I am CAMMLaurence Tiblis
I Am CAMM
More than one hundred years ago, CAMM’s Founder, Fr. Joseph Skelly, CM, declared, “[CAMM] came into being, we believe, through Mary’s inspiration. We feel certain that throughout every day of its existence thus far Mary’s guidance has led it, Mary’s protection has sheltered it, and Mary’s prayers have granted it growth and stability.”
These words still resonate today through the halls of CAMM. And throughout the building, located across the street from The Miraculous Medal Shrine, there are images of Mary everywhere. Since its establishment on Thursday, March 25, 1915 (the Annunciation of the Blessed Mother), CAMM has faithfully upheld its primary mission to usher the faithful to “come to the foot of the altar” for Mary’s graces. And even though times, technology, and people have changed throughout the decades, CAMM’s mission is still as relevant today as it was 105 years ago.
HISTORY SHAPES THE FUTURE
It all began with a young Vincentian priest, who was called to do the herculean task of fundraising for a new seminary to be built in Princeton, New Jersey. Even by today’s standards, this was an audacious undertaking. Devoted to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Fr. Skelly called on her assistance, and her response was overwhelming (read “Divine Composition”).
As a show of gratitude to Our Lady, Fr. Skelly, with the blessing of the Vincentian Priests and Brothers, established “an organization devoted to the spread and increase of devotion to Mary Immaculate by means of her Medal.” Christened the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal or CAMM, this organization was among Fr. Skelly’s crowning achievements: the first Marian organization in the United States dedicated to spreading devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
Fr. Skelly witnessed CAMM’s tremendous growth during his forty-eight years as CAMM spiritual director. Millions of people responded to his direct mail solicitations. By 1950, CAMM claimed the second largest mail volume in Philadelphia only to be surpassed by Sears, Roebuck and Co. The faithful’s devotion to Mary mixed with Fr. Skelly’s marketing savvy and engaging support created an extraordinary Marian legacy that remains relevant today.
In spreading devotion to the Blessed Mother, none of Fr. Skelly’s works outshone his building The Miraculous Medal Shrine in 1927, as the “Heart of the Central Association, as well as the heart of their love for the Miraculous Medal.”
But that was just the beginning.
The second mission Fr. Skelly ascribed to CAMM at its inception was to financially support the formation of young men for the Vincentian priesthood. In fulfilling this mission, Fr. Skelly proved himself equally adept.
In funding the education and formation of Vincentian seminarians of the Eastern Province, he helped oversee the construction of four seminaries: St. Joseph’s College, Princeton, New Jersey (1914); Mary Immaculate Seminary, Northampton, Pennsylvania (1937); St. Vincent de Paul Novitiate, Ridgefield, Connecticut (1954); and St. Vincent de Paul Seminary, Boynton Beach, Florida (1963).
Spreading Devotion to Mary and financially helping to support the formation of seminarians remain one of the cornerstones of CAMM.
CAMM’s current CEO, Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag, recalls her years as a graduate student when one of her professors noted that “… a company’s mission statement is its public-facing language, which tells the world who you are and what you stand for.”
Fr. Michael Carroll, CM, CAMM Spiritual Director since 2018, sums up “what CAMM is” as “promoting the revelations presented to us by Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and St. Catherine Labouré.” He then adds, “CAMM also assists the Vincentian community in telling the Province’s story of who the Vincentians are, what their mission is in the Church, and where and who they serve.” (Visit the Eastern Province website.)
Additionally, CAMM helps support finances for the apostolic works of the Eastern Province in their charity and service for the poor and marginalized in myriad communities, including Panama (click here to read “Recording the Vincentian Panama.”).
I AM CAMM
As a man of vision, strategy, and modern-day entrepreneurship, Fr. Skelly created and established numerous vehicles for CAMM to promulgate devotion to Mary. In May 1928, he published the first issue of the Miraculous Medal Magazine, introducing it as “the Organ of the Association, in order to bind by closer ties all workers for the cause of Mary Immaculate.”
Years later came the establishment of the Miraculous Medal Art Museum. It started as a natural outpouring of love for Mary. Mary’s devotees gave Fr. Skelly and the Vincentians their Marian artwork as donations, and soon Fr. Skelly had amassed a large collection of original and rare pieces. As a result, he formed an art advisory commission, whose sole purpose was to guide and direct the housing and funding of the collection. Today, the museum contains hundreds of Marian paintings and sculptures from different times—all of which pay homage to Our Lady. As Skelly stated, “The Miraculous Medal Art Museum has been opened by the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal with one object: to make Our Lady better known and loved.”
Historically, CAMM has been responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the Shrine, preserving it as a monument of beauty to Mary and an architectural masterpiece. As a historical building, this requires constant and costly repairs and renovations: restoring interior and exterior artwork and murals; providing air conditioning; updating technology for our livestreams (our Monday Perpetual Novena and Mass, as well as special feast days); repairing elevators; revitalizing and refitting the organ and carillon bells; making roof improvements and repairs; and expanding cultural Marian shrines.
To sustain CAMM and its mission to support the Shrine and the Vincentians, Fr. Skelly instituted a fee-based membership program.
This program remains a significant part of CAMM’s financial resources, which relies on the enrollment of living or deceased members. In Fr. Skelly’s time, this was done by “promoters,” who paid an annual fee of 25 cents for each person they enrolled. Today, we no longer have “promoters,” but we still rely on the generosity of people who enroll themselves, as well as friends and family members, to Mary’s Miraculous Medal Family. Each person enrolled shares in every Mass offered by the Vincentians throughout the year. Members also receive a Miraculous Medal, a magazine subscription, a membership card, and a membership booklet.
