutritious food in food pantries.

In an address on Independence Hall in September, Pope Francis reminded immigrants that they “bring many gifts to [their] new nation,” and urged them to “never be ashamed of [their] traditions.” Thanks to the generosity of the Francis Fund, Aquinas Center will be able to work within the spirit of Pope Francis’ anti-poverty and anti-hunger missions, as well as continuing to respect and uplift the uniqueness and giftedness of individuals of all backgrounds

Aquinas Center is located at 1700 Fernon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145.
To learn more about our community and mission, visit
To get involved with our different programs, contact or 267-928-4048.


Aquinas Center Director Invited to Rome

Welch GardenPhiladelphia, PA – Aquinas Center director Dr. Bethany J. Welch has been invited to Rome to represent the United States at the Solemn Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, a landmark document of the Second Vatican Council that promoted interfaith encounter and the Catholic Church’s witness to social justice concerns.

The gathering, coordinated by Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is designed to establish a dialogue among different generations on the issues raised by Gaudium et Spes, which are still of great urgency and which have assumed new connotations, especially after the election of Pope Francis, who has called on the Catholic Church to confront inequality and to minister to the margins of society.

“The invitation to attend the proceedings in Rome is a huge honor and comes at a unique time following the visit of the Holy Father to the United States,” remarks Dr. Welch. “I was particularly struck by his address to Congress when he said, ‘Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.’” “His call for responsiveness and solidarity reflects the impact of a document like Gaudium et Spes and reinforces the values on which Aquinas Center was founded.”

The Second Vatican Council, which was held from 1962 to 1965, led the Catholic Church into the modern era. Notably, it led the Church to begin celebrating Mass in the vernacular language, including English, transformed the Church’s efforts on interfaith dialogue and led the Church to rededicate itself to the cause of social justice. Gaudium et Spes is one of four key documents, known as constitutions, that were published by the Council fathers during the Second Vatican Council.

The celebrative event will be concluded by a gesture of symbolic handing over of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes legacy to an invited representation of youth and young adults from the different continents, with Dr. Welch representing the United States of America at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This groundbreaking dialogue will be held November 5-6, 2015 at the New Synod Hall in the Vatican and continue on at the Church Palace.

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D, is the founding director of the Aquinas Center, which is housed in a multicultural, multilingual immigrant parish. The center opened in January 2013 with a mission to build unity in diversity, support learning, and inspire thoughtful action.  The Aquinas Center is home to urban immersion experiences, counseling services, legal services to help immigrants (regardless of documents), community organizing and advocacy efforts, English classes and urban revitalization activities. Bethany Welch identifies systemic injustice as a root cause of poverty alongside a lack of access to social services and high quality education based on geography. She speaks from the heart about the dignity of all persons informing her work, and how the work of Aquinas Center demonstrates the power of Catholic social teaching.

Her Catholic faith motivates her to promote an authentic “culture of encounter”, to which Pope Francis has called each of us. Bethany has worked to infuse this mission into the work of Aquinas Center, especially in its leadership trainings and through its community organizing.  According to Bethany, “Everyone has dignity. Everyone has gifts to share.”  In recognition of her gifts and devotion to working in solidarity with people living in poverty in her community, Bethany was awarded the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.  She received the award at a special reception at the Spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in New Orleans, LA, on June 12, 2014.


Aquinas Center is located at 1700 Fernon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145.
To learn more about our community and mission, visit
To get involved with our different programs, contact or 267-928-4048.