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New Ministries Born of Long Service

While some things change, others remain the same. And in the case of the Rev. Sal Cuccia, O.Praem., ’63 (Campus Ministry), new opportunities arise. 

In the spring, Cuccia completed service as associate pastor at St. Norbert College Parish, a position he had held since coming to the college in 2000. “At that time, campus ministry and the parish were one,” he explains. “We had a house on Third Street, actually where the Mulva Library is now. I became the associate pastor and campus minister. I’m still with campus ministry, but I’m out of the parish.”

Cuccia says that it was time to move on from parish ministry. Prior to his arrival at St. Norbert, he served at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Baltimore, so his service as associate pastor extended over 24 years. 

He continues to do retreat work, providing sacramental needs including Mass and reconciliation. Although he no longer celebrates weekend or daily Masses at Old St. Joe’s, he will be presiding at liturgies for special events, including Family Weekend and Junior Knights & Days. Cuccia also assists with the college’s Norbertine heritage tours to Europe by contacting the abbeys the group will visit, and he continues to organize campus tours for first-year students.

“I still enjoy being connected with the students,” he says. “I’m an FYE (First Year Experience) adviser for the first time this year. I had never done that before, so that’s a new experience.” Another new offering is a meal gathering titled “Tuesdays at the Todd.” 

One of Cuccia’s most rewarding ministries is leading outreach as part of the TRIPS (Turning Responsibility into Powerful Service) program. In 2005, he had a discussion with the Revs. Jay Fostner, O.Praem., ’84 and Jim Baraniak, O.Praem., ’88 about the opportunity to get St. Norbert men involved in service and leadership.

“I had been out East for a number of years, so I knew of a shelter program,” he explains. “It was started at Daylesford [Abbey, in the Philadelphia area]. It’s now called Bethesda Project. There are 16 different types of shelters served through the project.”

Since 2006, Cuccia has led groups to serve at Our Brother’s Place, a homeless shelter for men in North Philadelphia. Groups stay at Archmere Academy in Claymont, Del., the Norbertine high school where Cuccia taught for 20 years. Each day at Bethesda begins with a talk by a staff member. Labor follows, including folding sheets, sorting clothes, cleaning and food preparation. 

“I remember the first day, they were so surprised that nine college men would give up a week of vacation and travel 1,000 miles to be with them,” says Cuccia. “Bethesda Project’s motto is ‘Being family for those who have none,’ and that’s what these men do.”

The service trips will continue along with Cuccia’s other ministries – but at this stage of life, he’s not promising another 15 years.

“I take it one year at a time now,” he says.

Men’s Work

Sixty male students from St. Norbert College have served at the homeless shelter in North Philadelphia through the TRIPS program since 2006. Those who have been on previous trips do not tell the newcomers what to expect. “We let them find out on their own,” says the Rev. Sal Cuccia. “They need to experience walking into this large room for the first time with all these homeless men.” Cuccia says that the man who boards the plane on Saturday is not the same person who returns. 

“There is really a growth process that takes place,” he says. “Some of the men will serve lunch. Then for about two hours they interact with the homeless men. They sit and talk with them, play cards, chess, dominoes or board games. They get to know the men. By the end of the week, when they are serving the meal, they can actually greet the men by name. They get a real sense of what homelessness is and how, for many of them, it was just bad luck. There is a real transformation.”

Oct. 31, 2015