Fostering a “Culture of Encounter” demands that we share the same space at the same time. When we are fully present to one another in this space, we find new ways to value and uplift the dignity of each human person. We begin to dismantle the structures and systems that oppress and marginalize. Aquinas Center creates customized urban immersion experiences for high school, college, and adult visitors in order to facilitate this encounter, which we believe leads to thoughtful action in pursuit of social justice. An open mind, a willingness to be challenged, participation in shared meals and shared labor, active listening, and deep reflection are hallmarks of Aquinas Center’s Encounter experiences.

Students from Fairfield University share a meal from local restaurants with our Youth Researchers.

Frequently asked questions:

What can my group expect from an Encounter experience?

  • Space for up to 25 guests with off street parking and meal prep facilities
  • Meaningful volunteer projects that balance interaction with people (tutoring, recreation, literacy, etc.) and demonstrated impact (community gardening, packing food, painting, etc.)
  • Neighborhood tours coordinated by local teens
  • Dialogue with community residents
  • Educational presentations
  • Guided reflection around faith and justice topics
  • Activities that take place within the context of a community that is continually shaped by migration.

Who visits Aquinas Center?

Visiting college and high school groups have come from as far away as Arizona and as close as suburban Philadelphia. About 2/3 of the visiting groups are universities, the other third are high school age students who might be affiliated with a church youth group, a private school, or a charter school.  University faculty and higher education staff have also found these experiences to be valuable for their personal and professional development.

What activities might be included in our visit?

 Service opportunities on and off site

Fostering learning and relationships through shared labor, participants work with Aquinas Center programs and some of our many community partners. Service may include participating in urban farming, organizing and packing food donations, or serving and sharing a meal with under-served populations. Service work varies based on season, availability, and time.

“Share the Journey” Meal and Discussion

Fellowship over a shared meal and hear from a community leader. The presenter will choose a dish reflective of his/her culture and he/she will share their story of how they or their family came to America. Learn more about the push/pull factors of migration. Discussion and Q&A to follow presentation.

Neighborhood Tour with Local Teens

Pat’s and Geno’s are not part of the Aquinas South Philly tour. This tour skips the tourist spots in favor of more personal insights by having students view our community through the eyes of a local teen. Students are challenged to explore the neighborhood with particularly observant eyes and encouraged to dialogue with the teens on any topic from their favorite hangout spot to the joys and challenges of life in South Philly. Students should leave the experience feeling more comfortable in urban environments, with a better understanding of the diversity within Philadelphia, and maybe even some new street smarts.

Topical Speakers and Related Dialogue

Presentation availability may vary based on staffing, schedule, and relevance.

Past and present topics include:

  • Understanding cultural humility and intercultural competency
  • Beautiful Walls: Reclaiming Urban Space through Mural Making
  • Why People Migrate: Push and pull factors of migration
  • U.S. Immigration Policy and the Need for Reform
  • Beyond Food Stamps: Understanding social welfare and the U.S. safety net
  • Education Access for New Arrivals (Education and Immigration Justice issues)
  • Affordable Housing and Redevelopment Pressure
  • Don’t Eat Like Americans: Reinforcing cultural food values through gardening and shared meals
  • Shifting the Service Paradigm: Fostering a culture of encounter
  • The Golden Door: Refugee Resettlement in the Untied States
  • Who is My Neighbor?: What our Catholic faith says about welcoming the stranger

Does a group need to be Catholic to visit?

No! Some visiting groups are faith based, others are not. Aquinas Center is committed to creating mutually rewarding experiences that are driven by the goals of the local community. Hospitality is the starting point. Kinship, as described by Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, is the destination! Our Encounter Coordinator works closely with each group leader to design a visit that is meaningful and compelling, within the framework of our mission.

Can I come with a group of three or four folks?

Our group Encounter experiences are designed for a minimum of 12 participants. This pricing ensures that we can meet our annual budget and fund Aquinas Center’s outreach programs for the local community.

What do people say about Encounter experiences?

  • “I have been inspired by meeting people through this week and listening to their stories of hope, resilience, and determination.”
  • “I was reminded of my personal call to be an active member in my community and to continue working for justice by volunteering and connecting myself to organizations that so such work.”
  • “I really enjoyed being welcomed into the community and the opportunity to make connections with the people I met. I learned a lot about the people working at the Aquinas Center and they taught me a lot about service, culture, and being a good neighbor.”
  • “I have been inspired to take thoughtful action by being patient and understanding with others who have different backgrounds and cultural understandings from me.”
  • “The people here have truly touched my heart and I’ll remember them and their message and story.”

To request recommendations from university leaders who have visited Aquinas Center, contact our Encounter Coordinator.

How do I schedule a group?

Please fill out the interest form below and our Encounter Coordinator will contact you.

Please note, we do not offer Saturday to Sunday overnights because of the robust parish life activities that occupy the center from 5PM Saturday to 3PM Sunday.  



Aquinas Center has some daytime and evening availability for community meetings, workshops, and stand alone events. Please contact our Encounter Coordinator at (267) 702-3454 or Encounter@aquinascenterphilly.org to discuss spaces, seating capacity, facility details, and pricing.


Encounter Inquiry Form
For example: Alternative Break leaders, a living/learning community, student leaders
Please note that we do not host groups smaller than 12 and we cannot host groups larger than 25. You can bring fewer people than 12, but we will charge for 12 participants.
For example: junior retreat, sophomore service, Latin-American studies course