Diocesan News

Rockers at Co-Cathedral Help Support Missions

Surpassing the original goal of $10,000, proceeds from the Co-Cathedral’s inaugural “Rock-A-Thon” on Mission Sunday, Oct. 22, brought in more than $18,000 for the Sisters of St. Gemma Galgani in Arusha, Tanzania. (Photos: Steven Aiello)

The idea to host a “Rock-A-Thon” at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus in 2006 didn’t call for a high-profile rock star, but only volunteers with a heart. Students sat in rocking chairs outside the chaplain’s office and asked for donations to kick off the three-day event.

The charity drive, sponsored by the school’s Newman Club, directed by Father Charlie Keeney, raised funds for the missions in Africa.

Steven Aiello was a yearbook student at the time and remembered the annual campaign that occurred during his tenure. He said students were always laughing and having fun.

“Whenever I took pictures of the Rock-A-Thon, I would get there and he would have students out rocking and each student would have, besides the collection basket, they used to have candy baskets,” said Aiello. “If you gave a donation, they’d give you the basket to take candy. I always gave a donation before I took the photos.”

The tradition continues in 2017 at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights, where Father Keeney now serves as a parochial vicar. Volunteer rockers sat outside the co-cathedral on a Sunday morning to accept donations from parishioners leaving Mass.

During the parish’s first “Rock-A-Thon” on Oct. 22, seven families offered their rocking chairs for the event and dozens of parishioners sponsored the rockers. Instead of college students in chairs, more than 30 young adults volunteered their time.

The recipients of the collection will be the Sisters of St. Gemma Galgani and their ministry to incarcerated families in Arusha, Tanzania.

“I went there in 2006 with the students to look at the animals on the safari,” recalled Father Keeney. “That was the reason I went on the trip. But I was called by Christ to help this particular project.”

Tanzanian priest Father Jacek Rejman presented the initial project to him – building a dormitory for children up to the age of six. The project was a call-to-action to serve the needs of pretrial detainees charged with criminal matters who took their children to live with them in jail while they waited up to three years for trial.


According to the U.S. Department of State, the Commission on Human Rights and Good Governance organization (CHRAGG) found that the time lapse from when a detainee was put in jail to getting their case heard was prolonged due to a variety of reasons – inadequate judicial budget, lengthy police investigations or a lack of judges to hear cases. The independent government department in Tanzania estimated that more than 50 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees and most faced overcrowding and sanitation issues.

“But then what happened was some of the kids’ parents didn’t pick them up or they got incarcerated for the life terms,” said Father Keeney.

That’s also when Father Rejman told the Brooklyn priest about the project’s own issues.

“He told me he started the home and I told him that was very good,” said Father Keeney. “And that’s when he told me he was going to close it. That’s when I felt God asking me what I was going to do about it. And then I called him up a week later and asked him more about it.”

He recalled the initial phrase Jesus used to seal the deal: “Do you love me?” From that point on, the vision to serve the children in Arusha has not ceased.

“I really felt that Jesus wanted me to help these little kids with this project so it has been extremely fulfilling,” he said. “For the last 11 years of my life, this has been the happiest project I had undertaken.”

Two years into the course of the project in 2008 was when Father Rejman handed the mission to the Sisters of St. Gemma Galgani. Since then, three institutions now serve the east African community.

The first is St. Gabriel’s Home – what started with only six orphans is now two dormitories filled with 18 orphans – one for girls and one for boys.

One of the orphans told Father Keeney how he feels about St. Gabriel’s Home. “I really love this place very much,” said Patrick. “I am in formation year at school before I start preparatory seminary next year. When I grow up, I want to be a priest.”

The second institution is St. Gemma Galgani School, which oversees more than 400 students from pre-k until seventh grade. Because of donations throughout the years, the Catholic grammar school is fully equipped to run on its own through funding made from tuition, school bus transportation and uniforms.

Father Keeney remembered how God’s divine plan continued to come into fruition.

“Nowhere in the original plan whatsoever did they ever think that they were going to have a school,” he said. “And even the Mother Superior said ‘We don’t do this.’ And the sisters said, ‘We’re going to try it, ok, but don’t be too surprised if it fails because we never did this.’ But it didn’t fail, it did the opposite.”

The third institution, currently under construction, is the Hotel of the Holy Innocents – which is a 20-bed volunteer center that was created to help St. Gabriel’s Home become self-sufficient. The hope is for volunteers who go on mission trips to the Tanzanian community will pay a small fee to stay at the ‘hotel.’ Those funds will support the dormitory.

Israel Ochoa, a volunteer rocker at St. Joseph’s who works as a designer at DeSales Media, worked with the fundraising committee and created flyers. He also rocked for nearly three hours.

“I feel like it was a good cause,” said Ochoa. “And hopefully these kids can be productive and be inspired, so they feel motivated to follow the Catholic teaching. Maybe they could be the next priest in Tanzania!”

Rocking For God
Rocking For God

Rocking For God

Volunteers, parishioners and young adults from the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights, “rocked” outside of the church on Mission Sunday, Oct. 22.

Volunteers, parishioners and young adults from the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights, “rocked” outside of the church on Mission Sunday, Oct. 22.