Timlin-Hoag acknowledges that supporting the spiritual mission of CAMM through solid business practices will ensure CAMM’s success for another 105 years. “The Vincentians do a brilliant job supporting the spiritual side,” explains Timlin-Hoag, “but we constantly address, ‘How can CAMM move the mission forward?’ We are always asking, ‘How can we ensure the message of Mary and the Miraculous Medal is spread far and wide? How do we engage youth and young adults in this message?’” (Click here to learn more about our Youth and Young Adults ministries.)
The answer is simple: deliver solid messaging through aligned initiatives, events, and programs. To help engage new and future communities of Catholics in learning about Mary and her Miraculous Medal (click here to read “A Medal that Changed the World”), we’ve established youth and young adult ministries programs; organized events for community engagement; collaborated with cultural faith communities to build “mini” shrines; and expanded our communications strategies.
Recently, CAMM undertook a two-year initiative to share the story of St. Catherine and our Blessed Mother by updating both the Shrine and Vincentian websites, social media platforms, videos, mass media recognition, and newsletters (click here to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, InSpire).
Along with technology, CAMM sought a novel approach by creating the Living Saints Program where an actress portraying St. Catherine Labouré visits the Shrine every Monday (pre-pandemic); leads retreats and guest pilgrimages; and performs at nursing homes, parishes, and schools, to not just tell Catherine’s story of meeting Mary, but to show it. “It’s storytelling at its best,” exclaims Timlin-Hoag.
Another initiative includes renovating the lower level of the CAMM building for an event venue—consisting of a large banquet hall, catering kitchen, and three conference rooms—to draw more people to the Shrine for events, retreats, and conferences (details to come).
CAMM I AM
Fr. Skelly acknowledged the hard work and dedication of the CAMM staff at his Golden Jubilee as a Vincentian Priest in 1965. “No recital of the Association would be complete without … those loyal employees who have tirelessly aided me in looking after the tremendous amount of clerical detail…” Timlin-Hoag echoes these sentiments. “Our mission is only as good as how well our CAMM family brings it to life.”
Over the past hundred years, staff members have come and gone, processes have changed, and technology has advanced. But CAMM leadership recognizes that its intrinsic values have forged through time because of its committed employees.
Longtime staff member Florence Dellisanti (pictured) has worked at CAMM in numerous capacities for fifty-five years and can attest to the changes—big and small—that CAMM has experienced over the years. She recalls the “old days” when bells beckoned the staff to begin the workday, take coffee breaks, recess for lunch, and dismiss for the day. She remembers the staff praying the Rosary together every day, a tradition that has been recently revived, but on a weekly basis.
The overall operational structure has changed, as well. Since the beginning of Dellisanti’s tenure, CAMM’s Director was always a Vincentian priest. The priests also held other jobs, such as editor of the Miraculous Medal Magazine and director of finances. In the past few decades, CAMM’s governance has transitioned to mainly laypeople, and CAMM’s decades-old organizational model was modified to keep up with the need for technology in today’s world.
“CAMM’s reorganization was driven by the diminishing number of vocations, as well as the many changes that technology had introduced to communications and business practices,” explains Fr. Carroll. The result was the creation of two jobs from one: the Executive Director of CAMM, who became the CEO of CAMM, and the establishment of a spiritual director of CAMM, who provides guidance to employees in their faith journey.
Timlin-Hoag is the first female to hold the Executive Director and CEO titles at CAMM; she has also reorganized the operational structure to one of department teams. In today’s economy, CAMM leadership knew this transformational shift needed to occur.
Today, CAMM consists of several departments: operations of requests and orders; institutional advancement; marketing and communications; the Gift Shop; pilgrimages; events; youth and young adult ministry; cultural ministries; and finance.
Anne Wise, operations manager, explains how operations is the “work processing” department, serving as the nuts and bolts by fulfilling orders and answering mail; monitoring and reviewing donations received; and processing donations. Along with these activities, prayer and vigil light intentions are gathered by operations staff and brought to the Shrine so they can be placed at Our Lady’s altar or in the Vigil Light area (click here to light a Vigil Candle).
“Operations includes both customer service and behind-the-scenes activities at CAMM,” Wise notes. She cites the Shrine Gift Shop as a prime example. “The Gift Shop is usually the first stop for many visitors to the Shrine, where they receive a warm welcome along with a brief overview of Shrine highlights and directions to those highlights, as well as an opportunity to purchase religious goods.”
While the structural organization and outreach to current and future faithful have changed, Timlin-Hoag acknowledges how CAMM’s standards and ethical values remain true to Fr. Skelly’s mission. Indeed, CAMM’s progress isn’t possible without that.
Fr. Carroll believes CAMM will always be faithful to Fr. Skelly’s vision. “Fr. Skelly gave his life to tell others about Mary’s great gift in the Miraculous Medal,” he says. “He is smiling as that mission is continuing in 2020.”
THE MANY FACES OF CAMM
Pictured left to right: Colleen Buckley, Sr. Director of Events and Youth and Young Adults Programs; Florence Dellisanti, Institutional Advancement Team Member; Norman Lewis, Sr. Director of Finance.
THE MANY FACES OF CAMM
Pictured left to right: Christopher Grosso, Communications Manager of Vincentians of the Eastern Province; Gwen Mercer, Bookkeeping; Megan Brogan, Major Gifts Officer.